Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Student opinion questionnaire case study

Richard Nowak
Curtin Business School
Curtin University
The author is employed in the Curtin Business School as an academic and international student co-ordinator in the "International Student Services". In this role he is responsible for both induction, orientation, academic counselling and the teaching of international students. In addition, he is also involved in advising and training staff in the "multi-cultural classroom". To better understands the perceptions of international post graduate students to lecturers administrative and teaching performances, a study was conducted using a "Student Opinion Questionnaire" (SOQ). The study revealed that a number of areas were considered as very favourable and others that were in need of attention. Results obtained will be used to provide staff awareness and development strategies within the Business School.

Background to the case study

International student numbers in tertiary institutions have increased dramatically over the last decade (DEET, 1994). The numbers have gone from 12,033 in 1982 to 69,876 in 1992 (DEET, 1994). Figures for 1994 suggest that the figures are now in excess of 75,000. Lecturers find that it is common to have between 25% to 50% of their classes comprising of international students. This situation has presented increased teaching challenges to lecturers (Ballard & Clanchy, 1984).

Despite poor economic indicators over the last decade (Industry Commission, 1994), the "export of education" in the services area has achieved spectacular growth (Cumo, 1994) and additional income generated by this program has been estimated at $1.4 billion per annum for the Australian educational sectors and the economy.

In addition, in recent times, tertiary institutions have also been competing for extra Federal Government funding and new instruments have been introduced to measure "Quality Teaching", (Maslen, 1994). University staff are also being assessed for promotion by instruments such as the "Student Assessment of Teaching" (SAT) and the "Student Opinion Questionnaires" (SOQ).

To address the "Quality Teaching" issue as well as the importance of being internationally competitive, it was decided to carry out an action research project to evaluate teaching staff administrative and teaching responsibilities using, as an instrument, the SOQ. This form consisted of 8 sections and comprised 46 questions. The SOQ was slightly modified and used with 16 first year, first semester international Post Graduate students enrolled in Business Courses in the Curtin Business School at Curtin University of Technology. The students comprised of 1 Mauritian, 2 Indians, 1 Zimabawean, 1 Vietnamese, 3 Thais, 2 Singaporeans, 1 Japanese, 1 Malaysian and 4 Indonesians.

Each student was required to complete the SOQ for two subjects each week for a complete semester. The lecturer read and recorded the results weekly.


Curtin University currently has in excess of 2,000 international students on its Bentley campus and has the largest numbers of these students amongst the four other tertiary institutions in the state. The Curtin Business School enrolls in excess of 50 percent of the international students at Curtin University.

Previous Research

Much of the literature in the area of international students in Australia has focused on social adaption (Burke, 1986; Rao, 1976; Hodgkin, 1966) and the effects of "culture shock" (Bochner, 1981; Furnham & Bochner, 1982; Hodgkin, 1978 and Barker, 1990). Some literature is available on how academic difficulties affects cultural adjustment and academic success (Ballard & Clanchy, 1988, 1991).

This study, therefore, will focus on student feedback during a complete semester and more precisely identify how teaching and administration was perceived by new international postgraduate students.

Student Opinion Questionnaire (SOQ)

Using the Curtin University SOQ instrument, eight sections were used:
  1. General Design and Organisation
  2. Subject Material
  3. Resources Available
  4. Lectures
  5. Tutorials, Seminars or Discussion Sessions
  6. Out-of-Class Assignments
  7. Assignment System
  8. Communication Style.


Students in the survey were asked to identify the staff who taught the various subjects that they would be reporting on. Staff were advised of the study and asked if they had any objections. No staff member objected.

A number of interesting situations occurred over the study. In an early report by one student, the author became aware of a problem which revealed that the student had considerable difficulty in one particular subject. The delivery method and content were causing some distress and already the student was predicting failure.

The student was provided academic support by employing another tutor and the problem was eventually resolved and she subsequently passed the unit.

In another case, a tutor was identified as communicating at a very advanced and technical level and a large proportion of the international students were unable to cope with the content. This situation was only partially resolved and remains with the Unit Controller for further action.


From past experience and comments from students in various subjects, many of the results were not surprising. Indeed, many had already been identified and measures were being implemented to resolve them. What was most beneficial was that good quality data was now available.

Many of the results were encouraging. Staff appear to have adjusted to many of the difficulties causing academic concern to international students. Some staff have consistently operated at the highest levels of competency and are held in high esteem by their students.

Other staff appear to be professional and may not be fully aware of the difficulties international students have in coping with a new learning environment. It is this area which now poses a challenge for "professional development" strategies within the Curtin Business School. Indeed, many of the results obtained could well apply to any other teaching division in Curtin University or any other tertiary institution in Australia.

