The Learning & Teaching Development Unit (LTDU) within Cardiff Metropolitan University consists of a number of different aspects, working jointly to enhance the student experience and to provide exceptional learning and teaching. One area within the department is the Quality Enhancement Team who look at the student experience more closely via feedback from students and data from numerous different sources. The team have been working to develop a Quality Enhancement (QE) Process to help facilitate the development of the student experience and the enhancement of programmes across the university. The aim is to move away from students just being seen as evaluators to being more involved in a true partnership.
The Quality Enhancement Process consists of a number of steps that help to investigate the current situation and identify areas of good practice as well as areas for improvement. The team collect data from a number of sources; predominantly via surveys and student evaluations led by the Quality Enhancement Team, including the National Student Survey, the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey, the UK Student Engagement Survey, the First Year Experience Survey (of both staff and students), the Student Withdrawal Survey and the Student Retention Survey. We also gather feedback from other sources such as The Diary Room, which is a feedback initiative developed as a way of gathering feedback via video from students, rather than the traditional survey format. Data is also collated from what is already in possession by the university, such as retention/withdrawal data and Virtual Learning Environment usage. Once the data has been collected, it is analysed by the Quality Enhancement Team. This extensive analysis allows us to pinpoint areas of good practice as well as areas for improvement at institutional, school and programme level. The data analysis is then reviewed by members of LTDU and formalised into a plan of action including academic developers.
The Quality Enhancement Process is then split into two strands: formalised School based action planning, and the development of projects. The School based strand focuses on the progression of individual schools and the development of action plans to help identify areas of good practice or areas for improvement. Focus groups are run with current students to identify themes and trends within each of the five schools. By combining the data collected with the feedback from the focus groups we are able to identify common themes and possible issues as well as highlight if the data was purely circumstantial for that year or group of students. The students are also given further opportunities within the focus groups to suggest their own ideas for development and enhancement within either their programmes or schools. This enables the students to have a sense of ownership over the way in which their schools and programmes are developing. Their involvement in the development of learning and teaching and the student experience can often impact upon engagement as well as future years’ data. The action plans’ short-term and long-term initiatives are discussed with members of staff from the Schools and are submitted to the Learning and Teaching Board. Throughout the academic year, updates are submitted to the board as well as further meetings with the Quality Enhancement Team and School level Directors of Learning and Teaching in January and June.
Alongside the development of the School action plans, there is an alternative strand based on project development. This strand focuses more closely on individual programmes within the university as well as institution wide areas that may benefit from enhancement. The projects are outlined from the thematic analysis of the results and comparison with previous years’ data. Once we have outlined possible projects we approach the programme team and further develop the idea with their involvement. Focus groups are held with the students which take an appreciative inquiry approach in order to identify areas that are working well and that illustrate good practice. These areas of good practice can then be used to inform the development of areas in need of improvement.
The appreciative inquiry approach as stated by Cooperrider (1986) ‘is a method that can assist transformation in a positive direction’. It is ‘about the co-creation of the future, by creating energy and generating positive change, as a positive core is discovered and built upon.’ (Cockell & McArthur-Blair, 2012). As outlined by Cooperrider, Whitney & Stavos (2003), the appreciative inquiry framework includes four distinct phases:
- Discover – what gives life?
- Dream – what might be?
- Design – how can it be?
- Destiny – what will be?
This also allows for those involved in the appreciative inquiry process to outline a structure for change and develop their own ideas of how this can be achieved including both staff and students. We offer the students the opportunity to suggest ideas for development and enhancement and they are involved in the development of their programmes and therefore take ownership of the enhancements being made.
An action plan is devised, pulling together the data analysis, the programme team input and the feedback from students in the focus groups. Often the action plan includes three main aspects: staff development, the hiring of student interns, and external speakers or university visits. These three aspects work together to enhance the programme or institutional areas from a number of different aspects and allow staff and students to develop their own knowledge and skills alongside that of the programme, therefore producing a more holistic process.
