NCI’s NStEP institutional implementation group meetings … a year in the making



This post complements the recently published NStEP working groups – the past year in focus though, in addition to expanding what has been taking place in terms of the national project, it concentrates a little more on what we have been doing here at NCI. Thus, our direct involvement in NStEP has allowed us to listen and to learn, as well as to contribute and to discuss, a process which we aim to build upon across 2017-18.

As with the other pilot project members, we have obviously been using this project to reflect upon our own practices, recognising where we might wish (and need) to improve, as well as gauging where we fit in terms of established effective practice. And, just as the NStEP working group has met on three occasions – i.e. on 17th May 2016, 10th November 2016 and 5th April 2017 – we have responded to the national meetings by ensuring that we regularly convene our own institutional implementation group; in fact, these meetings have taken place on 1st June 2016, 11th January 2017 and 31st May 2017 respectively.

Looking back upon it now, we should perhaps be conducting these local meetings more regularly. This being said, we have been holding smaller working party meetings (i.e. involving the two student representatives from NCISU and the two staff members from NCI) on a much more frequent, if informal, basis in order to support the project both locally and nationally. This framework, combining formal with more informal meetings, seems to be working for us, so let’s see how that evolves into next academic year.

With its expansion from a pilot to a truly national project, the guidance on establishing and running an institutional implementation group has itself undergone some considerable development across the intervening period, as is detailed below:

Establishing an Institutional Student Engagement Working Group
Establishing an Institutional Student Engagement Working Group

It is only fair to say that our own experience has not necessarily always aligned with this ideal. Yet, at the same time, the organic nature of the project’s evolution, implementation and outcomes here at NCI has allowed us to move at a pace which we feel is appropriate.

The fact is that the three institutional implementation group meetings that have been conducted at NCI have themselves been very open in nature. We deliberately decided not to employ fixed agendas or to record formal minutes, and this approach has been reaffirmed at each of the three meetings held.

In truth, we have used the institutional implementation group meetings to ask questions, to share ideas and, in turn, we have followed these up with emailed notes shared between students and staff, as well as reporting regularly to NCI’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment Committee. And, while we do record who attends our Institutional Implementation Group meetings, the point of holding them is to enable but not to constrain, to share, to disseminate and to encourage, not to rein in, to limit or to hinder.

NCI's Institutional Implementation Group Meetings
NCI’s Institutional Implementation Group Meetings

Our guiding principle remains the working definition of student engagement, that it is the “investment of time, effort and other relevant resources by both students and their institutions intended to optimise the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes and development of students, and the performance and reputation of the institution” (see Enhancing Student Engagement in Decision-Making for more details).

The proof therefore of NStEP’s impact upon NCI will not necessarily or ultimately be found in what we say, but in what we do.

NStEP working groups – the past year in focus


Across the last 12 months, NCI has, alongside the other four pilot project members (CIT, LVIT, NUIG & WIT), participated in three formal National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) Working Group meetings. Each of these meetings has allowed us the opportunity to contribute to the development and shaping of NStEP, as well as getting a real insight into the thinking of colleagues – both staff and student representatives – at other institutions and within the sector, and in turn to reflect upon our own practices.

This QA@NCI posting is a little longer than those which have gone before, but it allows us to examine the path we have been following, as well as the choices that lay ahead for us. A future post will evaluate NCI’s own project implementation group meetings which have been taking place locally, two of which have already been held, with a third planned, but the focus here in this posting is on the three national working group meetings.

Looking back upon it now, that first meeting on 17th May 2016 offered us the chance to explore the concept of student engagement, before considering how it might be engendered and supported in each of the participating institutions, as well as more generally. Key outputs identified at that stage included the institutional representative training programme and the strategic analysis sessions to be conducted at each of the five locations, as well as the development of work streams and the identification of national events to support the overall project.

The agenda from that first NStEP Working Group meeting follows below:

NStEP Working Group Meeting 1 - 17 May 2016
NStEP Working Group Meeting 1 agenda – 17th May 2016

NCI subsequently held its own first NStEP Institutional Implementation Group Meeting a fortnight later on 1st June, more on which in a future QA@NCI posting when this blog will consider the local impact of the project in a little more depth.

Following what might at first appear to be a hiatus over the summer and autumn, a second NStEP Working Group meeting was held on 10th November 2016. Coming one day after our own institution’s Strategic Analysis Workshop, the first of the five HEIs to undertake this session facilitated by sparqs, that second national meeting proved to be an ideal opportunity to share our initial experiences of the project with our fellow participants. At that point, we had not yet availed of the class rep training programme, but the meeting did give us a real insight into how other members were beginning to conduct or plan for theirs; indeed, facilitated by an NStEP trainer and with support from NCISU colleagues, a well attended class rep training event was held on 8th December. Meanwhile, a first NCI class rep system focus group meeting involving student representatives and staff was held four days later – further details are available here – while the wider project featured prominently at the 2nd QQI conference on Quality Enhancement held on 15th December. It was becoming very clear that NStEP was having a local and a national impact.

