End of the SPEAQ project

SPEAQ posterAlthough the SPEAQ project has now ended, you can learn more about it in the About and Partners sections of this website, and use the outcomes of the projects in the Resources and LanQua sections.

Laurence Georgin
SPEAQ Project Manager, LLAS Centre, University of Southampton

In the loop: getting the most out of feedback

uos_cmykAs 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.

Moving on and, hopefully, expanding in Cluj, Romania

Cluj univWith a view to disseminate, and possibly replicate the SPEAQ student mentoring project within the Faculty of Letters, we organized a meeting with a group of first year students from other departments of the faculty, on April 11th, 2013. They belonged to specializations with different numbers of students, ranging from a dozen to more than a hundred, which would enable them to test their organization skills and the feasibility of such a project at micro and macro level.

The main topics we tackled were the following:

  • an overview of the SPEAQ project, including the SPEAQ blog;
  • the presentation of the peer-to-peer mentoring programme within the Applied Modern Languages Department, as piloted during this past academic year;
  • a debate concerning their first week at the faculty, as seen in retrospect, focusing on what would have made their life easier if some particular issues had been addressed, in due time, with the help of peer mentors;
  • a list of the things they wished they had known before and during the winter exam period, with a view to adapting the information provided by the student mentors to the different stages of the university year.

As the discussion unfolded, they were asked to fill in their requests in an imaginary first-week-timetable. This brainstorming session revealed an ideal “getting acquainted with the faculty” timetable, one of whose versions could look as follows:

Monday A crash course in topography, so that the faculty should be less of a “terra incognita”
Tuesday Reading the timetable – why are the weeks called “odd” and “even”?
Wednesday Where do I belong? Are practical course groups formed according to some alphabetical order criterion?
Thursday How do I join and access the faculty libraries?
Friday What are the credits and the contracts? How do I apply for a scholarship?

The clearest signs that these students found the initiative useful and are eager to put into practice a peer-to-peer mentoring programme in their respective departments were the detailed questions they asked regarding the impediments we had faced and the fact that they shared the idea with their own teachers the very next day. We would be happy to witness an “upgraded” version of our initiative following next autumn.

Iulia Bobaila,
Assistant Lecturer, Babeş-Bolyai University

At the School of Education in Innsbruck, Austria

Uni_Logo_IUBKSpecific co-operations are planned within areas of Didactics at the School of Education in Innsbruck.

The main focus will be on designing an assessment grid that can be used by all lecturers teaching on the Middle Module of Languages Didactics. The aim is to enhance transparency for students and provide a framework for teaching staff leaving scope for individual course focus. Bringing in the student voice at different stages of discussions is an essential aspect as is the inclusion of perspectives from Quality Management.

Initial discussions with individual students asking whether they might be interested in collaborating and bringing in opinions on assessment have been met with a high level of enthusiasm and also surprise  – at being asked.

The Quality Manager involved in SPEAQ has previously worked on similar initiatives within other departments and, in fact, assessment strategies are a central part of his main professional activities. It is noticeable that there is very little general awareness of his rôle.

The second initiative is to start up co-ordination on course development between Languages and Science Didactics in the area of CLIL. Discussions to find a common point of interest and common approaches to learning materials have been opened.

Christine Lechner,
University of Innsbruck

Joint Austrian-Hungarian SPEAQ workshop at the University of Szeged, Hungary

200px-Seal_of_the_University_of_Szeged_colorKlara 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.

Klára Szabó,
University of Szeged, Hungary
Christine Lechner,
University of Innsbruck, Austria

News from the university of Jyväskylä, Finland


The first three months of the ongoing year have been marked by two main activities related to the SPEAQ project, namely, a self-assessment of our language centre teaching with students, teachers, and quality managers, and the start of the institutional project with reflective practices by teachers and students. The former was done as a preliminary step for the national audit of teaching at HE level to be conducted in January 2015. Strengths, weaknesses, and development areas were identified in the interactive workshop, to be followed by a more detailed strategic development plan for the time before the audit. What was particularly interesting were the comments by students – at first some of them were not quite sure what they might have to contribute to such a task, but in the end commented on how much they had learnt about how our centre operates and pursues the quality of teaching and learning. As some of you might know, our main mission is to cater for the discipline-specific and scientific language and communication skills training to students of non-language disciplines, required for all degrees in the mother tongue, second domestic language, and one-two foreign languages. This requires close co-operation with subject departments, as much of the teaching is integrated with discipline studies.

