This is something I wrote in a protected post years ago. I want to get this bit out in the open.

It captures an important distinction about Quality Assurance from John Biggs and asks a question (the title of this post) that I’ve yet to see an institution address effectively. Lots of big projects and events paying lip service, but not really anything substantially addressing the practical impediments to quality teaching.

Raising perhaps another question, who gets to judge what is an impediment and whether it is solved?

An focus on retrospective QA, rather than prospective QA

Biggs (2001) identifies two types of Quality Assurance (QA), these are

  • retrospective QA; and
    Defined as seeing “QA in terms of accountability, and conforming to externally imposed standards” (p. 221).
  • prospective QA.
    Defined as seeing “QA as maintaining and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in the institution” (p. 221).

In my experience, the institution (like most) is almost entirely focused on retrospective QA and pays little or no attention to prospective QA. As Biggs (2001) describes

Retrospective QA looks back to what has already been done and makes a summative judgment against external standards. The agenda is managerial rather than academic, with accountability as a high priority; procedures are top-down, and bureaucratic. This approach, widely used in the emerging universities in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (Liston 1999), is despite the rhetoric not functionally concerned with the quality of teaching and learning, but with quantifying some of the presumed indicators of good teaching and good management, and coming to some kind of cost-benefits decision. (p. 222)

Prospective QA, on the other-hand

is not concerned with quantifying aspects of the system, but with reviewing how well the whole institution works in achieving its mission, and how it may be improved. (p. 223)

Biggs (2001) then draws on the ideas of the reflective practitioner and the scholarship of teaching to develop three questions that define QA

  1. Quality model (QM) – What is the institution’s espoused theory of teaching?
    I have some problems with a whole institution having an espoused theory of teaching. However, to some extent the institution has already done this with the “personalised learning” pillar of its strategic plan.
  2. Quality enhancement (QE) – Does practice align with the espoused theory? How can the theory guide the design of teaching?
  3. Quality feasibility (QF) – What are the impediments to quality teaching and what can be done to remove them?

The concepts of digital renovation and concrete lounges are related to the apparent absence of quality feasibility.


Biggs, J. (2001). The Reflective Institution: Assuring and Enhancing the Quality of Teaching and Learning. Higher Education, 41(3), 221–238.


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