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Understanding Quality Culture (award winning paper) by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers

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Understanding Quality Culture (award winning paper) by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers

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The paper aims at developing a holistic understanding of quality in higher education which reveals the current debates about accreditation or quality process standards as insufficient, and proposes an enhanced model for quality culture in educational or-ganisations.

The paper aims at developing a holistic understanding of quality in higher education which reveals the current debates about accreditation or quality process standards as insufficient, and proposes an enhanced model for quality culture in educational or-ganisations.

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Understanding Quality Culture (award winning paper) by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers

  1. 1. Ehlers, U.-D. (2009): Understanding Quality Culture. In: International Journal for Quality Assurance in Education. Emerald Understanding Quality Culture Purpose The paper aims at developing a holistic understanding of quality in higher education which reveals the current debates about accreditation or quality process standards as insufficient, and proposes an enhanced model for quality culture in educational organisations. Design/methodology/approach The conceptual framework is based on relevant research in the field of quality development for education, and integrates it with a series of previously published works related to quality methodologies, quality literacy and quality as a multidimensional concept. Quality is approached from an educational science perspective, and is understood as a relationship among all the participants and resources of an educational scenario. Findings The paper establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding and analysis of quality culture in organisations, focussing on higher education. While this understanding of quality as part of the organisational culture seems to gain more importance there is still a lack of fundamental research and conceptual understanding of the phenomenon in itself. Quality development in higher education is often limited to bureaucratic documentation, and disregards the development of quality as an organisation’s holistic culture. However, there is a needs to focus on promoting a quality culture which is enabling individual actors to continuously improve their educational practice. Originality/value The original value of the paper is to approach quality development in higher education from an organisation’s cultural perspective. When the conceptual foundations for empirical research are worked out, the professionals can benefit by understanding the interrelated nature of educational quality and organisational culture in higher education institutions. Paper Type: Conceptual Paper Keywords: Quality culture, higher education, quality, education, quality management, organisational culture 1
  2. 2. Introduction: A Culture of Quality in Higher Education We are entering a new era in quality management for higher education. While it is difficult to mark its exact beginning, it is clear that it is moving away from a mechanistic to a holistic and cultural view of quality in education. It is characterised by an emerging understanding that quality development, in essence, demands for the development of an organisational culture based on shared values, necessary competencies and new professionalism. Whereas, much attention has been paid to mastering instruments of quality control or accreditation in the past decade, the focus is more and more on mastering change, allowing ownership for individual development, promoting champions in organisations and enabling professionals in higher education contexts (Wolff 2004). Concepts like quality control, assurance and management are often perceived as technocratic top-down approaches which frequently fail in higher education (Sursock, 2004, F9.1). For a long time quality development has followed a modularistic approach by singling out organisational processes, describing and quality assuring them. The new generation – or era – focuses on change more than on control, development rather than assurance, and innovation more than compliance. The former – traditional – understanding of organisational management, promoted by theorists like Michael Porter (1985, pp. 11-15), inherently represents the belief that strategies can be pre-determined and precisely planned. The latter and new generation of approaches, promoted most prominently by Henry Mintzberg (1994, p. 112), affirms that change in organisations is emergent and resulting from employees’ competences and organisational culture. In this understanding aspects like quality management systems and instruments, competencies and individual and organisational values are not seen as separate entities any longer, but are combined in holistic concepts. None of them is superior to the other. In this new view educational quality can not be normatively pre-defined by experts but has to emerge in open negotiation and through stakeholder participation. From such an organisational cultural perspective it is important to approach quality holistically and combine cultural elements, structural dimensions and competencies into one holistic framework, enabling stakeholders to develop visions, shared values and beliefs. The paper shows that communication, participation and the combination of top-down and bottom-up interaction is of key importance to a successful development of quality culture. A main problem which is addressed is that even though sometimes effective organisational processes have been implemented, the educational quality (e.g. answering the question “what is good learning?”) is still lagging behind, and teaching strategies of educators or learning strategies of students have not been improved. The development of an education oriented and comprehensive concept for educational quality in organisations is still underdeveloped (Newton, 2000, pp.153). In earlier works, the elements of a new and more comprehensive understanding of quality for education have been spelt out. It has been suggested that quality development in 2