The agenda from that second NStEP Working Group meeting follows below:

NStEP Working Group Meeting 2
NStEP Working Group Meeting 2 agenda – 10th November 2016

In due course, NCI held it own second NStEP Institutional Implementation Group Meeting early in the New Year on 11th January 2017, a deeper reflection upon which will follow in that aforementioned future QA@NCI blog posting.

However, it was the second NCI class rep system focus group meeting involving student representatives and staff which, held on 9th March, really accelerated our use of NStEP to promote developments at our own institution; as noted earlier, further details regarding this student representative system review are available here. At the same time, the QA Review has allowed a Student Feedback Forum and a Staff Feedback Forum to be conducted on 8th March and 22nd March respectively, with NStEP again featuring prominently, thereby illustrating again how this national project is impacting locally.

Most recently, the third NStEP Working Group meeting on 5th April 2017 also introduced a real step change into the national pilot project. In considering how the programme is now in the process of being rolled out nationally, we had the chance to examine the main outputs from the five institutional strategic analyses and the opportunity to identify future work steams. These new national work streams were subsequently agreed as: (1) the role and recruitment of class representatives; (2) the design, review and delivery of programmes; (3) student feedback opportunities, data and follow up; (4) students in formal system level procedures, strategy and decision making; and (5) staff roles and capacity building.

The agenda from the third NStEP Working Group meeting follows below:

NStEP Working Group Meeting 3
NStEP Working Group Meeting 3 agenda – 5th April 2017

Not surprisingly given the previous pattern outlined above, NCI is due to conduct its third NStEP Institutional Implementation Group Meeting on 31st May 2017; in turn, a considered reflection upon our local experiences will be offered here on the QA@NCI blog.

Over the past number of weeks, not only has the pilot project been rolled out nationally at an event held on 6th April – click here for more details on that Induction Event for the NStEP Student Training Programme – but a third NCI class rep system focus group meeting was held on 3rd May resulting in eight recommendations being made – more information relating to the student representative system review is available here.

These are clearly energising times in terms of student engagement both locally and nationally. Having benefitted from our participation in the pilot project, we now have the opportunity to continue to share what we have learned, to support future processes across the sector, and to implement the most effective practices here at NCI.

Induction Event for the NStEP Student Training Programme, 6th April 2017 – some reflections


At the start of last month, NStEP officially moved from its pilot project status to being a truly national undertaking. In addition to the five founding HEIs – i.e. Cork Institute of Technology, Letterkenny Institute of Technology, National College of Ireland, NUI Galway, and Waterford Institute of Technology – the programme has now been joined by 15 new participants, namely:

  • Athlone Institute of Technology
  • Carlow College
  • Dublin City University
  • Dublin Institute of Technology
  • Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
  • Griffith College Dublin
  • Hibernia College
  • Institute of Art, Design and Technology
  • Institute of Technology Carlow
  • Institute of Technology Sligo
  • Institute of Technology Tallaght
  • Institute of Technology Tralee
  • Limerick Institute of Technology
  • Maynooth University
  • University of Limerick

With a least twenty institutions now underpinning this student engagement programme, and doubtlessly with more adherents to come, the induction event for new and existing members held at the Radisson Blu, Dublin, on 6th April 2017, allowed for a very useful exchange of information and reflections regarding NStEP. Supported by colleagues from the HEA, QQI, USI, as well as sparqs, the event covered a number of issues ranging from the principles of student engagement to an exploration of the realities facing class representatives, with a particular emphasis on the concept – and practice – of ‘students as partners’.

Published just over one year ago, both Enhancing Student Engagement in Decision-Making and Embedding the Principles of Student Engagement provide a useful working definition in this regard:

Student as partner

The implications of perceiving students as partners, rather than as consumers are substantial and deep. The student as partner is an active member of an institution with which s/he shares a strong sense of allegiance and commitment.

In order to support the new partners, and drawing upon the experiences of existing NStEP participants, this induction event also explained how the student training programme works, how it has impacted upon the pilot institutions, and began considering practical arrangements for the next twelve to eighteen months. It was, however, the opportunity to contribute directly as a panellist on the “Panel of reflections on rolling out the training programme” (see the agenda which follows below for details) that NCI, alongside colleagues from CIT, NUIG, sparqs, and USI, were able to draw upon lessons from the recent past in an effort to help shape what comes next.

Looking to the future, this autumn will see NStEP starting the process of exploring five work streams that have been identified, before meeting as an expanded national network towards the end of the year, and the inception of a national conference next spring. Exciting times lie ahead.

