Involving Students in Quality Assurance Processes
Employing meaningful ways to involve students in quality assurance processes is an important, yet sometimes challenging, aspect of an institution’s efforts to ensure continuous improvement.
Student Involvement in the Self-study
Many institutions seek student perspectives by including students in focus groups and/or as part of the team responsible for leading the preparation of the self-study report. When including students in review committees (or similar), it is helpful to provide students with an orientation to the process and to the goals of the review. Additionally, student members of review committees should be informed of the results of the review, particularly if their participation in the review committee is limited.
Another way to approach this is to ensure that there is ongoing involvement of students in the academic unit’s governance structures and processes. When students are providing regular input on their courses and program requirements, it is very easy to gather and incorporate that information into a self-study that results in meaningful analysis and reflection. Constant contact with students, through their representation on departmental and / or Senate (or equivalent) committees and through their involvement in departmental seminars or workshops, can facilitate their ongoing engagement in quality assurance processes.
Curriculum Review Committees are a regular feature of many academic units. They provide an ongoing opportunity for students to reflect on their learning experiences in the program and to provide suggestions for changes as part of a structured curricular review process.
Academic Councils that discuss, advise, and/or recommend policy in the areas of curriculum, practicums, research and professional or community matters often include student representation from across each of the program years. A regular feature of Council meetings can include a report from each cohort of students (such as first-year, second-year, and/or the professional year). Student representatives should be encouraged to use Councils as a way to provide feedback to faculty about their satisfaction with the program and to help inform thinking about future program directions. A collection of student reports submitted over the course of the period covered by the review can provide rich information for the analysis that goes into a self-study.
Student Associations can also provide mechanisms for students to communicate ideas and concerns about the quality of a program from the students’ perspective. A student association can serve as a conduit between students and the faculty or Chair, and often can share valuable recommendations that arise from the students’ perceptions of the learning environment.
Written comments from Student Evaluations, if gathered regularly when students assess the courses they take and the instruction they receive, can be a rich source of information about students’ perceptions. Similarly, NSSE or CGPSS data, if suitably disaggregated, can be pressed into service when self-studies are initiated.
Other sources of student data:
Student Awards Offices:
Awards offices can be primed to produce data on awards as an index of student scholarship. In the STEM disciplines, NSERC’s Form 100 can also be helpful as a valuable source of information.
Input from alumni is frequently obtained by conducting surveys of past graduates. Additionally, when alumni belong to program advisory committees, they can be a resource in the preparation or critiquing of self-studies. Units that are in regular contact with alumni, either through the circulation of newsletters, the use of social media, or regular alumni events, may find it easier to engage alumni for quality assurance processes.
Consulting Students during the External Review (CPR and New Programs)
In addition to taking part in the review team and the drafting of the self-study, students are often consulted as part of the external reviewers’ site visit for Cyclical Program Reviews or New Programs which are associated with existing programs. While the group of students recruited for consultation may include student members of the review team, external reviewers will find it helpful to consult with a larger group of students. Ideally, this should include students from a range of different years, majors, and program options. Incentives such as a meal and/or recognition on students’ co-curricular record can be used to encourage a diversity of students to participate. Additionally, units may consider using social media and collaborating with student associations to recruit participants.
Review teams should consider the following potential barriers to meaningful student participation in consultations with external reviewers:
- Lack of understanding of the process: Provide students with a concise, plain-language outline of the purpose, process, and possible outcomes of the review. Include a mechanism for communicating the results of the review to students, even after they have graduated.
- Confidentiality concerns: Students may be reluctant to provide frank feedback if they believe their identities might be revealed to faculty/staff, either in the report or in discussions with the review team/faculty. The external reviewers should take care to maintain students’ confidentiality and may consider aggregating students’ comments where appropriate. This commitment to confidentiality should be clearly communicated to students.
- Scheduling/access concerns: Review teams can consider using a variety of formats to consult with students. For example, in addition to on-campus meetings, review teams might consider scheduling zoom sessions to accommodate part-time students who do not attend campus during traditional business hours or who are enrolled in online programs.