SPEAQ Project Manager, LLAS Centre, University of Southampton
As part of SPEAQ, the 9 partners in European HEIs are developing initiatives to improve quality practice and culture within HE institutions. The initiative that we have chosen at the University of Southampton addresses feedback issues, which were raised in the first phase of the project by students, academic staff and quality staff. We have been developing online resources, which we will present to University of Southampton staff and students in the autumn through an interactive workshop.
We have chosen to approach issues of feedback in practical, clear and meaningful ways, and to achieve this, we will:
• Examine current methods for giving and receiving student feedback at the university (illustrated by case studies of what is already being done successfully by some teachers, quality managers and students);
• Provide activities which encourage reflection on how staff and students can improve the ways in which feedback is delivered, received, and reported;
• Provide clear explanations of quality assurance processes and mechanisms at the University and how these relate to the feedback given and received by student.
We have recently interviewed two dedicated members of staff: Bella Millet, Professor of Medieval Literature, who recently received an award for ‘student feedback’ at the Student Excellence Awards, and Simon Kemp, Principal Teaching Fellow, whose work was recognised through the award of a National Teaching Fellowship in 2010. Simon is also currently the national Academic Lead in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at the Higher Education Academy. Bella and Simon both highlighted the need for teachers to know their students in order to give meaningful feedback. Both also emphasised the value in giving verbal feedback to students which gives teachers a chance to explain their comments better and ensure that they are understood by students in the way they were intended. The full interviews will be available online soon.
Klara Szabo from the University of Szeged and Christine Lechner from the University of Innsbruck held a joint Austrian-Hungarian SPEAQ workshop with a group of students and course teachers. The workshop took place from 8.30 to 10.00 on April 17th, 2013 in Classroom 6123 of the Faculty of Education. There was a total of 32 participants in the workshop, 27 students and 5 course teachers. The teachers were members of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, the students were 1st year and 2nd year communication students. Four presentations were held, two of these were given by SPEAQ institutional coordinators, Christine Lechner (Innsbruck) and Klára Szabó (Szeged). Two Szeged University students, Eszter Farda and Zsuzsanna Nagy summarized their findings of the mini project interviews. They had been involved in interviewing members of teaching staff and university management at the University of Szeged. The workshop was a successful dissemination event. On the one hand, it provided an opportunity to disseminate the overall project, the findings from Year 1 as the European project landscape to the group.
On the other hand, the event was useful for Klara Szabo to kick-off the Szeged Year 2 project, to enable two groups of students to learn more about quality in general and about the SPEAQ project in particular. It was also useful for Christine Lechner to ask Szeged students how they would view being asked to collaborate on the design of an assessment scale, what they would see as important. The workshop ended with a free exchange of ideas on quality in higher education and on student involvement in quality assessment.
University of Szeged, Hungary
University of Innsbruck, Austria
As a follow-up activity to the peer-to-peer student mentoring project proper, which engaged second-year mentors and first-year mentees, we organized a focus group with the second-year student mentors on April 4th, 2013.
Yellow, blue and green post-its were waiting patiently to be filled-in with the mentors’ expectations, disappointments (accompanied by suggestions for improvement), and pleasant surprises from the activity they had just completed. Honing one’s communicative skills, a heightened sense of responsibility, and living a new experience came top of the expectations list, as well as the prospect of making new, real friends – there is life beyond Facebook after all! Nostalgic stepping into a first year student’s shoes was also on the wishlist, as well as a genuine desire to practice altruism.
When hopes are high, some degree of disappointment is inevitable. We discussed what could be done to improve the schedule of the mentor-mentee meetings, to raise the mentees’ awareness regarding the way they relate to their mentors, with the possibility of selecting, at the beginning of the university year, those first-year students who are willing to be guided. Thus, the misperception of a yet-another-compulsory-activity would be avoided and the mentor would not feel his/her counselling position dangerously questioned.
Other issues concerning the mentors’ selection, the type of extra input needed from the teachers or/and the secretary office, so that a better structuring of the activities be achieved, triggered a lively debate. Its consensual and heartening conclusion was that no reward should be promised to the mentors, otherwise one cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. The student mentors were adamant about not allowing opportunists and “C.V. builders” to interfere with an activity which draws its strength from volunteering.
The good news is that, the answer to the final question, “Would you do it again?” was a unwavering “Yes”… provided their suggestions for improvement were taken into account. Had it been only a quick test of student mentor assertiveness, this argumented answer shows that a first lesson in critical thinking has been learned.
Assistant Lecturer, Babeş-Bolyai University
We have been busy in Aveiro since our last meeting! Our idea for our project was to set up a Forum in the university to provide a space for discussing and sharing issues related to the quality of teaching and learning. We held our first meeting at the end of February with a small group of volunteers, including members from the three ‘circles’, and we had an engaging discussion of how the forum might work and how it could be organised. Our second work session was held on 15th March with the objective of identifying key issues which would form the basis of topic-based mini-forums. We were very pleased to have attracted considerably more participants for this second meeting, despite the fact that it was held on a Friday afternoon at 16.00!! Our on-line forum is also set up and will be launched this week. Our next step, as proposed in the last work session, will be to hold a workshop in April for joined up work on some of the key issues identified.
In the meantime, we prepared a presentation, entitled The importance of dialogue in the enhancement of quality in teaching and learning, for the International Conference on Learning and Teaching in Higher Education which was held last week (21st and 22nd March) in Évora, Portugal.
Pro-rector, University of Aveiro