Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Quality in Higher Education

Former DCU President Ferdinand von Prondzynski is a man who speaks common-sense - almost everything I hear from him I always give myself a mental "Here Here". Today he writes in his University Blog about quality in Higher Education. 

Ferdinand von Prondzynski.
Image link to Sligo IT.
FvP points out first that it is hard "to identify what quality actually is, how it can be recognised and how it can be measured". According to FvP there is too much emphasis on process because there is no real definition of what quality is. He writes that "because nobody has anything much to say as to what quality is, the temptation is to get out of this dilemma by focusing entirely on process: we cannot say whether what you teach is good quality, but we can ask whether you have followed the 20 prescribed steps when you developed the programme and are counting the answers students have given in the feedback questionnaires". I hear this! As far as I can tell this is the way quality is measured in many institutions. What about teaching quality?

This is my 10th academic year in NCI and to date there has not been a single evaluation of my teaching by anyone other than the handful of students who happen to be in the class on the day student surveys are taken. Mostly this evaluation is meaningless (eg I once got a 100% rating only to discover that there was only one or two respondents!). In fact I am almost horrified to report that only once has one of my colleagues come into any of my classes - and that was just for a few minutes at the beginning of one class. I might think that I deliver good quality lectures, but how do I know that I do? In fact I also have never been at any of my colleague's lectures either! How do I know that they are?

Teaching unions, and many others (including lecturers) will be sceptical about any attempt to measure quality of teaching in higher education. However, I feel that until this happens that the form filling, reporting, and "20 prescribed steps" that we all have to do will always be considered as getting in the way of teaching - it's not part of an overall quality process.

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