Some international students from third world countries consistently rated all dimensions as very high. This was a noticeable trend. When investigated, it was found that the students compared the factors with those back home. In another case, students were more demanding of the system in Australia because they were paying considerable sums for their tuition fees and expected more for their money.

Because of this study, it was also found that the students were becoming more discerning and perhaps more demanding as to many facets of the lecturers and seminars, particularly as the semester progressed. The author also become more aware of his own performance, assessment style, administrative processes etc.

Overall results of the case study

Results were collated and recorded weekly on a spreadsheet. They were classified using the descriptors of "Strongly Agree" (SA), "Agree" (A), "Disagree" (D) and "Strongly Disagree" (SD). Percentages of the final statistics were then calculated. The results were then combined for SA and A and then for D and SD. If the scores exceeded 90%, it was then considered to be a favorable result.

From the results collected over a 12 week period, it was found that many staff have adapted to administering and teaching international students. However a small number were perceived to be not as skilled. In overall results, 34 % of the questions were responded to as "Strongly Agree", 53 % as "Agree", 10 % as "Disagree" and 3 % as "Strongly Disagree". The individual items will now be presented:

Questions that appear satisfactory

The unit is well organised.
I have been provided with a useful outline of the aims, topics and assessment in the unit.
The various class sessions have linked effectively with each other.
Within lectures the material has been presented in an orderly sequence.
The lecturer has been responsive to students' questions or problems.
I have found the lectures valuable.
The tutor has been well prepared for these sessions.
The tutor has a sound knowledge of the subject.
The required preparation has been clearly specified in advance.
The requirements for each assignment have been clear.
I have managed to cope with the amount of work required by assignments.
The comments and feedback from the marker has been helpful.
The marking of assignments has been prompt.
The marking has been fair and consistent.
I feel that I have learned by doing the assignments.
The allocation of marks to the assessment tasks is balanced.
The current assessment system is suited to this unit.
The assessment system appears to have been well thought out.
The assessment system enables me to demonstrate what I have learned.
I have been clear about each of the assessment tasks in this course.
Comments on assignments are useful for future tasks.
Feedback and comments between lecturer and students is friendly and helpful.

Questions that need attention

The unit has made realistic assumptions about my prior knowledge of the subject
The types of class sessions (eg. lectures, tutes) have been suitable.
The demands made on my time have been consistent with the credit point value of the unit.
I have been able to understand the content of this unit.
Most of the subject material has been new to me.
The subject material has been treated in suitable depth.
The content has been well illustrated by helpful examples.
I see application of this material in my intended area of employment.
I have found the subject interesting.
Course content also contains international references to the topics presented.
The prescribed text(s) have assisted my learning.
Additional reference materials have been available when needed.
The handouts provided have been helpful to me.
There has been an adequate amount of handout material provided.
Staff teaching this unit have been available to students out of class.
The lecturer has presented material clearly.
The lecturer has made use of relevant illustrations and examples.
I have managed to cope with the quantity of material presented in lectures.
The intended purpose of these sessions has been clearly specified.
There have been adequate opportunities for me to participate in discussion.
I have increased my understanding of the subject through these sessions.
The time required by assessment tasks is reasonable.
The lecturer is able to communicate in a clear and concise manner.
The lecturer does not use jargon or slang.


Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. (1984). Study Abroad: A Manual for Asian Students. Longman, Malaysia.

Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. (1988). Studying in Australia. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. (1991). Teaching Students From Overseas: A brief guide for lecturers and supervisors. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Barker, M. (1990). Intercultural Adjustment and Communication. In Barker, M. (ed), Orientated for Success. Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Bochner, S. (Ed) (1981). The mediating person: Bridges between cultures. Mass: Schenkman, Cambridge.

Burke, B. D. (1986). The Experiences of Overseas Undergraduate Students. Student Counselling and Research Unit Bulletin, no 18, University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Cumo, C. (1994). More Students Coming to Learn in Australia. Australian Financial Review, 24th April 1994.

DEET (1994). Annual Report 1992-93. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Industry Commission. Annual Report 1992-93. AGPS, Canberra.

Furnham, A. and Bochner, S. (1982). Cultures in contact: Studies in cross-cultural interaction. Pergamon Press, New York.

Hodgkin, M. (1966). Australian Training and Asian Living. UWA, Nedlands.

Hodgkin, M. C. (1978). Acculturation stress among Asian students in Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 13, 139-150.

Maslen, G. (1994). Elite Universities Exposed. The Bulletin, 21st June 1994.

Rao, G. L. (1976). Overseas Students in Australia: Some Major Findings From a Nation-Wide Survey. Education Research Unit, Australian National University.

Please cite as: Nowak, R. (1995). Student opinion questionnaire case study. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p186-189. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/nowak.html

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