  3. 3. education has to focus on incorporating new values, skills and attitudes into professional educators’ behaviour in order to have an impact on the teaching and learning processes (Ehlers, 2006a, 2007, 2007a). The author proposed that educational quality is the result of a co-production process in an actual learning situation (Ehlers, 2006, 2005, 2004), and observed that in contrast to that many quality strategies follow the implicit logic that the quality of educational processes is a direct result of a ‘faultless flow’ of planning, preparation, and teaching process. The author was then emphasizing the importance of competences rather than mere process definitions in order to enable educators and students to act as competent quality developers of their own improved educational environments. The so-called quality competences have been described as the concept of quality literacy (Ehlers, 2006a, 2007, 2007a, 2007b). In view of the deficits in current quality research and management practices, we will take further steps in this article and combine the elements of process oriented quality management and the concept of quality literacy in order to develop a comprehensive concept of quality culture for educational organisations, focussing on higher education. Quality culture as such focuses on organisations’ cultural patterns, like rituals, beliefs, values and everyday procedures while following processes, rules and regulations. In the next section we will show that quality in higher education moves from a debate about regulations to a more holistic debate on organisational culture. We will then (in the following section) answer the question “what is organisational culture?” by discussing and examining the state-of-the-art research in organisational culture. In the current section we discussed approaches for organisational culture and compared them. We then show (in the subsequent section) the relationship between quality and culture for higher education organisations. The final section introduces a new model of quality culture embedded into research findings in the field of educational quality and is followed by final conclusions. Moving from Regulation to Culture in the Quality Business In the past 25 years, the concept of organisational culture has gained wide acceptance as a way of understanding human systems. From an “open-systems” perspective, each aspect of organisational culture can be seen as an important environmental condition affecting the system and its subsystems. However, only little efforts have been made so far to transfer the concepts to the field of quality culture for higher education. Mabawonku (2003, pp. 117) defines culture as the “definitive, dynamic purposes and tools (values, ethics, rules, knowledge systems) that are developed to attain group goals.” Kinuthia and Nkonge (2005, pp. 2613) define these knowledge systems as “pertinent to people’s understanding of themselves, their world, and influences on education.” Taking a closer look at the very meaning of the 3
  4. 4. word culture we can establish that it is stemming from the Latin term cultura which in turn is coming from colere, meaning ‘to cultivate’. Today it generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give them their meaning (Williams, 1983: 87). There are, however, different definitions of culture which reflect different theoretical basis of understanding human behaviour. Kogan (1999) states that a common description or agreed on definition can hardly be found, given the vast and diverse coverage in literature. In the field of higher education, he argues, often an uncritical approach has been followed and introduced the concept in a rather unreflected way. However, it appears that for quality – and organisational – development in the field of education, the term bears so far unseen capabilities to combine individual and organisational conditions of professional behaviour and development. Jean Monnet, an important figure in the European unification process, once said “If I would again start with the unification of Europe, I would start with the culture and not with the economy.” (Haas and Hanselmann, 2005: 463 and 464) A similar observation can be made when looking at the introduction of quality management strategies in higher education. Too often instruments and tools are introduced without respecting given cultural situations. While the quality of teaching and learning interaction between students and educators in higher education is influenced by a variety of factors, including attitudes and skills of teachers, abilities and motivation of learners, organisational backgrounds, contexts and values and the existing structures, such as rules, regulations, legislation and alike, the majority of approaches to assess, assure, manage or develop quality is only partially taking these factors into account. Quality approaches are rather directed towards improvement or regulation of organisational processes (in the case of process oriented quality management approaches), the assessment of the outcomes of activities (in case of assurance or evaluations approaches) or to development of individual abilities (in case of quality development through professional training approaches). Two opposing developments in higher education quality regimes can be observed. On the one hand structures, accreditation, rules and regulations gain importance, mainly with the rise of New Public Management approaches (Hood 1998: 212). On the other hand the interest in culture as underlying concept for organisational improvement in higher education performance is a dominant theme in much of the available management literature (Löffler, 2005). In essence, the important emerging message is that an emphasis on values, norms and culture in an organisation is easily combined with question of organisational accountability and performance (Martin et al. 2000; Stratton 2006). While the awareness for the networked and “total systems” character of quality as a holistic concept in higher educational is starting to spread (Wirth, 2006; Harvey 2006), the basis for empirical research and conceptual development is missing to date. Thus, there is a need to introduce an understanding of quality in education from a more comprehensive perspective than just analysing single isolated factors. In 4
