Aligning Research on Student Learning with Institutional Policies and Practices on Evaluation and Quality Assurance

  • Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title: Aligning Research on Student Learning with Institutional Policies and Practices on Evaluation and Quality Assurance

    Author(s): Simon Barrie and Michael Prosser
    Institution: The University of Sydney
    Session: Conceptual Paper  

    The issue of how to align university policy and practice on student evaluation and quality assurance with the results of research in student learning has been a matter of discussion for some years. In the first Improving Student Learning Conference held at Warwick University in 1993, Lublin and Prosser presented a paper in which they addressed that issue in the context of policy discussion in the early 1990s. The opening paragraph to that paper read:

    'The fundamental issue for teaching in higher education is the improvement in the quality of the processes and outcomes of student learning. There has been a substantial amount of research in recent years into the processes, outcomes and context of student learning. This research has shown that students approach their studies in fundamentally different ways, depending to a large extent on the context, with the result being that they learn fundamentally different things (Marton, Hounsell and Entwistle, 1984; Ramsden, 1992). This research has been applied, to some extent at least, at the individual student level, and at the classroom level (Ramsden, 1988). There has been little application, however, at the institutional level. This paper focuses on some experiences of applying the ideas from this research at the institutional policy level in a large, well-established, research based, metropolitan university.'

    (Lublin and Prosser, 1994, 38)

    In that paper the authors addressed the ways in which we were attempting to align university policy on student evaluation of teaching at the University of Sydney with research on student learning. In the 10 years since there has been substantial development in both research on student learning and concepts of quality assurance in higher education. The issue of student evaluation of teaching is now seen as only one part of the quality assurance process. The unit of analysis of student evaluations individual teaching, unit of study, year of study, degree program, was not an issue in 1993. It is now. Moreover, issues such as the scholarship of teaching and their links to institutional policies and processes (including performance-based funding for teaching) have become prominent in the intervening years.

    In this paper, we will outline some policy developments and strategies at the University of Sydney and show how they have changed and developed from those reported at the first ISL conference. We will outline the view of student learning underlying the development of university policy and show how the strategies adopted s aim to realise the implications of this understanding of student learning.


    Marton, F., Hounsell, D.J. & Entwistle, N.J. (Eds.) (1984) The Experience of Learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

    Ramsden, P. (1988). Studying learning: Improving teaching. In P. Ramsden (Ed.), Improving Learning: New Perspectives (pp. 13-31) London: Kogan Page.

    Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge.