Here we offer up honest and pragmatic responses to the questions we've heard the most over the past few years, but do feel free to get in touch with us: info@qaaedu.org

So, how do we start on all of this quality assurance stuff?

Firstly, select willing participants who are prepared to be involved and gain new insights into elements of the processes involved. These will be your change agents, who will go forth and disseminate the information to their network of colleagues. Teams will be built up of subject matter experts (SMEs) in specific aspects of the core framework each led by a change agent. These teams will be supported, recognised and importantly, appreciated by senior admin as they go about the wider process of managing this institutional-wide change. As with any seemingly complex project, you just have to make a start and the pieces will come together. Ensure to calendar outcome milestones and review meetings into the diary. The self-assessment reports can simply show that process improvements have been recognised and action planning has started, or is under review. Keep your documentation organised for easy retrieval.
Have these framework element teams supported by senior admin and the designated QA leader; these teams should be reporting in on a regular basis. Have review meetings booked in at least six months ahead. It is important to keep all meeting notes, offer Lessons Learned to senior admin, act upon and retain feedback from leadership. Experienced QA specialists will help the processes to be measured against quantitative performance indicators, KPI's. Make sure these measures are sensible, realistic and attainable, if not this year, then next. Experienced QA specialists can also help codify your subjective qualitative outcomes into objective quantitative measurements. Necessary for statistical review and improvement.. Key Performance Indicators are the most important ones, those measures that are generally reserved for the most important top scoring elements, invariably based around Health and Safety. That's how to make a start; it's just basic project management skills that need to be implemented throughout.

How do we make sense of this QA document?

This is often a major problem in the initial stages, how to break this all down so that the teams can understand What and How to make progress? We've found that the push-back generally stems from the language that the frameworks are written in, the actual QA glossary items, those topic specific words and phrases that are used. Change them, use a new language, new phrases, describe them in a different, more user-friendly way. Don't even refer to 'quality assurance frameworks' any more, perhaps use 'Business or Learning Excellence Model' instead. Have regular workshops and one-to-ones with your QA lead staff, to give them the toolkit they will need to change expectations of the processes:- Assessing and Recognising where improvements can be made, and Action Planning to Implement, before Checking again. Plan the year ahead and put the dates in for these meetings. As time progresses and feedback from the teams is gathered and assessed, there will be a wider sense that this is all doable.

Why should I do it, why me, I'm too busy, what's in it for me?​

It will help you, it will make your job actually easier, with fewer opportunities for students and colleagues to come back to you with problems. You are a well respected member of this faculty and the staff and student's look up to you, you're a leader and change agent. You have worked on this before in your last position, so you know more about it than the others in your department - guide them. We need you by our side and we'll make sure you are given extra time and resources, a team to lead and you will be supported by working directly with the QA consultants.​ You'll become a valued member of the QA admin. You'll remain employable in the future and have transferable skill-sets when you decide to move onward and upward.

This extra work will end when we hand in the QA report, right....?

Not really, these are continual processes, the assessment and improvement of the core processes of this institution will always need to be reviewed regularly and action plans put into place; for example, when was the last time the Vision and Mission statements were reviewed for continued relevance? (See the genetic link between these institutional statements of intent and the degree graduate earning outcomes). It will get better though, and when you and your colleagues recognise how much easier this makes your main role of lecturing, appreciation of more engaged students, easier marking and the extra recognition you gain from senior admin, you will begin to appreciate that this should have been brought into your job description years ago.

'I have a PhD, I don't need to be involved with all of this, just let me get on with my teaching...'

Fine, but ask yourself these questions: Do you have a recognised teaching certification? The assertion that a PhD entitles one to teach is still prevalent, although a doctorate doesn't necessarily help you to be an empathetic or effective teacher. Do you teach or do you profess? You may well spend 60 minutes talking at a class who appear to hear, but do they actually listen, is the information going in, how do you know they can apply it? Traditionally, professing is the banking method of teaching, casting nuggets of information out into your class expecting their minds to be open and receptive. What's more important for you, the Teaching, or the Learning that takes place? From a quality perspective the actual Learning that takes place under your tutelage is far more important than your own perspective on your Teaching. We need reciprocal communication, so get off the stage and sit down with the students, listen to them, engage them, let them take the reins of their own learning and really show you what they can do. ​(see 'Flipping Classes') What learning hooks do you use in a class? How do you invoke their preferred learning styles and engage their multiple intelligence's? How often do you break them out into working groups, diverge, converge and focus their creativity? Where is your project or assignment draft grading rubric? Can you explain your grade breakdown criteria for all of the assignment with any particular class? Did you ensure that all of the students had a copy of the objective grading rubric and understood how this worked back in the first week of the module? How do you ensure 'Fair and Equitable' grading? How do you objectively grade the students' presentations? How do you record keywords and concepts, and where in your diary are the review dates? Do you have on record your written regular tutorial direction and feedback for the assignments your students handed in last semester? These are fairly typical areas of investigation for consultants and assessors, so make sure you're collecting information from now.

