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.

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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

News from the university of Jyväskylä, Finland

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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

What’s next?

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.

Where has this year gone?

Workshops

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.

Data collection

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.

Synthesis reports

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.

Conferences

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.

Course teams: Do you feel engaged in the quality process?

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