Thursday, September 30, 2004

Quality Assurance in Learning & Teaching?

For the last few days I've been looking at the Australian University Quality Agency's (AUQA) audit reports on Australian universities. I've undertaken this research with a view to just how my university will fair in our audit planned for early next year.

While it is clear that AUQA is looking for systematic approaches to learning & teaching the auditors come with a traditional educational background and interpret what they observe through this type lens.
It is clear from the data gathered by these auditors that a demonstrable quality assurance (QA) approach doesn't necessarily result in development of a learning product that meets the learners' needs.
One example of this lies in the perceived need to collect consistent student evaluation data by limiting the choice of questions and imposing a rigid system onto academic staff.
AUQA reports show that many institutions who allow a freedom of choice in how academic staff are able to obtain student feedback, have superior rates of change implementation in their courses that result from the student feedback.
Others that impose more systematic and rigid requirements often fail to have their teachers close the loop by reflecting on the data obtained centrally.

I guess one possible explanation could be that when systems are imposed centrally, the level of academic ownership is reduced and hence engagement with the data is often not done sufficiently well.
We also find this with students and assessment. If we offer students the ability to find an assessment project that meets the stated learning outcomes and assessment criteria, they very often become so engaged in that task that their learning substantially exceeds that required by the assessment standard. Students who have rigid assessment imposed on them often see these activities as just another hoop to jump through to pass the subject.

Some I've heard suggest that the assessment is the defacto curriculum--if this is the case then the better we design and integrate these items with the learning tasks, the better the learning outcomes should be.

Enough for today--tomorrow I'd like to chat about bringing about cultural change in academe.



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