How do you ascertain that students are learning?

In the third episode of the Quality Assurance Academy presents the HOW TO webinars, Björn Kjellander, Director of Quality Assurance and Accreditation, Jönköping International Business School, discussed his views on effectiveness of learning and teaching through ILOs and AoL.

When asked about his own definition of Assurance of Learning, Björn explained that whereas such reference usually comes from the outside as a term employed by external observers, his perception goes beyond a simple denomination. He sees it as an organic structure, a framework that he and his colleagues are systematically following up. And even though different accreditation bodies describe effectiveness of learning a little differently, their focus is similar – are students meeting the programme’s individual learning objectives?

At Jönköping, the starting point is an internal process where programme managers are looking in detail at each programme. When enough initial data is gathered (database solution is highly recommended), the data input on AoL is systematically shared with internal and external stakeholders. Important is to make AoL an integral element of faculty activities and their day-to-day operations. This will contribute to making faculty a part of the entire quality chain. When it comes to aligning learning objectives to the mission of the institution, Björn explained that a certain number of generalised degree level goals are directly stipulated in law – a particularity common to the Nordic countries. Therefore, the leeway for adding more generic goals relating to mission-related goals is not great, although you can integrate the outputs you are looking for within these regulations. On providing data on teaching effectiveness to accreditation bodies, Björn suggested this can be done through direct (exams, final papers…) and indirect (course evaluations, programme exit surveys, alumni programme data…) measures. Although there is not one right balance between these two in the final mix, it is necessary to use both to be able to evaluate how students learn over time. That way you ensure relevance and tangible input for the university’s quality assurance system and conformity with national and international expectations.

How to convince programme directors and get faculty on board to start using the strictly defined accreditation criteria? A good start seems to be sending them to conferences and seminars to create a common language and a common understanding of what ILO/AoL represent. In most cases, these terms describe differently what they have been or should be doing anyway and ILO/AoL can then more easily be aligned with daily operations. When it comes to engaging new staff/faculty, Björn agrees with Adam (2nd episode of the QAA webinars series on engaging faculty) – one needs to be prepared, involved and present every step of the way to bring them into the process from the very beginning. Identifying the “change agents” among the faculty, those who others listen to, sending them to events, will allow over time to build good practice from within.

In conclusion, Björn underlined it is of utmost importance to see the measuring of goals as a long-term and continuous process. If done only every 3 or 5 years, the system established at the institution could become very vulnerable and the impact of the current crisis would be huge. Will the ILO/AoL definitions change post Covid-19? We might want to concentrate on the more important question – how Covid-19 will influence learning and teaching in general? We need to become more agile to respond quickly to different kinds of audiences and their needs. We have a great opportunity now to make an inventory of the full set of quality assurance competences we have, to reflect on how things are done and to use all our findings to be more in sync with the “new normal”. Now that we will be sending out our graduates we should seriously reflect on what kind of world they will end up in in terms of measures currently in place. And ideally act upon it.

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