Never trust what students and customers say that they want, trust what they do

We miss meeting each other. Running education remote has not been that great, some say. Right now, there are many who claim, and therefore also expect, that students want to come back to Campus, post-COVID. Surveys have been done, the students themselves have answered how they want it. But can we really trust these surveys?

The book Everybody Lies is a liberating read in that it is about what people do, not what they say they do. The book is written by one of Google’s former analytics executives. On point after point after point, he shows that: we say one thing, but do another.

All this does not only have to be about lying. It could also be that I really don´t know what I want. And I might definitely not really know what I will want a bit later in time.

When asked directly, we say that we have a good relationship with our partner. But we Google “is he/she unfaithful”. The whole book is full of examples like that. All based on the search data around us people that Google has after all. The title is the message.

Everybody lies.

At the height of the illegal file sharing of music the music industry conducted a major global survey to find out how customers wanted it. The answer they got was that the majority of customers wanted to keep the CD. The industry then moved confidently in that direction.

Just a few years later, record sales were lower than ever before, and streaming had begun to take over from record stores.

Everybody lies, ourselves included.

If you have ever had young students and asked them if they want feedback on their exams, you have probably received the answer yes. If you then gave them feedback, do you think they care? Maybe. Some of them? Everyone? Or, none of them at all?

Writing by hand gradually seem to become a dying art. Hence: beautifully handwritten mail is growing in value.

15 years ago, the idea of the difference between what students “say” and what they actually “do” struck me hard. I held a course where the students were unusually clear that they thought that teachers in their previous courses had given them far too little feedback. So, I put extra energy into giving them a lot of feedback on their exams this time around.

At that time, physical paper exams were used, and the exams could, once corrected, be collected on the physical student expedition. I wrote my feedback by hand on each individual exam. Short essays even.

In some cases I gave unusually good students a handwritten star, and a smiley, including a comment like ”we never get too old for not remembering life as young children…well done by you!” on their exam. In other cases, I made smileys on unusually different, but wrong, exam-answers too, including a comment like ”thanks for trying, but sorry, not this time. Its more like X, Y, Z”.

I really tried to utilize the idea that reading my feedback could become a learning-event by itself, jointly with a smile.

However, a few years later, there was cleaning at the student expedition. Then I learned that a maximum of 20% of the students had even collected their exam. I had written feedback on exams that had never been read.

I think we can be sure that quite a few students will return to campus this fall. Not even the music industry did change overnight. But how many of them will be back in the fall?

Do not trust what students say they want. Trust instead what they do.

Can we really be sure that all students will return to campus post-COVID?

Why would students be a species of creature that is fundamentally different from customers in all other types of markets that exist?

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