Quality in the context of the EIT educational agenda
What constitutes educational quality in higher education and how it should be measured is under constant debate. In the EIT Innovation Community, quality means that students reach the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) of a programme through aligned teaching, combined with fair and reliable grading, active learning methods, and clear and helpful feedback in a rich and supportive learning environment. The EIT definitions and the logic of these terms are presented in this section.
Teaching for the 'Knowledge Triangle' (business, education and research) in the EIT context
To ensure and drive the quality and excellence of EIT-labelled programmes and modules, the EIT applies the EIT Quality Assurance and Learning Enhancement system (EIT QALE).
The EIT QALE model transforms the so-called 'knowledge triangle' of business, education and research into a working model with all three sides of the knowledge triangle activated. Through the creation a simple enquiry based process around the three sides of the knowledge triangle, questions are raised that should be asked by everyone when planning and performing all EIT educational activities carried out by the Innovation Communities:
- What are the best ways of linking research to education and business?
- What are the best ways of teaching creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship?
- How can optimal conditions be created so that students’ experiences from business can be used in research and education?
These questions constitute the basis for the EIT QALE model.
Knowledge forms in the EIT education agenda
Knowledge forms are a way of logically grouping together learning outcomes (OLOs).
Higher education has long focused more or less exclusively on ‘knowledge and understanding’. The Bologna process has stressed and promoted other generic learning needs as transferable or transversal skills, competencies, and attitudes, such as communication, making judgments and learning to learn. Ordering these into knowledge forms is a way to also highlight these types of learning outcomes. Although the use of learning outcomes clearly moves students’ learning from content knowledge to the use of this knowledge, they do not by themselves guarantee that. The explicit use of knowledge forms highlights this and is the key to moving from content to competence-based education, the latter of which integrates skills, knowledge and attitudes.
Using knowledge forms is also an effective way of profiling certain educational programmes. Indeed, with the EIT programmes, five of the seven chosen knowledge forms directly relate to the Knowledge Triangle and clearly distinguish these programmes from others.
Defining the relationship between the objectives, syllabus, and intended learning outcomes
In general, the objectives of a programme or module should answer the question ‘what is the purpose/rationale of a programme or module’. The intended learning outcomes (ILOs) should specify the knowledge, skills and attitudes that an individual will be required to demonstrate in order to have completed the module or programme successfully. The relationship between objectives and the ILOs should be very close where the ILOs are derived from the objectives. A syllabus therefore describes the content and the subject matter of a programme or module. In sum, the ILOs describe what students will be able to do with the content in order to fulfil the objectives.
Defining ‘high quality’ Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)
All ILOs in EIT educational activities performed by the Innovation Communities should:
- be clearly written so as to be easily understood by the potential learner
- outline the expected results of the learning
- have a clear student-centred educational process
- strongly and centrally emphasise competences, skills and impact in the learning content
- clearly describe skills and competencies rather than just content knowledge. An example could include the following description: ‘After the end of module… the student should be able to…’.
Fair and reliable assessment
The assessment must concern the object under study, and the assessment method should always mirror the competences that students are expected to be able to demonstrate. Assessment methods used by the Innovation Communities must provide students with opportunities to give evidence of their competencies in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the Innovation Community's thematic area. This calls for new methods of academic writing, especially in relation to thesis work.
In the context of EIT educational activities as performed by the Innovation Communities, there is a different approach between content-based, competence-based and impact-based assessments.
- A) Content-based assessment refers to assessment tasks that mainly ask the learner about facts.
- B) Competence-based assessments refers to assessment of intended learning outcomes that ask the learner to show ability to also use these facts.
- C) Impact-based assessment takes the assessment of competencies one step further and asks the learner to use these competencies in a real-life situation to create a change or solve a challenge.
EIT educational activities should refer to a relevant grading system. When working with learning outcomes, this naturally leads to a criteria-based system; in theory, all students can achieve the ILOs of the programme or module and should then be given a correct grading for this.
The foundation for a criteria-based system is a grading scale based on numbers (1, 2, 3, …), letters (A, B, C, …) or labels (Pass, Pass with distinction, cum laude, ……) and of assessment criteria (grade descriptors), which describe the extent to which the student has achieved the learning outcomes for each level of the scale.
A continuous dialogue between colleagues of the interpretations and use of these assessment criteria noticeably enhances the reliability of the assessments. There are also studies showing that training students in peer assessment and in applying assessment criteria to other students’ work improves their own learning.
Active teaching and learning
Active learning is defined as the teaching method in which the students become involved in various teaching activities but are also required to think about what they are doing. In other words, the teaching activities should include both ‘doing’ and ‘thinking/reflecting about this doing’ (students should apply a meta perspective to their own learning). This is important, as the quality of higher education does not improve just because a few practical elements are added; what makes higher education different to vocational training is that one also theorises and reflects on practical experience.
One difference between skill and competence is that a skill can only be used in a particular context and nowhere else (e.g. typing technique), whereas a competence can be thought of as the combination of knowledge and skills; it is something that can be used in many different contexts. A competence allows individuals flexibility in their choice of actions.
Active learning must not be equated with the total absence of lectures. Teachers can activate students on a ‘small scale’ during a lecture, for instance, by asking them to compare their notes for a few minutes.
Aligned teaching and why the EIT endorses it
Higher education in Europe has been subject to considerable change within a short period. The Bologna process has led to a radical shift in the approach to the quality of education, specifically by introducing the learning outcome paradigm. The consequences are two clear shifts of perspective. The first concerns a change in focus from the teachers’ activities to what the students do and should do (‘from teacher-driven to student-centred’). The second concerns a change from planning the programme or module ‘from beginning to end’ to a reversal of the process:
This is often referred to as ‘constructive alignment’, ‘aligned teaching’ or sometimes ‘the learning chain’, and is an important and necessary step towards competence-based rather than content-based education.
Aligned teaching provides a clear logic and understanding of what students will be expected to do and be able to achieve by the end of the study period, subject to their own efforts. By explicitly linking the ILOs with relevant assessment, the teacher also uses one of the strongest drivers of learning in the system – students’ motivation to succeed with their exam tasks.