2001 Conference Proceedings

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CROSS ATLANTIC COLLABORATION TO PROVIDE A PILOT QUALITY AUDIT DOCUMENT FOR A GROUP OF TECHNOLOGY CENTRES

Mr Dan Comden
DO-IT Program USA
Mrs E.A.B. Draffan
Assistive Technology Centre
University of Sussex UK

Quality assurance is usually demonstrated by documented systems comprising policies and procedures, linked to those formal monitoring processes provided by an organisation. Its purpose is to provide a sense of order, continuity and confidence that matters have been addressed in a formal manner. It is often rooted in common approaches and standard ways of both undertaking and discharging activities, which facilitate comparison and benchmarking between departments or programmes. (adapted from Morgan & Hodgkinson,1999) The National Federation of Access Centres (NFAC) was formed in 1986 and has worked to ensure a consistent level of support to students with disabilities. Access Centres assist college-level students with disabilities in obtaining the level of support needed for a successful college and later university education. The Federation members are housed at a variety of higher education, further education and specialty colleges within Britain.

Though Access Centres may be housed within a variety of different types of institutions, the Centres themselves can serve students with a diversity of educational goals. Students pursuing Higher Education (HE) may be assessed at a Further Education (FE) institution and vice versa. Specialty education sites, such as a school for the deaf, may assess both FE and HE students as well as students within their own institution. Ensuring a consistent level of service regardless of the institution that houses the Centre is a major objective of the NFAC.

Quality assurance in Higher and Further Educational services is an international issue. Funding and service agencies throughout the world will be affected by implementation of QA standards if none are currently implemented. Over the last decade it has become an important vehicle for securing change with a view to enhancing the student's experience. Additionally, more stakeholders, such as government departments and other support agencies are being drawn into the debate and are seeking to influence the way we work in the field of assistive technology. Funding bodies often require proof of evaluation techniques and in UK the Quality Assurance Agency is working through all sections of Higher education.

Some Access Centres have developed guidelines for quality assurance. Additionally, the Federation has created a general code of practice. However, to date there has been no NFAC-based system for auditing all Centres to ensure a consistent level of quality service to serve the needs of students with disabilities. The quality audit checklist project has been set-up within the Federation to address this issue. Initial versions of the checklist have been circulating amongst NFAC members in 1999. In spring of 2000, the members decided to use an auditor from outside the Federation to evaluate the document as compared against a variety of Centres. The auditor used needed to be familiar with accommodation, support, and assessment issues as well as a variety of technologies commonly used by college-level students.

Though the auditor was unfamiliar with the intricacies of funding for students with disabilities in the U.K. higher education system, a brief training program was devised and provided during the initial phase of the project. Ongoing education by all five Centre managers also contributed to increasing the auditor's knowledge of funding schemes and issues. The bonus of having an external auditor from USA was that there could no doubt about the transparency of the process. The auditor's experience in collaboration with a variety of other organisations via the DO-IT Program was deemed an important element of the project.

Site Visits

For the purpose of evaluating the Quality Audit Checklist, a total of five Access Centres were visited. These sites were chosen to represent the variety of Centres within the Federation from a larger group of sites that volunteered to assist with the project. Of the 28 total Centres that are NFAC members, these five Centres represent approximately 18% of total membership. At the beginning of the site visit process, total time spent on site was the majority of a workday. As site visits progressed through the five Centres, the pilot audits took less time as the pilot auditor became increasingly familiar with the document.

Proposed audit checklist changes

The original audit checklist did not have the individual criteria or questions ordered. To better identify the various questions when referenced a numbering scheme was applied to sections and individual questions. The original Table of Contents for the checklist is below.

Access Centre Profile

Physical Accommodation and Accessibility of Facilities Staff Resources and Personnel Issues Equipment Resources Business Plan and Centre Management Management of Clients, Client Information and End User Evaluation Management and Quality Assurance Publicity and Marketing Activities Meeting NFAC Requirements Conclusion and Access Centre Action Plan The majority of items within the original checklist were to be answered by the Centre manager rather than the auditor. Much of the information would need to be gathered by the Centre under audit rather than by the auditor. Therefore it was proposed that the checklist be divided into two sections. The first and largest section would be sent to the Centre prior to the audit visit and should be prepared and ready for the auditor. The auditor would fill out the second section after the site visit. The complete checklist would then be sent to the Federation once the audit checklist had been completed. The proposed checklist structure follows:

Section A - Centre's Responsibility

  1. Access Centre Profile

  2. Staff Resources

  3. Technology and Training Resources

  4. Funding and Business Plan

  5. Client Information and Quality Assurance

  6. Publicity and Marketing

Section B - Auditor's Responsibility

  1. Accessibility of Centre

  2. Staff Evaluation

  3. Technology and Training Evaluation

  4. Client Information and Quality Assurance

  5. NFAC Requirements

  6. Conclusion and Action Plan
The two-part technique of Centre and auditor having clearly defined roles in responding to the audit checklist should reduce any redundancy. It should be the goal of the audit process that the auditors do not need to gather any materials that are within the domain of an Access Centre. This will allow more of the auditor's time to be used in the actual evaluation process rather than information gathering.

The final version of the recommended report has been designed to be printed and filled in by hand. Providing responses to the audit questions and criteria can also be carried out on a computer and such method of completion should be considered in the future.

Issues raised by this Pilot Scheme

. Were there major differences found between Centres? While there are differences in funding arrangements and scope of service, all Centres visited offer the same level of service to students seeking assessments and assistance with selecting appropriate technology and services to accommodate for their disability. It was interesting for this auditor to note that though Centres may concentrate on the perceived differences from other Centres, there are more similarities than differences. The range of service provided in sheer number of assessments could be quite different if one was to break out DSA vs. FE work. However it's important to point out that though the funding for assessments may be different, the end result of providing a good service to students needing the assessments was maintained.

Should Audit results be published? The NFAC will need to decide how the results of the audit are dealt with. Will the full report be available to the general public or to NFAC members only? Or will the conclusion only be released? How do you prepare for an Audit? The recommended quality audit checklist should be made widely available on the NFAC's Web site. This will allow easy distribution of the material and also allow clients to see that the NFAC is working to ensure an appropriate and effective service. One of the more interesting comments consistently made by Centre managers participating in this pilot process was that the mock audit was a useful tool to have a comprehensive overview of their Centre's strengths and weaknesses. Do the Benefits outweigh the disadvantages? An audit can produce:

Conclusion

The audit process may need to be put out to tender but time is not on the side of the NFAC. Maintaining the momentum of this initial attempt at auditing the Centres and ensuring that Quality Enhancement can take place is important. It is hoped that the quality audit document will be taken forward and decisions can be made about peer review along with external auditing. "Quality Enhancement refers to all those initiatives pursued as a result of reflection, evaluation or appraisal, which lead to the introduction of positive changes designed to improve the activities or process in higher education". (Morgan & Hodgkinson, 1999)

The auditing process needs to be seen in a positive light and needs to be easy to undertake on a regular basis. If the NFAC can achieve these objectives then students will continue to benefit from a service that has gained in reputation and needs to stay in the forefront of assessment and support for technology and learning strategies for those students with disabilities in HE and FE in UK.

References

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education http://www.qaa.ac.uk/ Morgan & Hodgkinson (1999) Quality Assurance in Surveying Education, Pub; The International Federation of Surveyors, Copenhagen http://www.ddl.org/figtree/pub/figpub/pub19/figpub19.htm

Middlehurst, R. (1999) Quality Assurance and Quality Enhancement: a tool for change. Presentation http://www.ucc.ie/quality/Slides/tsld001.htm


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