It doesn’t go unnoticed that those ‘in the know’ proffer a wry smile at the annual QAA event ‘quality matters’. It is a play on words akin to that contained within Christmas crackers, Carlton cards and the oft-maligned ‘dad joke’. But it also undermines the simple fact that quality does matter.
In higher education, quality management is sometimes sidelined as an endless stream of bureaucracy, asking academics to jump through hoops to validate the hoops we make them organise for students. Not only do people worry that it is a distraction from the ‘real work’ of teaching and student support, but they hardly have the time given to them to look at the progress conscientious engagement with quality can have.
Take the common annual programme evaluation – actions lists for the year before, action lists for the year ahead, and never the time to contextualise them in the moments they are supposed to be concerned with. Yes – we consider student feedback. Yes – the external examiners have once again confirmed we meet UK expectations of academic standards. But have we learnt anything?
Learning requires engagement. Bryson (2014) focuses on student engagement with learning, and with respect to how students engage with staff it can often be transactional (where both are able to fulfil their responsibilities and gain from the experience). But where we often tie our own hands is that we repeat this transaction between the quality professional and the teacher – I have my report to send to a committee, you have 12 months breathing space before I hound you for more actions and KPIs.
If a chef concerned themselves with how many plates of food a dish would sell rather than the compatibility of flavours, ingredients and the presentation, they might as well be factory-producing ready meals. Or, to bring us back to the matter at hand, carbon-copying methods to produce almost indistinguishable student assessment and personal outcomes.
The great Forest Gump’s mother philosophised that life is like a box of chocolates – and so is quality. We know what the contents are, but if you put your hand in blind there is an element of chance. Quality management helps us to understand how the box of chocolates is composed, and when we positively engage with it we are able to learn how to make that box a welcome part of our academic environment.
This blog was written during the Learning at City Conference session: “Blogging together: Using social writing to create a community of practice around teaching excellence”.