Quality assurance: friend or foe to curriculum innovation?

Robust and rigorous processes and procedures are needed to ensure that quality and standards are met but can they actually stand in the way of creating flexible, agile and responsive curricula? A baseline report for the curriculum design programme shows that the institutions involved have robust QA processes but some of them worry that these processes inhibit agility. Examples include: the infrequency of validation boards meeting; quality cycles being out of synch with academic cycles and burdensome and duplicated paperwork (to name but a few). But is it external agencies or the institutions themselves that safeguard these frameworks in the interests of ‘quality assurance’.
Dr Peter Findlay, Assistant Director of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has been working with us to show how quality assurance seeks to support rather than stifle innovation. In a recent online session, Peter welcomed working with JISC to help promote innovative good practice emerging from the projects. He suggested that QAA sees the projects as a valuable contribution to the way curriculum design approval processes are managed.

Peter dispelled some myths surrounding the QAA, for example, ‘we’ve got to do that because QAA says so.’ Firstly institutions are autonomous and are not ‘answerable’ to the QAA and secondly institutions have been proactively involved from the outset in developing a common framework for quality standards. Quality audit is not about finding things wrong with the institution but more positively a way of finding out how other people do things and inform good practice across the sector. A visit from QAA is not something to be dreaded but rather an opportunity to showcase good work. Institutional managers should use the freedom and flexibility on offer to ensure that audit is used in the most positive way. In the same vein, external auditors should not be seen as ‘inspectors’ but rather as ‘critical friends’ who understand the issues.

Reflections from the Greenwich CAMEL meeting around QA issues.

What are the expectations around curriculum design and delivery from a QA viewpoint?
There are a number of factors involved but risk assessment is key when developing a programme including consideration of the risks to students, the management of the programme, partner institutions etc. Different levels of risk need to be considered and the approaches should be proportionate to need. Some institutions use a scaled range of approaches to different types of course development so they “don’t need to use big hammers for little nuts”. The PALET project at Cardiff is addressing risk in the review and implementation of its validation processes.

Curriculum Approval

Many institutional procedures are too complex and no longer fit for purpose and the QAA encourages a move away from conventional structures to ensure flexibility and responsiveness to need. A number of the Curriculum Design projects are looking at how technology can help streamline the approval process (e.g. Cardiff, Greenwich) and explore more reflective approaches to course development and approval (Birmingham City University).

However, curriculum approval is just one aspect of audit. Managing course information more effectively is a critical area that all projects in Curriculum Design are concerned with. Some of the key issues include eliminating duplication, using technology and standards to share and exchange data more effectively improve the capture, development and communication around course-related information which are being addressed by projects such as Principles in Patterns (Strathclyde) and Supporting Responsive Curricula (Manchester Met)

View the recording of the online Elluminate seminar

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