  5. 5. industry this has been done already through the concept of total quality management, understanding quality as a characteristic of an organisational culture, seeing quality in the wholeness of organisational factors interplaying when striving for improvement. For higher education (and education in general) the idea of a total quality management has so far had only little impact because of the complexity of factors influencing quality in education, like attitudes and skills of teachers, abilities and motivation of learners, organisational backgrounds, contexts and values, and the existing structures, such as rules, regulations, legislation and the like. Thinking of quality in terms of a culture, rather than limiting it to criteria and/or processes, is therefore of high relevance. Such a deep understanding of quality in higher education – understood as the “constitution, measured against the needs and expectations of the stakeholder groups.” (Seghezzi, 2003, p. 13) has at least two dimensions: a structural dimension (quality management handbooks, process definitions, instruments, tools) and the dimension of values of an organisation (relating to the commitment of its members, the underlying values, skills and attitudes). Quality culture is naturally connected to elements such as the organisation of work, technology, organisational structure, business strategy and financial decision-making. Through its networked and interdependent character it gains complexity which has the effect that it is often reduced to an everyday cliché that does not explain anything anymore. The next section will explore some models of organisational culture in order to construct a comprehensive model later to analyse it from a perspective of quality considerations. Overview of different concepts of organisational culture In this section we will provide an overview on concepts of organisational culture by different authors. The approaches are selected according to their influence on the scientific debate, and secondly according to the diversity of approaching the field of organisational culture. Organisational Culture according to Edgar H. Schein Edgar Schein is one of the most prominent theorists of organisational culture. He defines culture as “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group has learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” (Schein, 1992: 373) As groups evolve over time, they face two basic challenges: integrating individuals into an effective whole, and adapting effectively to the external environment in order to survive. As groups find solutions to these problems over time, they engage in a kind of collective learning that creates the set of shared assumptions and beliefs that we call culture. According the Schein, organisational culture is the learnt result of group experiences, which is to a large extent, unconscious (Schein, 1992). He claims that culture is largely an invisible influence factor. It functions in a way that members of organisations live their values and act in 5
  6. 6. their routines without consciously thinking about them. This aspect becomes interesting for the question if and how culture can be manipulated or influenced. Especially the assumptions are invisible and unconscious, whereas rituals, values and symbols can partly be explicit. This characteristic also differentiates the culture of an organisation from the management or the quality system of an organisation. Whereas a system can be over time, described, analysed and measured, the culture is evolving largely without measures through interaction and to a large extent unconsciously developed. Schein considers culture to be a three-layer phenomenon (see figure 1). 1. Underlying assumptions: Underlying assumptions relate to the group’s learned solutions to problems relating to external adaptation and internal integration. These solutions gradually become self-evident assumptions that cannot be called into question later. Schein (1985, 1992) also distinguishes so-called deeper underlying assumptions, which relate, for example, to views of human nature as well as to the nature of information and the human activity in question. These are strongly influenced by national culture, but an organisation always forms its own view of them in its operations. In other words, they influence how the members of an organisation perceive, think and feel in matters relating to the organisation. Underlying assumptions function as an unconscious basis for action and a range of decisions that shape the culture further. Culture is not static, it is in an epistemological sense, the creation and recreation of shared reality. In Weick’s terms it can be said that organisational reality is an ongoing accomplishment (Weick, 1993). Figure 1 2. Espoused Values: The second layer in the Schein model consists of the organisation’s espoused values. These are apparent in, for example, the organisation’s official objectives, declared norms and operating philosophy. Espoused values, however, do not always reflect a company’s everyday operations. Most important in terms of operations is the culture’s deepest level, namely its underlying assumptions (Figure 1) (Schein 1985, 1992). 6
  7. 7. 3. Observable Behaviour: The third layer of culture consists of visible organisational processes and various artefacts. For example, dress codes and the general tidiness of the workplace are artefacts that tell something about the organisation’s culture. This level, according to Schein, is difficult to interpret, however, because it represents the most superficial cultural phenomena, i.e. only reflections of the true corporate culture. Schein states that even though underlying assumptions may direct the actions of organisations’ members, an organisation’s underlying assumptions cannot be directly deduced from these actions. Rather, the actions are always influenced by situation- specific and individual factors (Schein, 1999). Espoused norms and the official rules may be in conflict with everyday actions. They can also be in conflict with the underlying assumptions, which in the end direct these actions. Organisations may not necessarily perceive this conflict themselves or they may even actively deny its existence. Schein (1999) emphasises that an organisation’s culture is not merely a single new variable which describes organisations and which can be examined separately from the other variables that affect organisations’ activities, such as the structure, strategy, market orientation and the technology it uses. Organisational culture as a scientific concept strives to describe and explain activity in the organisation as a whole. Organisational culture according to Geert Hofstede Hofstede was conducting empirical research to analyse differences in style and the diversity of thinking and acting of humans. The studies were involving responses from over 100,000 participants and were largely conducted in the field of business (Hofstede, 1991, 1997). He concluded that there is no such thing like a universal theory or approach to management for organisations, and that organisational management can not be viewed or analysed as a separate process. Rather, it is interacting with the very context in which it is situated. Hofstede referred to culture as the “software of the mind” (ibid). He defined culture as “mental coding”, which every member of a society, organisation or group experiences and according to which everyone can act coherently. In his research Hofstede (1997) understands culture as a set of typical attributes / behaviours (manifestations of culture) with four different impact depths: symbols, heroes, values and rituals (Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005) – which are shown in figure 2, the cultural onion. The centre of the onion is formed by values. They are learnt from the beginning of life and are the most stable element – resistant against changes over time. The stability over time of the other elements of Hofstede’s cultural model sinks from the core to the periphery of the onion. New rituals can be learnt over time, heroes established quickly and symbols installed in organisations. Hofstede emphasizes that practices are concerned with all parts of the model. “Practices are the visible part of cultures. New practices can be learned throughout our lifetime” (ibid, p. 12). Practices represent culturally motivated behaviour on the basis of values, rituals, heroes and symbols. The four elements are briefly described follows: 7
