Peer Evaluation of Master Programs: Closing the Quality Circle of the CDIO Approach?

Peer Evaluation of Master Programs: Closing the Quality Circle of the CDIO Approach?

Peter Munkebo Hussmann (Technical University of Denmark, Denmark), Anita Bisi (Aalto University, Finland), Johan Malmqvist (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), Birgitta Carlsson (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), Hilde Lysne (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway) and Anna-Karin Högfeldt (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/ijqaete.2012040107
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Abstract

A quality assurance project was conducted within the framework of the Nordic Five Tech Alliance (N5T), a strategic alliance of the five leading technical universities in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The project concerned the development of a common quality enhancement tool for conducting peer evaluations of educational programs to enable their further development and close the quality circle. In addition, the project will contribute to the consolidation of the N5T alliance by facilitating contacts between faculty members and providing them with an in-depth knowledge of the study programs within their field at another N5T institution. The article describes the quality enhancement tool in detail, its contribution to the development of the involved programs, and how international peer evaluation can contribute to closing the quality circle. Finally, it assesses the value of the approach to contribute to the creation of long-term relationships in educational networks.
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Introduction

How can we conceive, design, implement and operate the best possible educational programs for the benefit of students, industry and our technical universities? This is – to put it bluntly – what the Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate (CDIO) approach is all about (Crawley et al., 2007).

This article describes a quality assurance project, which is conducted within the framework of the Nordic Five Tech Alliance (N5T), a strategic alliance of the five leading technical universities in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden:

  • Aalto University, Finland (Aalto)

  • Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden (Chalmers)

  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway (NTNU)

  • Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (KTH)

  • Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

The project is concerned with the development of a common quality enhancement tool. The tool is designed for conducting peer evaluations of educational programs enabling further development of the study programs involved, and thereby it is contributing to closing the quality circle, which is embedded in the CDIO approach. In addition, the project aims to contribute to the consolidation of the N5T alliance by facilitating contacts between faculty members and providing them with an in-depth knowledge of the study programs within their field at another N5T institution.

The overall objective of the quality enhancement tool is to ensure that the students can study in environments where their development of relevant and excellent knowledge, skills, competencies and values is optimal. These skills, competencies and values must be fit for industry needs and at the same time they should make the future engineers able not only to develop, change and improve industry practices, but also to work with research. This objective is supported by program benchmark evaluations with peers in order to analyse ones own practice, identify one’s own strengths and weaknesses, as well as to learn from peers within the same engineering domain.

The article describes the quality enhancement tool in detail and analyses its impact on the curriculum development quality of the teaching and learning within the involved programs. Furthermore, it outlines how international peer evaluation can contribute to closing the quality circle embedded in the CDIO approach.

The article is structured as follows: We begin by reviewing current trends in quality assurance (QA) of higher education, and single out the motives for complementing national QA framework with local ones, specifically peer evaluation frameworks. We then describe our method, followed by an account for how it has been applied to evaluate seven pairs of master programs in two different projects in 2009-2011. The discussion section mainly considers the program directors’ perceptions of the peer evaluation model and the article is wrapped up with a list of conclusions and ideas for future work.

Demanding high quality in all services and activities seems to be a general trend in all parts of society. Everyone and everything is measured and compared in order to ensure that every performance is a good value for the money. The quest for quality and accountability is omnipresent. In line with this trend, government control of higher education (HE) has become more predominant (Rozsnyai, 2003), and the advent of market forces in HE has challenged the academic oligarchy. For quite some time accountability has been the buzzword in order to ensure value for public money (Gray, Patil, & Codner, 2009).

However, it is not always made explicit what is actually meant by quality. Quality is somehow a very indistinct concept and can probably be placed in the category of concepts which can be identified as an essentially contextual concept, very much depended on personal preferences as well as being multidimensional and complex (Dahler-Larsen, 2008). And since the quality of teaching and learning are some of the most complex and difficult areas to measure the increasing demand for and focus on quality in HE is even more challenging (Dahler-Larsen, 2003).

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