'Know how' tips in the battle to maintain quality

28th November 1997 at 00:00

This is one of a series of "know-how" books from Kogan Page. Its authors appear to have struck a rich seam: there are already eight volumes in the series, though this reviewer has not yet investigated the differences to be found between 500 Tips for Teachers and 500 Tips for Tutors, nor either of these from 500 Tips for Trainers. Coming next perhaps, 500 Tips for Lecturers, or 500 Tips for Facilitators of Learning?

Quality is one of the key educational words of the 1990s, and it is obvious that it is here to stay. The educational world has, as the authors point out, been trying to deal with growing student numbers, an increasingly diverse student population, an ever-tighter funding regime, and higher pressures on morale, levels of stress and workloads, whilst trying to maintain quality. One might add to this a further significant factor which would in itself demand serious attention to quality assurance and enhancement, were it not already required - the introduction of fees for tuition in higher education (we have, of course, always had them in further education) will result in higher levels of expectation from students about the quality of teaching and of service.

The propensity of students to complain, and to sue, will no longer be an isolated phenomenon, but a commonplace occurrence. Increasing numbers of mature students, less easily satisfied than your average 18-year-old, will accelerate this process. In this, as in so many other things, we will continue to follow the United States.

This is not, perhaps, a book that many will want to devour at a single sitting, but rather one that can be usefully dipped into for new ideas and the refreshment of old ones.

It is usefully organised into seven chapters, each with numbered sections which seek to unpack the chapter's theme. Chapter 1: Valuing Students, has sections on student induction, student handbooks, mature students, part-time students, overseas students, graduation, getting people to come back. Each of these sections has a dozen or so "tips".

Other chapters cover teaching and assessment, quality processes, feedback and evaluation, quality assessment visits, valuing staff, and caring for the campus.

My strong impression is that the book is aimed at higher education, in which a lower proportion of teaching staff have received pedagogic training, than the FE sector, which has placed much greater emphasis on pre-entry and in-service training and staff development.

Very few staff in further education, in my experience, need to be reminded to "help students get to know each other" or "to think about equal opportunities" or "to remember that mature students may know a lot".

There are many useful things in the book, and many individuals and institutions will benefit from the chapters on quality processes and enhancing learning in particular. The section on self-assessment, whilst basic, provides a valuable check-list.

But do people in universities really need to be told, in caring for the campus, to "make directions easy for important visitors to follow". What about less important visitors? What about students?

You won't get your Grade 5 (in HE) or your Grade 1 (in FE) simply by reading this, but it is a useful addition to the library.

Colin Flint is principal of Solihull College

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