  8. 8. Figure 2 1. Symbols: “Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects which carry a particular meaning only recognized as such by those who share a culture.” (Hofstede, 2005, p. 7) Cultural Symbols can quickly change or disappear or new symbols are created or adopted from other cultures. Of course there are differences in the stability of symbols: Religious symbols and long introduced traditions usually have a higher stability against change and force higher sensibility in their use than those used by advertisements or as corporate labels. 2. Heroes: “Heroes are persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture and serve as models for behaviour.” (ibid, p.7) Heroes also can change in their value and role as a model for human behaviour but are more persistent than Symbols because individuals can identify themselves them. 3. Rituals: “Rituals are collective activities, technically superfluous to reaching desired ends, but which within a culture are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out for their own sake.” (ibid, p.8) Such rituals concern the usual way how people deal with each other (way of greeting, how to pay respect for each others, how to eat properly, when, how and what to speak about). For example in rather formal business situations rituals play a big role, and influence strongly the way people behave. Rituals may be different in different situations. 4. Values: “The core of culture is formed by values. Values are broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. …Values are acquired early in our lives.” 8
  9. 9. (ibid) Values are the primary source of evaluation of our surrounding environment and bring about the basic idea for the way how to behave and decide in situations. They set the basic understanding of good and bad, natural and unnatural, moral and immoral and other judgements. Organisational Culture according to Johannes Rueegg-Stuerm In accordance with Geert Hofstede and Edgar H. Schein, Rüegg-Stuerm (Rüegg- Stürm, 2004: 50pp) describes the following elements as central for a corporate culture of businesses: Norms and values, opinions and attitudes, stories and myths about important changes, and events of an organisation, patterns of thought, arguments and interpretation, language habits and conducts, collective expectations and background convictions. He draws an interesting comparison between organisational culture and the semantics and grammar of a language. Culture is for an organisation what semantics and grammar is for the language. He elaborates that a meaningful interaction and communication has always been based on semantic and grammatical rules and agreements even though nobody would explicitly notice it. “A four year old child can make itself understood without ever having been exposed to explicit teaching of grammar or semantics” (Rüegg-Stürm, 2004: 56). In addition these rules and regulations are unfolding explicitly only in those moments when they are used, i.e. when communicating in a language, and are in that specific moment reproduced and updated. An organisations’ culture is therefore comparable with grammar rules and semantic regulations of a language (ibid: 56). Members of an organisation, belonging to the same community of practice, are fulfilling a constant collective, common, communicative interpretation process from the perspective of their specific contexts. They are making active influence on the differentiation of the organisation’s cultural patterns through their discourse which is then, in turn, forming the new cultural structure and symbols. Organisational Culture According to Gareth Morgan Gareth Morgan describes culture as “an active living phenomenon through which people jointly create and recreate the worlds in which they live” (2002, p. 141). For Morgan, the three basic questions of cultural analysis are: • What are the shared frames of reference that make organisation possible? • Where do they come from? • How are they created, communicated, and sustained? According to Morgan culture is expressing social realities. He explains that talking about culture usually means to refer to patterns of development which are manifesting in the knowledge, the beliefs, the values, the legislation and the everyday rituals of a society (ibid: 156). Different societies and organisations have different patterns of social development. Morgan emphasises that culture is a social and collective phenomenon which refers to the ideas and values of a social group and is influencing 9
  10. 10. their action without them noticing it explicitly. Organisations are described as socially constructed realities which are existing in the heads and through the ideas of its members as well as in very concrete realities and relations (ibid: 186). Morgan emphasises that organisations’ behaviour can only insufficiently be described through rational explanations and mechanisms or objective reasoning but rather functions according to prevailing symbolic and subjective ways of interpreting reality. To understand and influence organisational culture it is important to analyse how meaning is constructed in organisations and what are collective ways of interpreting reality. A Summary of Elements of Organisational Culture Schein (1992) states that organisational culture is the response to the challenges an organisation has and to fulfilling its purposes (Ouchi, 1981 argues in the same lines). It can be observed in the way the organisation’s members communicate, in their shared beliefs, shared values, symbols and rituals. It can be compared to the implicit unspoken rules of communication which are never touched upon but everybody is aware of. The culture of one organisation is distinct from other organisations, and its members have to undergo a phase of enculturalisation when they enter the organisation. Organisational culture is not uniform and there can be subcultures and subgroups within an organisation which have partly or totally different cultural patterns than others. Table 1 shows a summary of all elements which could be