The University of Hertfordshire is a large post-1992 institution and leading business-facing university, with a strong focus on graduate employability. The University seeks to encourage staff members to work beyond institutional silos, and training to aspiring external examiners has been offered over many years as part of the staff CPD offer, previously via a half-day session led by the Director of Academic Quality. Becoming an ‘early adopter institution’ of the Professional Development Course for external examiners (PDC) provided the chance to further develop the offer to Hertfordshire staff, and also those in consortia partner organisations, who are both existing and aspiring external examiners.
There has been a high level of demand for places on the PDC at Hertfordshire and a waiting list exists, reflecting not only the size of the institution but also the priority given to staff taking on external examining as part of ongoing career development. Up to July 2019, around 150 staff members have participated, over half (56%) being aspiring external examiners. There has been positive feedback from participants, and 83% agreed the course had given them ideas they would not otherwise have thought about. The feedback from participants who were starting out on external examining roles for the first time was particularly positive, and suggests this group find the provision especially beneficial in developing their thinking in advance of taking up an external examiner position. The PDC has reinforced assessment, calibration and moderation activities within different departments. The University expects to run the PDC twice yearly (subject to an annual review of demand for the training offered). Taking on the delivery of the PDC has been a significant undertaking in terms of engagement in the develop-the-developer process, however, Hertfordshire staff members involved in the institutional delivery felt well supported by AHE to deliver the course and resource implications have been absorbed because this work would be going on anyway.
In future, it is likely that the PDC will continue as an embedded part of the institutional continuing professional development offer to staff. Long-term sustainability is likely to depend on demand, and will rely on ongoing support from AHE in terms of maintaining the PDC platform, and refreshing the materials.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance was awarded taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) in 2016. There are around 750 full-time First Degree students, and approximately 370 academic staff (most staff are on a part-time basis). Involvement in the Degree Standards project was driven by the Deputy Registrar (Academic Administration and Quality) who works closely with academic staff, the student union and the wider study body in an advisory capacity on a range of issues including quality assurance.
The Degree Standards project was an opportunity to broaden the internal staff development offer, which was limited to relatively short sessions on quality assurance and programme enhancements. There are synergies with institutional priorities in the learning and teaching strategy towards improving general assessment and feedback mechanisms. Engagement with the Professional Development Course for external examiners (PDC) has been an opportunity to put a focus on calibration in advance of assessment, particularly for postgraduate provision. By July 2019 half of the programme leaders at Trinity Laban had taken part in the professional development. Most participants so far did not hold an external examining appointment. The main challenge to delivering the course has been ensuring sufficient take-up. Colleagues have joined in from another institution boosting attendance and providing interesting discussion in terms of encouraging holistic thinking on subject level standards including contemporary developments in music provision, and putting the focus on the national framework across different providers. The hope is for the course to be part of the professional development calendar, perhaps on an annual basis, and faculty heads are supportive of this.
Involving incoming external examiners has been identified as a potential way of increasing the inputs from experienced external examiners. There is also potential interest in delivering professional development in partnership with other related small specialist institutions regionally in order to share the burden and make the provision more sustainable.
The Open University (OU) is the largest provider of part-time, supported distance higher education and open learning in the UK. The University employs around 1,000 salaried academic staff, plus there are well over 4,000 Associate Lecturers who are responsible for teaching students through correspondence tuition.
The OU worked with the (then) HEA to test the Professional Development Course for external examiners (PDC) in early 2017. To an extent, professional development for external examiners at the OU was not a new idea, since a network was already in place and lunchtime sessions were being held twice a year for staff who are examiners at other institutions to share their knowledge and experiences. The PDC was seen to offer multiple benefits: a chance for senior staff members working in quality assurance roles to support the development of external examiner practice, and to benchmark practice against sector developments and other universities; support for newly appointed external examiners to understand the requirements of the role; encouragement and a ‘badge’ for staff members who might be interested in examiner roles in future. Engagement with the PDC at the OU benefited from finding a strong senior champion with a QA remit, enthusiastic academic staff members with external examining experience who were willing to put in the effort required to take on the delivery, backed up by access to administrative support services and resources to cover the costs involved. Taking on delivery of the blended course, rather than a fully online version, enabled the existing practice of networking examiners to be developed further, especially for new and aspiring examiners.
The PDC has proved popular. To date, eighty-one OU staff members have completed the PDC, from a diverse range of disciplines and both academic and professional/work-based perspectives. Organisation and administrative aspects of the course have proved to be a major consideration, and having access to an experienced support staff member was important because of the need to manage a waiting list. Positive feedback from participants coupled with high levels of demand for places means that it is likely that the course will be continued, and plans are currently being put in place to run the course twice during the 2019/20 academic year. For practical reasons, the facilitators would like to run the course at least twice a year in future (in Autumn and Spring) because that way their grasp of the course will be retained. Responsibility for the administration of the course has recently been transferred from the office of the PVC for students to the professional development services section of the human resources team. This is seen as a positive development in terms of mainstreaming the provision (for example in future the PDC will be recorded as mainstream staff development on staff members’ official records). However, resources for administration and hosting will need to be secured to make sure the course takes place.
Having professional development for external examiners under the AHE banner is important to help to ensure the provision retains a high profile. For the future sustainability of the professional development for external examiners, it will be important to promote wider take up and embedding of the course in what academics across the sector will consider simply a regular career development activity.
Advance HE provides independent accreditation of institution’s internal CPD schemes against a globally -recognised framework for benchmarking success within higher education teaching and learning support. The report once again focuses our attention on how important the teaching and learning practice is to the student experience.