Drawing on the results of interviews with these three ‘quality circles’ the project is developing small-scale projects which will aim to improve the ways in which quality processes are implemented and experienced within higher education institutions and to try to facilitate connections and dialogue between these three stakeholder groups.
For the next phase of the project the project team will be following up some of the issues raised by the data collection exercise and working with colleagues in their own institutions to create an initiative which will bring about positive change for one or more of the stakeholder groups and, of course, for the institution itself.
Each partner will be using the information collected during phase one of the SPEAQ project to inform these projects, one of which is already underway, thus will be following up on some aspect of quality raised during this exercise. It has been agreed that as the contexts in which people are working are so different and the needs identified very variable that each partner will be running a different project which will yield 9 case studies which can be shared and possibly replicated by others.
Sharing the outcomes from the project will also take place in this final phase through various channels such as the SPEAQ website, conference presentations, a journal article, local dissemination events and publicity through EU bodies such as EUA, ESU etc. Resources from the project, such as the SPEAQ workshop materials will be shared under an open licence in order that they can be adapted and re-used by others worldwide.
The workshop has been developed by two of the partners (Universities of Jyväskylä & Deusto) and run in a number of different trial versions which have fed into a final version which will be run at the European Quality Assurance Forum conference in Estonia in November 2012. Following this a final version will be translated and uploaded to the SPEAQ website. These workshops have been very interactive and have proven to be a useful way of encouraging discussion among staff and/or students.
To date the project has completed an initial data collection exercise through a series of student focus groups (facilitated by the European Students Union), meetings with institutional quality managers in the partner institutions and discussions with subject teachers in a range of disciplines, using a set of questions devised by the project team.
Three synthesis reports, summarising the results from all partners, have been prepared and some key emerging themes have been identified: a need for better communication around quality issues, improvements in the collection and use of feedback, more engagement of students in quality enhancement, increased opportunities for sharing good practice, professional development for teachers, applied learning (including employability), balancing teaching with research agendas, sharing and collaborating with others outside the institution. It has been encouraging to see that some of the core aims of this project are reflected in this data, these being to connect the three quality circles and to give voice to the views of all stakeholders in the quality process.
Meeting in Innsbruck
All the SPEAQ partners met in Innsbruck, Austria, for our second project meeting. It was a very productive encounter which generated lots of great ideas. Partners were able to exchange views and tips on activities that had already taken place, which proved crucial for the continuation of the project. And thanks to our Austrian partner’s brilliant organisation, we were even able to enjoy some of the delights that the Austrian city has to offer.
Three presentations about the project have already been given at international conferences (Belgrade, Istanbul, Cluj-Napoca) with two more scheduled in November 2012 (Tallinn, Malta). Once the project activities have been completed and the results of the institutional projects evaluated an academic article will be written and submitted to an international journal.
Each partner has been making contact with colleagues teaching in a range of disciplines in order to collect views on quality from academics and to gain insights into whether the LanQua quality model is relevant to other disciplines. The course team meetings were particularly useful in exploring the ways in which academics did, or did not, feel engaged with the quality process and to gain insights into how they collected and responded to student feedback. A full list of questions is available from the SPEAQ website, some samples of which are listed below:
- What in your opinion are the elements of a good course?
- How do you feel you are supported in your teaching development? How do you think the institution supports teaching and learning?
- What do you think you do well in your department that other departments can learn from?
- Is quality a daily matter for you or something which occurs only sporadically?