identified as important in the different approaches to organisational cultures. Although organisations can have different cultural patterns, it is important to harmonise them in order to create a sense of direction. Therefore communication and participation becomes important within organisations to harmonise different (sub)cultures and establish collective commitment. Figure three shows that the quality culture identifies communication and participation as a crucial element of organisational culture. The approaches described have some elements in common and can be compared in the following dimensions: • Quality culture is part of the overall organisational culture. Both can not be separated but rather quality culture is a part of organisational cultures. Different subcultures can be observed in organisations, like communication cultures, management cultures, and quality cultures. An analytic focus on an organisation’s quality culture can be established through the asking in which way an organisation is responding to its quality challenges and is fulfilling its quality purpose. • Organisational culture is a multifactorial phenomenon and consists of several elements (depending on the approach chosen) which can be described and identified. For the previously presented approaches they are summarised in table 1. Quality culture builds on these elements and represents configurations of these elements under the focus of organisational quality enhancement. 10
  11. 11. • Considering the above described approaches some common elements of culture can be identified and used in a quality culture model: All approaches are emphasizing shared values as a central element for organisational a culture. Most of them consider shared basic and underlying assumptions and shared beliefs and symbols, rituals and patterns as important. Quality culture is a socially mediated and negotiated phenomenon leading to shared results of meaning construction which is largely unconscious and only in some elements directly visible to the outside. • Organisational culture – and thus quality culture – is always there, and not a phenomenon which has to be established first. In all four presented approaches the view of culture as something an organisation is – rather than has – has been expressed. It is important to realise that the quality of educational processes is always using underlying assumption of what good teaching and learning is. • Quality cultures have tangible and intangible, visible and invisible parts. A culture of quality can be further developed best when tangible, structural elements, like quality management mechanisms, tools and instruments are developing in parallel with intangible elements like commitment, values, rituals and symbols. • Organisational culture is a social and collective phenomenon and individuals contribute and constitute culture through negotiation and interaction by establishing shared values, rituals and alike. • Culture is not a uniform but a diverse phenomenon – in organisations usually several cultures, amongst them also quality cultures, can be observed. Table 1: Different approaches to organisational culture Author Approach Cultural Elements Edgar Culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions • Values Schein that the group learned as it solved its problems of • Artefacts (1992) external adaptation and internal integration that • Assumptions has worked well enough to be considered valid Gerent Culture is mental coding which allows acting • Symbols Hofstede coherently; it can be described according to • Heroes (1991) symbols, heroes, values and rituals. • Rituals • Values Johannes Culture is comparable with grammar rules and • Norms and values Rüegg semantic regulations of a language, resp. a • Opinions and attitudes Stuerm community. • Stories and myths (2002) • Patterns of thought • Language habits • Collective expectations Gareth Culture is a social and collective phenomenon • Values Morgan which refers to the ideas and values of a social • Knowledge (2002) group and is influencing their action without • Belief them noticing it explicitly. • Legislation • Rituals 11
  12. 12. A Model of Quality Culture for Higher Education In the following section a model for quality culture is presented. It is composed of four important elements: 1. A structural element which is representing the quality system of an organisation. This can be e.g. an existing quality management approach for higher education, the tools and mechanisms in place to assure and enhance the quality of the organisation. 2. The Enabling Factors which are representing those factors enabling organisations to incorporate quality regimes into their culture. 3. The quality culture element which represents the manifested artefacts, symbols, rituals of an organisation. 4. Transversal Elements which link different components to each other through participation, trust and communication. Quality culture is embedded into the organisational context and the organisational cultures. As seen in the above theories about organisational culture there is broad agreement that culture is not something which an organisation has or has not but rather that it is an element of every organisation – be it consciously perceived or not. Organisational culture can be supported and further developed but does not have to be developed or established from scratch (like marketing slogans of consulting companies suggest sometimes). The distinction between different types or kinds of organisational cultures should, however, not be seen too fundamental: Describing a quality culture of an organisation is strongly connected to analysing also other “types” of culture, like management culture, communication culture, the organisational culture as a whole. A good way of finding an analytic approach to different types of cultures is suggested in the definition of Schein (1992) who states that an organisations culture is the answer to the challenge an organisation has in a certain field. The way things are done in an organisation related to a certain challenge or problem. For the field of quality in higher education, an analysis of quality culture would start with the question about how a higher education organisation is realising the challenge of enhancing quality in a certain field, e.g. the area of teaching and learning or the area of research. The model of quality culture is then giving a framework of concepts which helps to analyse concepts and developments in different areas which are of importance to quality culture and identify strength and weaknesses. 12
