Quality assurance in education

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Design, development and approval

Establishing a need
Design and development of a new programme or course generally starts with a perception that there is a need for it. This need may arise because of a new industry, a shortage in the workforce, or interest expressed by potential students. Market research may be carried out to confirm that such a need really exists.


Case Study: Emilia

Emilia's department has regular consultation with health sector stakeholders through its advisory committee. Prior to Emilia starting work at the polytechnic, members of this committee identified a growing demand for public health policy specialists in the health sector. Research showed that there were few relevant courses on offer and that there was clearly a need for such a course.

Management then decided to allocate resources to the new course and Emilia was appointed to lead its development and delivery.

Delivery modes
This is a key decision to be made early in the development process, since it may have a major impact on course design. Some kind of blended learning or eLearning may be desirable to reach the target group.
Consultation with stakeholders
NZQA expects the organisation to show evidence that stakeholders (e.g. a professional body or industry) support the course or programme. Consultation takes place at every stage of the development process: not just in establishing a need, but in confirming that the course outcomes, content, resources and assessment are appropriate and relevant.
Internal approval
Most institutions require formal approval to be given to the new course or programme at key stages. For example, the Quality Enhancement Centre at Otago Polytechnic provides templates based on NZQA quality standards for programmes and courses. They assist staff to fill them out thus producing a comprehensive document for each new programme or course. These documents are then checked and scrutinized by staff on the Academic Approvals Committee. Once modifications are made, the documentation is submitted to Academic Board for final approval. This ensures that the institute's internal quality standards are met. The Graduate Diploma of Tertiary Education programme document is available on the NZQA website (scroll down to access the pdf).


Case Study: Emilia

Once Emilia has completed writing the course document (using a prescribed template) it is presented to members of the relevant faculty academic committee. The committee identifies some areas where changes and additions are needed.

Emilia makes these changes and resubmits the document. The committee is happy with the document and formally approves the new course.

Ongoing review and monitoring
Most institutions provide for regular comprehensive reviews of programmes (e.g. annually at Otago Polytechnic), as well as ongoing monitoring through their audit office and professional bodies. For example, the School of Social Services has a PEAC (Permanent External Advisory Committee) made up of external stakeholders, and members of Otago Polytechnic staff and Council. This committee is an important component of quality assurance as it represents the community voice with regard to the "quality, relevance, scope and currency of ... courses".
Internal moderation: Statistics on enrollments, retention and completion rates must be reported to the Ministry of Education, as these determine the level of funding provided to an institution. Additionally, staff may report to a faculty committee on assessment results, issues and problems, etc. Several departments at Otago Polytechnic operate Assessment committees. This internal moderation process is important to ensure that "internal assessment is accurate, consistent, and to the national standard". For more information, please look at the NZQA guidelines for Internal moderation.
Evaluation of delivery and resources
Institutions have polices for gathering feedback from students on the quality and effectiveness of the course's delivery - e.g. the teaching approach and the online resources and activities.
Programme review
In addition to ongoing review and evaluation, most institutions require programmes to undergo a major review every 5 years. Such a process of review involves internal moderation and external moderation. For the latter, experts in the field are asked to review material, and in particular the assessments.
External moderation also helps to ensure that the assessment standards are consistent with the standards used nationally (or even internationally) by other providers. External moderation may be carried out by a staff member from another institution or by a national moderator appointed by NZQA.


Case Study: Brett

Brett's institution carries out a regular review of all courses, including feedback from industry on graduates' readiness for work. As part of the 5-year review of the carpentry programme it became clear that there some components had not kept up with developments in industry. This led to the decision to assign Brett the role of revising these components.

If you recall, Brett was to develop some innovative activities and formative assessments. He will need to seek advice from colleagues as part of internal moderation.

Assessment and moderation

So how is moderation used when designing and developing assessments? The quality of assessment documents and processes is assured through moderation. Moderation incorporates two key stages:

Pre-assessment moderation
Carried out prior to the assessment process to ensure the quality of assessment materials.


Case Study: Emilia

Once the course has been developed and approved, Emilia develops the assessment materials, including the marking criteria. A colleague moderates each assessment and gives feedback and identifies any changes required.

Once Emilia's colleague (the moderator) is satisfied that the assessment materials are 'fit for purpose', she complete a written moderation report to show that the assessment materials have been approved for use.

Post-assessment moderation
Carried out after the assessment process to ensure the quality of assessment decisions- i.e. is the marking consistent and in line with accepted benchmarks and criteria (validity)? Do different markers get similar results (reliability)?


Case Study: Emilia

Emilia's department provides her with a moderation plan - once she starts teaching the course and marking assessments, she will need to arrange for a colleague to cross-mark a sample. This will ensure that the marks she allocates are consistent with other markers across the programme.

Emilia's moderation plan calls for at least 10% of assessment work to be moderated, including a representative range from high to low grades.

Most organisations will have assessment and moderation policies.


Extra resources

For more information on moderation of assessment, check out:

  • NZQA's guide to Assessment and Moderation
  • Assessing and Evaluating for Learning

Organisational effectiveness

All the quality assurance processes outlined above take place within the overall quality assurance of the organisation. 'Big-picture' quality assurance generally takes place through:

Self-assessment by the organisation
Since NZQA introduced an Evaluative approach to quality assurance, self-assessment is encouraged as an ongoing process instead of just being an annual event. This process is outlined in the Evaluative approach to quality assurance policy framework. Annual reviews of programmes do still occur, and generally involve a small team of staff members who review the organisation's overall effectiveness in meeting its goals as well as the effective functioning of its quality assurance processes.
External evaluation and review
Normally takes places less frequently, and involves a small team of external reviewers appointed by NZQA. The team reviews the organisation's overall effectiveness in meeting its goals as well as the effective functioning of its quality assurance processes (including the self-assessment).


Extra resources

For more information, check out NZQA's guides on:

  • Organisational self-assessment.
  • External evaluation and review.

Professional development of teachers

Quality assurance for teaching and learning is also linked to annual performance appraisal processes for teaching staff, and staff development policies. For example, teachers may be expected to gather feedback from students on the effectiveness of their teaching as one of the sources of data for the appraisal process. They may also be required to complete a teaching qualification or attend professional development events.


Case Study: Emilia

Once Emilia's teaching is underway, she will gather feedback each term from learners on the effectiveness of her teaching. She has decided to use an SGID process rather than a feedback form because she wants to get some in-depth feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Towards the end of the year, she'll meet with her manager as part of the annual performance appraisal process. During the meeting they will discuss the feedback from learners and how she has incorporated it into her teaching.

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  • Reflect on ways in which you have been involved in educational quality assurance processes.
  • Record brief notes on how effective the processes were and how they might be applied differently in future.
  • Investigate your organisation's policies for staff development and quality assurance.