How to ensure effective quality assurance for digital teaching and learning

How university teaching staff can ensure that their digital teaching maintains the same quality as their on-campus face-to-face delivery, by Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson's avatar
Teesside University
25 Mar 2022
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • More on this topic
Advice on applying quality assurance to digital teaching in higher education

You may also like

If peer feedback was good enough for the Brontë sisters, it’s good enough for us
Peer to peer feedback, as used by the Bronte Sisters, is a crucial tool for improving writing skills in university students

In many ways, ensuring the quality of digital pedagogy is no different from traditional face-to-face teaching, and so the usual higher education quality assurance processes that we engage with are still applicable. To assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of what we are doing, we can use:

  • our peers: in-session peer review, our external examiners, conference presentations
  • our sector-wide systems: regulations, league tables and sector bodies.

The Higher Education Academy Fellowship, National Teaching Fellowships and Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence (CATEs) all recognise quality in digital learning. The usual disciplinary frameworks apply, through course accreditation, although generally these are a little behind the curve and haven’t kept up with digital innovations.

So if you are thinking of embedding more digital learning and teaching into your delivery and want to know that what you are about to try, or have been doing, is actually working to enhance student attainment or engagement, here are some things to consider:

Digital pedagogy isn’t new 

Despite all the chatter about “flipping” to an online model during the pandemic, academics have been using digital tools in learning and teaching for years. There is a rich history and many successful case studies to draw upon, which often offer far more insight than just those derived from the past two years.

Take the time to learn from the quality assurance measures other academics have employed. There are a number of publications that have undertaken effective evaluations, with quantitative and qualitative student data, which you can use to help guide your own decisions.

Consider establishing your own community of practice. Nationally, Jisc has provided a wealth of information and case studies under its digital capabilities service, while the Quality Assurance Agency has performed its own ongoing review and reflection on digital learning.

Think about why you’re using a digital approach 

Understanding why you want to use digital tools in your teaching will inform what you use, how you use them, and how you determine their success. The quality assurance requirements for using an app, such as Mentimeter or Kahoot, to take a spontaneous survey in a large class are different from those, such as Learning Science or Labster, that prepare students for scheduled practical learning sessions aligned to learning outcomes or those that are used in summative assessments, such as Padlet or Adobe Spark. Fundamentally, the best way to ensure quality is to ensure that the use of digital tools is led by pedagogy and the student experience.

Digital poverty 

It’s really important to recognise that not all students will have access to the hardware needed to support digital learning nor to the internet connection to use it as intended. To rely heavily on digital tools in your teaching may disproportionately disadvantage certain groups of students. Quality assurance incorporates inclusivity. When we embraced a strong digital learning philosophy at Teesside University, we began by first ensuring that all students had the necessary technical hardware to use, including reliable on-campus wi-fi. Quality assurance is the responsibility of central university departments as well as individual academics, so you need to talk to them about your plans.

Digital tools 

If a specific digital tool is required to support learning or assessments, this should be provided by your institution. We also have to remember that some software limits the number of licences available or have year-on-year costs – something that can become complicated if there is a lack of institutional coordination between departments or faculties. There is a whole host of open-source digital tools that can be recommended instead of the usual “brand” versions. These provide the same functionality while being more inclusive.

Try before you buy 

Never ask your students to use a piece of software or an app that you haven’t used yourself. You should provide the first round of quality assurance, and your students will become confident in using the tool only if you already are. Play around with different digital tools and apps, experiment, see what works. Organise small staff groups to test and play with apps and share thoughts before putting them into modules.

Some students will find using new technology stressful, so it is worth including time in your teaching for students to familiarise themselves with such apps before they are used independently. Many years ago, we used online marketplace Second Life to support some of our teaching. We needed a full half-day of orientation for the students before we could begin the practical session.

Quality assurance is everyone’s responsibility 

We shouldn’t be looking to individual academics to roll out digital tools; it requires a pan-institutional approach with support from the pro vice-chancellor. The use of digital tools should be included in institutional quality assurance documents and form part of the continuous approval and review process. The rise and integration of Adobe Creative Campuses is a good example of this. Questions about digital tools and resources should form part of module and course evaluations. This will provide an important university-level scrutiny of their use and effectiveness.

The adoption of digital tools should not be limited to teaching and learning but should underpin a whole-institution approach to how we support our students. This includes library services, student support, timetabling and even catering points. As such, quality assurance responsibilities should also sit at the institutional level.

Tim Thompson is a professor and dean of health and life sciences at Teesside University.

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site