  13. 13. Figure 3 In figure 3 we show our model of quality culture for education with the different components of quality culture. It takes into account existing research and models and further develops them with a strong focus on quality and education. It is a conceptual and structural model which identifies the structure and different components of the concepts of quality culture and relates them to each other. However, it is not giving a clear direction of impacts or effects the different components have in their interdependency, thus it is not a flow graph. In the following, the different components are described in detail and related to previous research work. Component 1: Structures The structural elements of quality in higher education are represented through quality management approaches. They relate to systems, tools, and mechanisms to assure, manage, enhance or accredit quality in a suitable way. A variety of concepts exist in this field. In previous works we have developed classification schemes (Ehlers and Pawlowski, 2004, 2006; Ehlers et al., 2005; Ehlers et al., 2004) and electronic databases to collect and make available quality approaches and strategies. In recent times there have been many efforts to design and implement instruments for quality development in education in general and e-learning in particular. Several publications systematically describe and explain these approaches and their respective backgrounds (see Gonon et al., 1998; Riddy et al., 2002, Srikanthan and Dalrymple, 13
  14. 14. 2002: 216)1. The various existing publications reveal a large number of different concepts and approaches for quality management in the educational sector. Already a smaller study by the Danish Institute for Evaluation identifies and analyses up to 34 quality assurance agencies in 24 countries (Danish Evaluation Institute, 2003: 17). A CEDEFOP study by Bertzeletou (2003) even identifies 90 national and international quality approaches for quality certification and accreditation. 2 Woodhouse (2004) lists more than 140 quality approaches that are associated with the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (called INQAAHE). Most of these certification and accreditation bodies follow their own quality approaches and have their own evaluation, certification and accreditation offerings. Most of the studies mentioned and papers published address traditional certification and accreditation frameworks for higher education, only few include newer quality approaches that specifically focus on recent educational innovations and e-learning. To compare different concepts and approaches to assure and develop quality within each is difficult because of their different scope and nature. However, there are attempts to develop reference models, like the European Quality Observatory Model (Ehlers et al., 2004) or by the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO/IEC, 2005). Wirth (2006) suggests a simple but effective method to categorise different quality approaches and instruments. Figure 4 shows that he uses the well known Deming-Circle terminology (see for example Seghezzi, 2003: 13) for categorisation. • Field 1 represents large international organisations can be identified which drive standardisation and the development of generic quality management approaches (Bötel et al., 2002; Dembski and Lorenz, 1995; Gonon, 1998). Their transferability to the educational sector is still being discussed and is controversial. Therefore recently three developments have been initiated (ISO 10015, DIN PAS 1032, DIN PAS 1037) which were focussed specifically on the educational context. • In field 2, recommendations, guidelines (i. e. Open and Distance Learning Quality Council 2001) or criteria catalogues and checklists (American Council on Education, 2001) are listed. • Field 3 represents accreditation and certification approaches which focus on different educational aspects and levels. • Finally – in field 4 – awards and prices are summarised. 1 See also the European Initiative ‚European Quality Observatory’ (http://www.eqo.info) 2 CEDEFOP is the European Center for the Development of Vocational Education and Training in Thessaloniki, Greece 14
  15. 15. Figure 4 Component 2: The Enabling Factors The enabling factors component comprises those elements which enable individuals and groups to take up the new processes, regulations, mechanisms and rules which are inherently represented in quality systems and incorporate them into their own actions. In principle three groups of factors can be identified which support and enable actors and groups in these processes: a) commitment, b) negotiation and c) general and specific competences for quality development. 1. Individual and collective commitment describes the degree of identification with the organisation’s goals and working processes. Ownership and being an important part of the organisation’s processes determine the elements of these factors (European University Association, 2006). The European University Association is advocating this factor in their approach to quality culture of universities and is stressing the fact that commitment is at the same time a necessary condition of quality culture as well as a result of a quality culture (ibid). 2. Negotiation is an important element for successful quality development in higher education organisations. As educational quality is not an inherent characteristic of any educational material or teaching offering, but has to be developed in negotiation between learners and the educational environment (in our case the higher education organisation, the lecture room, the seminar, the project, etc.), the element of negotiation becomes a crucial element for a quality development process. Providing a successful process of negotiation between students and educational providers is a pre-condition for any quality development process which focuses on educational quality. In earlier works the author has developed this aspect in extensive research and publication (Ehlers, 2006, 2005, 2004). It is important to understand that quality first and foremost is a potential which can be realised through negotiation in educational scenarios but which is not automatically represented as a characteristic of an educational environment (ibid.). The potential exists on the part of students as well on the part of 15