What is a quick, painless and inexpensive way to start the online learning process?

Ask your teaching staff to open up a discussion forum. These forums can be retained online for years and little or no cost; they can be saved in Word as documents for review. Teachers can also keep them for their own professional portfolios, as they show your teaching and the respondents' interactions, word for word. They take no pre-work and are constructed as the semester moves along, in fact the students do the work on this, and the teacher just monitors and offers direction. These course forums are so simple, with student's offering up related learning materials, links, images, videos etc to their peers - making your job much easier whilst improving the motivation and class dynamics. External professionals can be invited in virtually, to set authentic topic issues and questions, to discuss and explain concepts directly to the students. This topic-professional interaction is a necessary aspect to your accreditation. Upon review you will see that around weeks three and four the learning journeys really begin and the motivation accelerates, especially when utilising a simple discussion forum. This will probably be the students first taste of value-added peer teaching, they all involve and help one another, drawing in and engaging even the quieter peripheral learners. Teaching staff are privileged to witness the learning evolve, word by word as the course progresses. The discussion forums prove to be excellent evidence for assessors too.

What's the difference between an Audit and an Assessment?

There is a general confusion around this, mainly because institutions use them interchangeably, however, an audit is essentially compliance with set criteria, such as with the Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) aspects of your institution. Usually these are high scoring elements as they ensure the safety of students and staff.

Whereas an assessment adjudges how far along your quality journey you have travelled, reviews and offers guiding comments on your planning for the next stages of this journey.

So an assessment examines your functional process reviews, the improvements made, lessons learned, and the planning for future improvements.

This is a journey that will continue, there is no final destination as such, other than continual improvements being sought and implemented.

Just by way of clarification, even if assessors came in and offered up their considered view that the institution was 'Outstanding', the quality processes will still continue to be assessed and constantly moved forward. You will still be drafting self-assessments and submitting them to the Ministry of Education's Higher Education Review body.

It is feasible that if the institution's QA efforts then diminish that your next assessment can lower your standing and scoring, recommending another triangulation-of-evidence visit from the assessment board within perhaps three months.

Senior management who do not appreciate the importance of QA improvement processes and do not take note and act upon the MoE's requests for self-assessment reporting, are very likely to face a sudden visit from assessors who have the authority to withdraw the operating licence, and may initiate a closure of your programs or even the institution if substantial efforts are not made to improve.

What is the best approach to e-Learning within our specific learning culture and institution?

We need to define our use of the term, as it still seems to carry differing and somewhat conflicting ideas.

e-Learning is sometimes considered to be the holistic view that encompasses all learning or delivering of learning materials via computer technology.

There is a great difference between 'learning' and 'teaching' the delivery of materials or content.

In our educational context of learning we simply mean the use of online technologies where it will enhance learning, but is in no way a substitute for face-to-face interaction in this learning environment with its need for supportive teacher-student social interaction.

With the emphasis on enhance, online support will be for clarification, learning support or transparency.

Whether that be the Internet for the use of communication purposes, such as email or online discussion boards and the use of an internal intranet system to retain a www presence secure from prying eyes; or a fully fledged learning www learning portal.

A few years ago we were involved with the first joint venture fully online course to be administered in the UAE - involving:

Institution A,

University B,

University C.

and Knowledge Village in Dubai in conjunction with a platform purchased from institution D in the US.

This was designed with a control - one of the universities offered purely online learning with no face-to-face interaction with the teachers.

Outcomes from this study were not so positive, and illustrated clearly the following aspects we need to bear in mind when utilizing this technology for learning purposes:

The awareness to the needs of the specific student body.

Many of these courses and platforms are being sold ‘off the shelf’ to educational institutions on the basis of impressive features which may be as state-of-the-art as it gets, but often without sound cultural resonance or an appropriate cultural pedagogic basis.