The projects developed as a result of the Quality Enhancement Process have provided opportunities for enhancement in curriculum design, careers advice and employability, student representation, student transition and achievement, and student participation in institutional decision making. Each project is unique to the programme, its team and the student cohort and therefore allows for a flexible and personalised enhancement of the programme and resultant student experience. The hiring of student interns has been one of the most successful enhancements we have made across a number of projects. The student interns act not only as points of reference and contacts with the student cohort but also provide us with valuable insight into the programmes outside of formal feedback mechanisms. The student interns also develop their own attributes in terms of employability and further skills dependent on the nature of the project. The student interns have gone on to be more closely involved in the development of the programmes following their role as student interns as well as one individual student who went on to win the Welsh regional award of Student Employee of the Year from the National Association of Student Employment Services.
The projects that have been carried out as a result of the process have enabled a change in the nature in which we work with students as partners. As outlined by Dunne and Zandstra (2009), we have moved from Students as Evaluators of Their HE Experience to Students as Participants in Decision-making Processes and Students as Partners, Co-creators and Experts. The benefits of the projects and students as partners working is clearly visible in the resultant data from the following year’s students and the impact from the projects has been reported on in numerous ways, including via the students’ own dissertation theses. The Quality Enhancement Process has enabled us to develop links with other departments within the university that would have previously not existed such as the Students’ Union and our Information Technology department. The process has also benefited us in terms of partnership working with students, for both LTDU but also the programme teams involved. Staff are becoming more accepting of the idea of students being involved in the programme structure and decision making, not just as a tool for feedback and evaluation. The partnership working with students has also allowed students to develop their own understanding of the QE Process and learning and teaching methods used by the programme team and their responsibilities. One student commented “I now realise that the lecturers don’t just have to turn up and teach, there is a lot more involved in the whole learning and teaching process”. We have also witnessed great improvements in the resultant data for those programmes involved in the Quality Enhancement Process, particularly in the National Student Survey data for Accounting who achieved 100% in 2014, an increase of 12% from 2013.
The process has been developed as a way of utilising the data collected in the best way possible as well as changing the viewpoint of some that Quality Enhancement is purely a policing role. Programme teams are therefore provided with a clear outline of why they are being approached as a result of the feedback gathered and how we can make it a positive process. The use of an appreciative inquiry approach does help to enable this positive outlook and change the way in which the work is viewed. One major challenge faced during the Quality Enhancement Process was the time allocated to the projects, to undertake the project work and to identify impact. Initially the projects were designed to run the length of one academic year. However, we quickly realised that this was not realistic in terms of outlining the project and hiring the student interns whilst allowing enough time for the project to be undertaken. Therefore, the most recent projects have been allocated a year and a half in order to get the most out of the project and to be able to impact upon future scores in relation to student data and feedback.
Finally, we identified a hugely positive impact upon the students who were involved in the projects as student interns, however, we felt that the rest of the student cohort on a programme involved in a project was not as easy to identify. Therefore, we have been working to add an additional phase to the process which focuses on the need to provide feedback back to the students on those programmes involved, closing the loop from gathering the feedback to informing them of the enhancement that has occurred. This will require a clear link between the outcomes of the action plans at both a school and corporate level and providing students with a clear picture of the work that is going on to enhance their experience whilst at the university. This will be assisted by the closer links forged with the SU and the representative system that they run.
From successful projects we have highlighted a number of areas for further development. The Quality Enhancement Process has been established as a way of utilising student feedback and developing partnership working with the students, however, we would hope for the process to be more fully incorporated into other formal processes within the university such as revalidation, review and Quality Assurance measures. The projects and action plans that have been fully embedded within the programmes and institution have shown a positive impact on the student experience and therefore should be documented within review processes.
One aspect of the process we are looking to develop is the use of data from other sources within the University. Departments across the University all collect and analyse different information for different purposes and these could be valuable sources of information that could be combined with the predominantly learning and teaching related data that we receive.
The Quality Enhancement Process has been very successful in both programme and institutional developments and we hope to keep developing not only the work we are doing with programmes and schools but also to keep developing the process and allowing for more flexibility within the enhancement of the student experience.
Cockell, J. and McArthur-Blair, J. (2006). Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education: A transformative force, San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Cooperrider, D. L. (1986). Appreciative Inquiry: Toward a methodology for understanding and enhancing organisation innovation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Department of Organisational Behaviour, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.
Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. and Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook. Bedford Heights, Ohio: Lakeshore Publishers.
Dunne, E. and Zandstra, R. (2011). Students as Change Agents – New ways of engaging with learning and teaching in higher education. Bristol: A joint University of Exeter/ESCalate/Higher Education Academy Publication.