  16. 16. educational providers (e.g. the higher education institutions). Negotiation is thus of crucial importance to any successful quality development. 3. General and specific competences are a basis for any quality development process. General competences are constituted through the three elements of knowledge, skills and attitudes (Adelsberger et al., 2007; Ehlers and Schneckenberg, 2007; Ehlers, 2007c; Ehlers, 2005a). Any quality development process which is directed towards enhancing educational processes needs to build the capacity of professionals. Quality development which aims to have an effect on educational processes has to support teachers and other stakeholders in professionalisation processes. In literature this has been described as quality through professionalisation of teaching and learning processes (e.g. Arnold, 1997, 1999). Ehlers has added to this the focus on the learner (Ehlers, 2005). Professionalisation processes have to affect not only teachers but also learners and other stakeholders, for successful quality development. Professionalization – in the sense of building knowledge, skills and attitudes of stakeholders in the higher education organisation – is thus one important element when building quality cultures in organisations. Figure 5 Apart from general competences the author has elaborated a set of specific competences (Ehlers, 2007). Under the label quality literacy a set of four competences is described which are specifically important to the processes of educational quality enhancement: Quality Knowledge, Quality experience, Quality innovation, Quality Analysis. a. Quality knowledge: This dimension addresses the “pure” knowledge about the possibilities of today’s quality development and up-to-date quality strategies in e-learning and education. b. Quality experiences: This dimension describes the ability of using quality strategies with a certain intention. 16
  17. 17. c. Quality innovation: This dimension relates to the ability which goes beyond the simple use of existing instruments and strategies. It refers to the modification, creation and development of quality strategies and/or instruments for one’s own purpose. An innovative and creative aspect is important for this dimension d. Quality analysis: This dimension relates to the ability to analyse the processes of quality development critically in the light of one’s own experiences and to reflect upon one’s own situation and context. It enables actors to evaluate different objectives of quality development and negotiate between different perspectives of stakeholders. To “analyse critically” means the ability of differentiation and reflection of existing knowledge and experiences in the light of quality development challenges. Table 2 summarises the key factors of the four dimensions of quality literacy and gives some examples. Table 2: Dimensions of quality literacy (Ehlers 2007) Quality Literacy Questions/ Examples Dimension Dimension 1: Quality Knowledge What is a quality approach? What is evaluation, quality Information management, quality assurance, quality development? How can an evaluation questionnaire be applied in an Instrumental/ Qualification educational context, eg. a classroom? How can a benchmark be used to assess one system against another? Dimension 2: Quality Experience How can I use quality strategies in a certain way to improve the Intentional Use educational process? Dimension 3: Quality Innovation How can a certain quality management concept be extended to a Adaptation number of processes and categories in order to adapt it to the organisations’ specific needs? Create an evaluation questionnaire for the assessment of a course when existing tools fail to analyse the desired questions. Creation/ Innovation Create a new method to consult with learners before a course starts in order to assess their needs and goals. The concept is highly relevant today because research indicates reservations towards the effectiveness of quality strategies to improve the quality of the learning processes - in general and for e-learning in particular (Eaton, 2003; Franz, 2004: 107; Fröhlich and Jütte, 2004: 12; Leef, 2003; Simon, 2001: 155). Often it is argued that there is a danger of certified input, process and output processes to become inflexible; dictatorial rules may stifle future innovations and real quality improvements. With regards to the use of e-learning, Tulloch and Sneed conclude that even the traditional quality systems in higher education 17
  18. 18. mislead many institutions to imitate classical face to face trainings instead of fostering and leveraging strategic advantages of media supported learning scenarios (Tulloch and Sneed, 2000: 9). Meyer in particular draws a negative picture of accreditation: „Accreditation has become a battlefield between those who would use traditional accrediting standards to forestall the changes wrought by distance education and those who would change accreditation” (Meyer, 2002: 9). Friend-Pereira et al. (2002: 22) agree to this by concluding that quality accreditation may become dangerous if it only serves for legitimation purposes. They point to moving to a stage of quality development in which the stakeholders change their behaviour and reflect upon their professional values and attitudes, as a result of a quality development process. Quality development understood in this sense becomes a matter of further developing a professional attitude stimulated by a set of processes, rules and values which are understood and incorporated and lead to improved behaviour in educational contexts – both of the provider as well as the clients (see also section 5 for an exact account on how clients and providers are co-producing quality). Recently, an empirical study by Lagrosen et al. (2004: 65) indicated that internal quality evaluation gains more and more in importance compared to external quality assessments. This is also confirmed and further elaborated by an international study by Ehlers et al. (2005) which shows that a distinction can be made between so called explicit quality strategies – official instruments and concepts of quality development, designed either externally or internally – and implicit procedures, in which quality development is left to individuals and is not part of an official strategy: • Quality strategies or instruments coming from externally adopted approaches (e.g. International Standards Organisation - ISO, European Foundation for Quality Management - EFQM, British Learning Association Quality Mark - BAL Quality Mark) (explicit) • Quality strategies that are developed within an organisation (explicit) • Quality development is not part of an official strategy but is rather left to individuals’ professional activities (implicit). The survey shows also that about one third of all organisations develop quality strategies internally (35 %) and a quarter externally (26 %). One quarter of the respondents (24 %) work in institutions in which quality development is left to the staff. Around one out of six (15 %) uses no quality strategies for e-learning. Overall therefore, around four out of ten respondents (39 %) do not use any official quality strategy. Component 3: The Quality Cultures Component Quality development leaves visible and invisible imprints in the organisational quality culture(s). The cultural elements which are influenced through quality development processes are summarised in the outer rim of the presented model. Quality development processes can thus have manifestations in the existing assumptions about quality and teaching, newly discussed and shared values, rituals 18