Students need to be accultured into this learning process, features need to be scaffolded, tutorials need to be offered.

The process needs to be offered within a supportive and secure dynamic as possible.

(For theoretical aspects see: Maslow, Freire, Krashen, Gardener, Spiro, Jonassen, Flowerdew, Murphy, etc.)

Unless the prior knowledge and culturally preferred learning styles of the second language student body are considered then the outcomes are likely to be weakened. Which makes it very difficult for the teachers working under the added pressures of this invariably top down imposition.

So, what is the best approach to e-learning within our specific learning culture and institution?

Well, if we support appropriate courses with the internet we can add value to the courses and the learning environment. There is no need to present the students (or teachers) with a confusing array of features just for the sake of appearing upmarket or cutting-edge. Most E-learning systems are marketed for the range of facilities, much the same with new cameras – users will rarely use more than 10% of the cutting-edge features.

Faculty need to continually consider the question, not just from your elevated opinion but step into the shoes of your learners:

Are you actually adding value to the learning process or detracting from it?

There are students who are absent from class, sometimes through illness or from extended family holidays etc. Many wish to further their studies and academic explorations in the evenings and at weekends.

An online course portal then is an excellent source of information and asynchronous exchange (such as the discussion board) for them to keep up with the workload and deadlines, even able to submit their work online before a midnight deadline.

If we take the foundations of our sessions and post them online before the day of classes it gives the students the chance to pre-read and offers more opportunity for stimulating debate within the classroom.

This also offers a wider perspective of perceptions and opinions with carefully chosen guided links for expanded learning, thus enabling individual leaning journeys.

This system of presenting introductions to topics enables the students to consider the concept or theories introduced from their colloquial perspective; gaining some aspect of ownership and enlivening the classroom dynamic, feeling a valued partner within the learning and exploration process, developing subsequent consolidation and maintaining motivation.

Many positive attributes are gained.

The outcomes of multi-representation, critical thinking and autonomous learning is what undergraduate studies should be about; positive preparation for lifelong learning.

We can add links to appropriate and high-quality sites to direct the students in their autonomous investigations.

Please do check out the first couple of generations of links for any sites that may be wholly unsuited to cultural sensitivities.

We can upload the assessment and evaluation criteria, posting for example, questions to be researched (problem-based learning) issues to be considered, and offer links for the initiation of investigation.

Thereby, not only offering transparency of process but contextualizing their studies and extending their autonomous learning skills. Hopefully enabling the transfer from instrumental to intrinsic motivation.

You can quickly add prompts for deadlines and reminders. You can open an online discussion board and facilitate and consolidate learning via peer collaboration and teaching through quick postings.

We have absolutely no need to spend a great deal of the budget by inviting market oriented companies to join in our teaching processes. All we need is an introductory platform that can easily be built upon as our needs grow with teaching staff confidence. For this purpose we usually utilise the free, well established, open-source educational package – Moodle. (moodle.org).

By way of summation, if you consider the process of learning and studying from a student-centered point of view, as well as from a pedagogic one, you can do so much to assist the learning process and overcoming learning barriers, by the added value of supplementing motivational content, student oriented expansion and consolidation to the courses that we teach.

So, we should emphasize that E-learning in our context is not so much a portal for delivering information, but rather as facilitating our students’ individual pathways through this second language maze of constructivist and essentially western teaching and learning processes so that together we can cross the bridge to lifelong and meaningful applied learning.

Why do my Asian students either never speak, or just chat with each other though my classes?

Maybe because the Japanese and Korean students are reticent to try their English in front of the class, it's way too hazukashii... Maybe because the Chinese students are peer-teaching each other as you are speaking. Maybe because the Arabic students are just bored. After conducting lesson observation and focus group research in various countries on how non-native English speaking students (NNESS) listen in lectures we can offer a few useful suggestions: Stop talking too much. Stop professing. Consider your lecture beforehand for words, phrases and concepts that might trip up your NNESS. Reiterate these tricky areas, use a Multiple Intelligences approach to offer alternative approaches. Use a task such as group or table chats to break up and consodildate your lecture; hand out four or five open ended questions around the topic and leave them to discuss and then report conclusions back to the wider class. Bear in mind the difference between listening and hearing. Slow down and pay attention to the individual responses, or more importantly, the lack of responses.

Does your institution need help?