Unsurprisingly the teachers comments were closely related to pedagogy, ensuring that courses were fit for purpose and teaching was engaging and up-to-date. There was concern relating to the perceived lack of reward for teaching (an overemphasis on research or administration) and lack of student motivation. The need for professional development in order to keep up with new developments in technology and pedagogy was mentioned, as well as the need for more discussion about quality of learning and teaching, such as in the sharing of good practice and peer-observation. The institutions involved are all engaging with international quality assurance requirements, so there was agreement on many of the issues recognised as important for the objective quality of a study programme, department or institution, e.g. student teacher ratios, number of qualified staff, structured and coherent programmes, adequate QA mechanisms, student involvement, employability rates, success and drop-out rates etc. There was also considerable commonality regarding teachers’ perceptions of what would ensure a better quality learning experience. This included:
- attracting better prepared and more motivated students
- providing structured learning environments tailored to the needs of groups of students
- giving value to teaching and teachers
- using feedback from quality assurance constructively
- organising resources in such a way as to enable teamwork, dialogue and discussion involving teachers and students
The workshop has been developed by two of the partners and run in a number of different trial versions which have fed into a draft version which will be run at the European Quality Assurance Forum conference in Estonia in November 2012. Following this a final version will be translated and uploaded to the SPEAQ website.
These workshops have been very interactive and have proven to be a useful way of encouraging discussion among staff and/or students. Participants are encouraged to explore quality from a number of perspectives and in many cases discussions have continued beyond the time allotted for the activity. It has clearly stimulated thinking about quality and feedback has shown that participants appreciated being given the opportunity to explore quality in this way (from their own perspective) and responses from students have been particularly enthusiastic. Some students were surprised to be asked about what they contribute to quality as they more usually think of themselves as consumers (receivers of quality) rather than having a role to play within it. Other participants gave suggestions for the projects to be carried out in the second year. Some examples are: supporting students in their first year of study and improving end of module/course feedback questionnaires. The workshop uses a dialogue sheet to stimulate discussion.
The workshop uses a dialogue sheet to stimulate discussion. This tool provides a focus for discussion with participants being asked to consider what questions they might ask to evaluate the quality of a number of everyday items and services. They are then asked to reconsider their questions in the context of higher education and decide on a set of questions which are useful for the purpose of evaluating quality in education. They are then encouraged to think about which questions might relate to their own experiences as student, teacher or administrator and discuss how they might answer them from their own perspective. This helps to relativise quality and to show that all participants have a role to play in quality assurance (and enhancement) and how similar or different these roles might be. As this workshop was quite experimental and was delivered in contexts (countries) with different working practices the way in which the dialogue sheet was used was adapted by each partner. The final workshop will try to take account of these differences and allow for adaptations.
SPEAQ stands for ‘Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality.’ We are a team of partners from various universities across Europe who have been funded by the European Commission to address issues related to quality assurance. Our project team is:
Alison Dickens (director), Laurence Georgin (manager), John Canning (adviser) and Sue Nash (administrator) at LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies
and partners: Anca Greere (Babes-Bolyai University), Ole Helmersen (Copenhagen Business School), Mariluz Suárez Castiñeira (Deusto University), Christine Lechner (Innsbruck University), Fiona Crozier (QAA England), Klára Szabó (Szeged University), Natalia Tarachiu and Allan Päll (the European Students’ Union),Gillian Moreira (University of Aveiro), Anne Räsänen (University of Jyväskylä) and Kate Riley (University of Trento).
Under the Lifelong Learning Programme, we have been funded to:
connect three key quality circles: teacher, student and quality manager in order to share and enhance quality assurance practice in higher education. This project sets out to address a real concern that quality assurance can become ritualised rather than embedded in learning and teaching practice. The outcomes from this project will seed new ideas on how to approach quality assurance within the institution providing evidence of how bringing together stakeholders in the quality process can lead to a wider and more meaningful interpretation of quality assurance. It will collect data on different stakeholder perspectives on quality assurance and undertake small projects at institutional level which will explore ways in which a more shared vision of quality assurance can be fostered at institutional and disciplinary level. SPEAQ will be building on the work of the LanQua (Language Network for Quality Assurance) which explored issues of quality in the context of the discipline of languages. It developed a toolkit (The LanQua Toolkit) to support frontline (academic/academic support) staff in conceptualising and describing quality from their practice perspective.
So over the next 19 months, we are going to set up interactive workshops to facilitate discussion between teachers, quality managers and students, collect data on stakeholder views of quality assurance and enhancement, disseminate the project outcomes and more.
To find out more, keep reading our posts!