  19. 19. and tangible cultural artefacts. Heroes represent particular successful quality enhancement processes in higher education (e.g. expressed in awards given to them) and can be the promoters of quality development within the organisations. Values about teaching and learning (e.g. “what is good and successful learning?”) are agreed upon, and are documented. The organisation has shared symbols, practices, stories and patterns. Quality culture is not necessarily a uniform concept for a complete higher education organisation. It is most likely to occur in plural form – Quality cultures, especially in such diverse organisations like higher education institutions. Quality cultures can vary from department to department, might have a few elements in common while others being different. For higher education the situation of quality cultures is in many respects different from more homogenous organisations, like, for example typical business enterprises. The heterogeneous nature of universities which are structured in different chairs, institutes and schools, often find their reward systems not inside the organisation but outside from the peers. This suggests that culture is a category which is rather applies to sub-units of the organisation than to universities as a whole. Quality culture is always a part of the organisations culture as a whole and is situated in the organisational context (represented through the contextual frame in the figure 3). It is a context specific concept and only visible through actual performance in those elements which are described as cultural factors above. It can be perceived, but not directly and mechanistically installed in an organisation; it is the result of individual and collective involvement and interaction against the background of an existing quality system. Quality culture as an artefact can not be transferred directly to other organisations but it can be studied and learned from. Component 4: The Transversal Elements The model of quality culture contains three elements which are transversal in nature. They are necessary to provide a link between concepts and cultural representation. Organisations can have different cultural patterns. Therefore it is important to harmonise them in order to create a sense of direction. Therefore communication and participation becomes important within organisations to harmonise different (sub)cultures and establish collective commitment. A cultural representation of concepts is established through participation of stakeholders and mediated and agreed on through communication between them internally and with others externally. Trust is the necessary condition for the stimulation of individual and collective efforts which are in turn the prerequisite for turning quality potentials into culturally rooted quality realities, expressed in symbols, artefacts, values, rituals and other elements of quality culture. It is important to notice that especially these elements suggest that development of a quality culture can not be totally externally steered and managed. It is relying on a high identification and ownership of individual actors of an organisation. Only the conditions for the creating a quality culture can be management and communication, and participation can be encouraged to stimulate trust throughout the organisation. 19
  20. 20. Summary and Conclusions Can quality in higher education be explained as a result of a well defined process or is it rather a mater of a comprehensive culture? Setting out this question at the beginning, the article started by outlining the main challenges which current practices of quality management for higher education. It concludes that concepts like quality control and quality management are often perceived as technocratic top-down approaches which frequently fail in higher education. It is suggested that in recent times the field of quality management in higher education has changed. The new generation – or era – uses different and more holistic quality approaches in order to develop an organisational culture of quality. It is focussing on change instead of control, development rather than assurance and innovation more than standards compliance. In this process quality management systems and instruments, competencies, and individual and collective values, are not seen as separate entities of quality development but are combined into a holistic concept – the concept of quality culture. Quality culture for higher education has not yet received a lot of attention from research or management literature. Therefore the article’s purpose is to shed light on its constituents – however, not on the question how to develop a quality culture in higher education. Cultural change in an organisation is undoubtedly a difficult process and requires specific and long term efforts. The development of a conceptual model for quality culture, as it has been presented in this article, will help management strategies to support the advancement of quality cultures. The constituents are clear, now suitable supporting approaches have to be developed. In the research work presented we use organisational culture as a conceptual bridge to develop quality culture. Therefore thorough an analysis of existing cultural concepts from literature forms the basis for this article. From there quality culture has been constructed as a concept with four basic components: A structural component which represents the quality management system in itself, covering instruments, rules, regulations. A second component is representing the enabling factors. These are generic and specific quality competences, and commitment and the concept of negotiation as a basic concept for any quality development. The third component is representing the cultural factors, like values, rituals, symbols and the like. All three components are linked through communication and participation of individuals and groups in social interaction with the aim to build trust. It is important to emphasize that viewing quality in the light of a cultural perspective means taking a holistic stand point: Quality culture combines cultural elements, structural dimensions and competences into one holistic framework, supporting stakeholders to develop visions, shared values and beliefs. Communication, participation, and the combination of top- down and bottom-up interaction, is of key importance to the success of quality culture. The development of a quality culture, and its implementation in organisational contexts, as a part of the overall organisations culture, has not yet developed a strong tradition in research and theory. Although there seems to be ample evidence that 20
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