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This is the process by which teaching and assessment is judged to be fit for purpose and of a satisfactory standard comparable to other institutions. Institutions normally have well defined quality assurance (QA) procedures which comply with national requirements. Aspects of QA include student evaluation, peer observation of teaching, internal and external audit, and the external examiner process.
Student evaluation is usually collected by means of a questionnaire but it is also possible to use more sophisticated methods such as focus groups or structured interviews. In some institutions all modules are evaluated each year, but other schemes may choose to evaluate them on a cycle of, say, three years. Questionnaires are often developed and administered centrally. Similarly the results are usually collated within a department. They may be confidential to the teacher concerned or may be published more widely. It is important that students are informed of any changes to be made as a results of such feedback, or why any changes suggested are not being implemented.
Peer observation of teaching usually involves two members of teaching staff observing each other’s teaching and providing feedback. This can be done in a structured way, often using a proforma developed for the purpose. In the best schemes the observer will be briefed before the session so that he or she understands the context in which the teaching is taking place. This also provides the opportunity for the teacher being observed to highlight particular aspects of the session on which feedback is required. As soon as possible after the class the teacher and observer meet for a debriefing session. It is usual for a second proforma to be completed so that there is a record of the feedback. It is, however, important that the teacher is able to comment on the observations made.
Internal audits may be undertaken as part of an institutional requirement or may be done in advance of an external audit. Both procedures normally follow a similar pattern. An audit team of three or more members is appointed, and this team will receive copies of essential paperwork such as course guides, module handbooks and samples of student work and assessment. During a subsequent visit they will interview key teaching staff, such as the Director of Studies, and may observe teaching sessions. They will often feed back verbally at the end of the visit and then produce a more formal report with recommendations for the department to consider. They may also make a formal recommendation on whether the quality of teaching has been judged to be satisfactory or otherwise.
External examiners operate in a similar fashion but are restricted to looking at the assessment process. They will normally be consulted on the content of formal examinations, and ideally on that of any other substantial form of assessment. Later in the process they would normally be sent copies of student examination scripts and project reports. This is followed by a visit to the department when they have the opportunity to view all forms of assessment and the marks that have been allocated. At this point they are able to make changes to decisions made by staff internally. Finally they usually meet with selected students. These would normally be those whose mark places them on the borderline between two degree classifications. This allows the external examiner to make a decision on the classification which should be awarded.