Leading education quality improvements through research-focused communities of practice

Year: 2021

Author: Kelly, Jacinta

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Pre-recorded presentation link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25nCAKLuPy0This paper proposes an approach to quality improvement within Higher Education that leverages communities of practice in Scholarship in Teaching and Learning (SOTL). It does this through the lens of a case analysis: at the Australian College of Nursing, a non-university provider of postgraduate nursing qualifications, significant changes have been brought about through a model of distributed leadership within the SOTL community of practice. Teaching and learning staff regularly meet to engage in education scholarship relevant to their context, to reflect on their practice, and to chart the way towards quality improvements. This group has therefore become the engine behind significant quality improvements across all postgraduate programs and has ensured that organizational change is embedded in research-led practice. They thus engage in Action Research to collaboratively shift the educational environment. This paper thus reflects on the actions of the SOTL group since July 2020 and discusses what institutional change and education improvements has been brought about as a result. It finds that by engaging the academics as a community of practice, rapid positive transformation has been possible.While “quality” in an organizational setting may include service quality or management systems, in this context, it relates to educational quality as defined by TEQSA in the Higher Education Standards Framework. This paper therefore has relevance to Institutes of Higher Education who need to manage and document education quality improvements through academic governance as part of reaccreditation. Moreover, conversations about how to bring academic staff along for quality improvement changes in the face of change fatigue have never before been so critical. In response to the sudden onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, universities and higher education providers across Australia rapidly shifted their delivery model and bring about change at a scale and pace that had not been previously seen. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this dialogical model is that change and improvement within the department is driven by the academics and facilitated by management, rather than being imposed upon them from a disconnected management team. It therefore offers an approach for professional and academic staff to work effectively together in the higher education setting, as scholarship often posits these groups as adversaries. While the institution of higher education at question in this paper is of a different size and scope than many universities, at 22 teaching staff, it is as large as many university departments. It additionally works with a cohort of educators and students who, as healthcare workers, have faced additional pressures since the onset of the pandemic.