As regards our institutional project within SPEAQ, then, it is being implemented along our staff development programme in teaching academic content through English (TACE), i.e. a university pedagogical in-service programme for staff involved in English-medium teaching of their disciplines. We offer this training to promote the quality of internationalisation, which is the second main mission of our language centre. Last year’s  participants – both international and Finnish members of staff – are in the process of writing their reflective reports on their teaching experiments, using the LANQUA Quality Model as the framework.  We are eagerly waiting for these reports, due in early May.

Dr Anne Räsanen
Senior Lecturer in English
University of Jyväskylä Language Centre

Students’ views from Cluj, Babeş-Bolyai University, Romania

Cluj univAs 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.

Iulia Bobaila,
Assistant Lecturer, Babeş-Bolyai University

News from the University of Deusto, Spain

Deusto univWe have been busy in Deusto since January.  Our idea for our project relates to Modern Language students’ participation in enhancing the quality of their own degree. We wanted to see why the students’ dissatisfaction with a number of aspects of their Bologna degree had not been detected by the feedback questionnaires sent to them at the end of the first and second semesters of the first two years of their studies. In order to do this we decided we would look into the various feedback questionnaires sent to different stakeholders and see the quality issues covered as well as those uncovered. Comparing these questionnaires with the questionnaires a group of students had produced themselves to get feedback from their classmates regarding the weaknesses of their degree would give us interesting information about the different meanings/dimensions of quality.  Accordingly, at the end of January we had a meeting with members of the quality unit to share with them the objectives of the project, ask for their approval and require a copy of all questionnaires sent to the different stakeholders. To our surprise we found out that the quality unit members had no objection to the project and to providing a copy of the various questionnaires. In February and March we analysed the different official questionnaires looking for the different quality dimensions and contrasted them with the unofficial questionnaire designed by the students; we also had several meetings with some students and with the head of department.   We are now contrasting the different dimensions on quality with the different stakeholders. The project is generating interesting interaction dynamics.

Mariluz Suárez Castiñeira,
Director of the Institute of European Studies, University of Deusto

Quality managers: Improving quality

Each partner was asked to make contact with at least one (many interviewed more than one) member of staff in their institution who had a role relating to quality assurance or enhancement. The term quality manager is used here to describe these roles but in reality there was a wide range of interviewees who had a variety of levels of seniority in the institution and were either in administrative, senior management or academic roles. In many ways this illustrates how diverse the quality agenda is within higher education and how differently quality is managed within different universities. However the comments from the interviewees which were reported by each partner and then summarised provide some helpful insights into the formal processes of quality assurance and some of the tensions which exist between these processes and the everyday business of teaching, learning and research. 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 institution/programme/course?
  • What do you understand by the term quality within your university context?
  • Can you provide any examples of good practice of improving your teaching in your institution?
  • What would you like to improve in the study experience and how would you do it?

It is apparent that each institution considers quality assurance an area of utmost significance and there are some mechanisms in place everywhere to control and assess institutional and departmental quality. Quality assessment is primarily seen as an external procedure, but there is an increasing number of people in the universities, who believe that quality is or will become an internal matter as well. While quality managers seem to be in touch with the university management on a daily basis, they were not always able to maintain a similar close working relationship with students and teaching staff, although they agreed that it would be a desirable move and it would result in a beneficial change from the point of view of quality. They commented that quality managers usually work behind the scenes and in most cases their work becomes ’visible’ in their respective communities only during accreditation or other periods of official assessment. There is variation as to the perceived influence of quality managers on education and university policies. Some quality managers felt they had a voice in their communities, while others thought that although they are given the opportunity to speak they are not necessarily really listened to in a sense that they could influence decision makers.

Importance was also placed on ensuring that quality should be discussed when things go well at the university and not only when serious problems arise and radical changes are needed. Several quality managers also commented on the fact that too frequent structural changes, or changes in national educational policies make it impossible for institutions to deal with quality issues efficiently on a long-term basis.