Suparna Sanyal, Professor at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology.2021-03-23
Added value of international educational assessors
Hello there, Suparna Sanyal, Professor and Programme Director of the Master's Programme in Applied Biotechnology, who participated in the Uppsala University's conference on educational evaluations on 17 and 18 March:
You talked about the added value of having international assessors in the evaluation panel – why is this important?
“My thought before the evaluation of our Master's Programme in Applied Biotechnology in autumn 2019 was similar to what our Vice-Rector Johan Tysk pointed out during TUK 2021 (Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy organized by the Faculty of Science and Technology, ed. note): "Our education must match the international standard". To ensure that we match that standard, I decided to include an international assessor on the evaluation panel. It is an international master's programme. So, it was natural to compare us with other international programmes at the same level.”
What feedback did you receive from the international assessor?
"Our international assessor was Professor Florian Rüker from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, or BOKU, in Vienna, who has been involved in developing and running the university's strong biotechnology education and has also participated in many evaluations. He and the others in the evaluation panel, Olle Holst from Lund University, Lina Thorvaldson who is an internal assessor at UU, and Emmie Pohjanen, student representative from KTH, expressed an overall very positive view on the performance of the Master Programme in their report. They commented that both students and teachers come from all around the world, and that many nationalities are represented, contributing to a very international study environment. At the same time, they also pointed out the challenges associated with it such as heterogeneity in the background and knowledge of the students.
“The other thing I noticed was that Florian had somewhat different views and approaches, than the Swedish assessors, which was a plus. He stressed to have course components that bring up issues of sustainable development.
“In addition, it was interesting and reflective to hear how Florian and his department handle education related challenges. They have similar problems as us, for example with student learning, motivation, and heterogeneity in the student groups. According to Florian, they often reposition the students in new groups to facilitate individual participation in group-based activities. They find that it increases student motivation. He also suggested use of different teaching formats to help the students’ learning processes. I was happy to inform that we have similar approaches for Applied Biotechnology Master’s education here in Uppsala.”
Can you give any more example of which practical recommendations the evaluation panel did put forward?
“The international assessor was surprised to know that we at Uppsala University allow students to rewrite their reports and thesis many times in order to attain sufficient quality before they are approved. The evaluation panel suggested in their report to limit the number of allowed resubmissions of the thesis and reports, for example, maximum two times. During the site visit Florian also commented that repeated rewrites and re-exams weigh heavily on the teachers, which reduce their own motivation, thereby compromising on quality.”
How do you see the education evaluation process at Uppsala University can be effective and improved?
"In general, greater support is needed for programme directors to work with evaluations as it is a demanding, work and time intensive process.
“The master's education in Uppsala must be better presented in the initial stage of evaluation to the International assessors. Although everyone knows the central part of the Bologna process well, there are always details about our university that we need to clarify. If the international reviewer is not familiar with the Swedish education system, it can be difficult and time-consuming for them to carry out the actual evaluation.
"In addition, we must make sure we clarify the roles of the various institutions and educational actors at Uppsala University. During the site visit, we must explain in more detail our various educational managers such as directors of studies, study counsellors, programme directors, course coordinators, faculty programme directors at Teknat, NUN, TUN and their roles and relationships with each other.
“Another important issue is transparency and that we must not present ourselves as perfect in all aspects. Because then there is no need for added values from the international reviewer. Active participation of students and teachers, both Swedish and international, is also important. If they are allowed to present their opinions, we can make the evaluation process truly functional.
How important it is to have external assessors in particular for the education evaluations?
"I would like to remind all about Newton's first law, which says: "A body continues to move in a straight line or remains at rest if no external forces act on it". The same added value the external assessors, especially the international assessors, can provide and we certainly need that in order to ensure the quality of our international education programmes.”