NStEP Student Training Programme induction
NStEP Student Training Programme induction event agenda – 6th April 2017

NCI student representation system review


Our participation in NStEP across 2016-17 has allowed us to reconsider a number of the ways we do things here at NCI. In fact, with its emphasis on getting a national student training programme up and running, this specific work area has only encouraged us to look at our own processes afresh.

The truth of the matter is that this need to re-examine our class rep system was also identified at the strategic analysis workshop facilitated by sparqs on 9 November 2016 – for more details regarding that institutional session, click here.

According to the Quality Assurance Handbook regarding learner feedback, Class Representative Meetings are outlined as follows:

Class Representative Meetings

Meetings between the programme director and class representatives take place once per semester. This is a formal opportunity for Class Representatives to provide feedback to the Programme Committee on matters affecting the programme and learners on the programme. Representatives from the Support Services also attend these meetings.

Schools may arrange meetings in subject groupings etc. to facilitate meaningful discussion. Actions arising from these meetings should be reported to the Programme Committee meeting.

In a series of meetings held this spring involving student representatives and staff, a paper was developed regarding the realities of the existing class rep system. In turn, a series of eight recommendations have been put forward in relation to how this system might operate next academic year – the full report is available here.

Conclusions & Recommendations
NCI student representative system review – conclusions & recommendations

sparqs conference, 23 March 2017


In seeking to become one of the pilot institutions involved in NStEP this past academic year, we agreed to support NCISU student representative and NCI staff attendance at the sparqs (Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland) conference held on 23 March 2017 at Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh. Entitled Celebrating the impact of the student voice on quality enhancement, this event featured a number of keynote talks, presentations and workshops, a QA report on which is available here.

There were a number of interesting take-homes from the conference, but the most effective practice identified is that, working together, students and staff (incl. class representatives, SU executive members, academics, administrative/support staff, senior management, etc.) can have a real impact both on the student experience and upon institutional culture.

One of the themes most in evidence is the increasing willingness of institutions to involve staff and students in self-evaluations aimed at enshrining and/or introducing more transparency, increasing collegiality and parity of esteem, as well as more openness in dealing with the practicalities, and celebrating the role, of the student as partner in their own education and at their place of learning.

One of the concrete possibilities raised is the development and implementation of Student Partnership Agreements, not unlike NCI’s own Learners’ Charter, though perhaps taking it a step or two further. Another is the enhancement of student representative systems, which itself has been a piece of work identified through NCI’s participation in NStEP. Let’s see where this all takes us.

Cafe 1505
Pre-conference preparations at Café 1505, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh


Staff Feedback Forum

Feedback from staff

As part of its QA Review, as well as further evidence of our ongoing NStEP activities, it is worth recording here that NCI held a Staff Feedback Forum on March 22nd, 2017, thereby in effect running a staff session in parallel with the student event held a fortnight previously (see the related Student Feedback Forum post for more details).

Attended by a dozen NCI colleagues in total, including both academic and administrative staff, as well as the QASS facilitators, this meeting offered a focus for staff to get even more directly involved in the learner feedback discussions that are taking place, dialogues which now encompass a number of stakeholders including the aforementioned students themselves. Taken together, these discussions are helping to inform the QA Review with regard to, but by no means restricted to, feedback from students.

As with the student session, a set of introductory PPT slides were again used to help frame the conversations which then followed (click on Staff Feedback Forum), but the forum itself centred on a staff discussion regarding who, from their perspective, students should be giving feedback to and regarding what, as well as how they might do it and, in turn, what needs to happen as a result.

This Staff Feedback Forum thus builds on a conversation that is already taking place across NCI, while also offering a steer regarding how learner feedback processes might operate into the future. Further staff and student feedback and reflection upon these processes will continue to be sought ahead of revised QA procedures and guidelines being introduced next academic year.


Staff Feedback Forum
Staff Feedback Forum


Learner feedback – module evaluations

Learner feedback

From the lack of QA@NCI postings over the past month, it may look like it has been a quiet period since mid-March … rather the opposite is the truth. With any luck, there will be some catching up in the weeks ahead regarding processes undertaken, projects advanced, etc., in this intervening period. But, for now, some reflection upon a quality assurance perennial, i.e. module feedback.

Currently, one of the significant pieces of work being undertaken within the context of learner feedback is a series of module evaluations from Semester 2, 2016-17. According to the Quality Assurance Handbook, which itself is up for review at this time, these questionnaires are typically completed by NCI students just over half-way through the semester. This formal feedback is then reflected upon by the lecturers directly concerned, as well as colleagues more widely, and used to help inform on-going and future learning and teaching developments. In turn, the students also need to be involved in this process in an effort to close the feedback loop (i.e. to provide them with feedback regarding their, err, feedback).

The answers given in these surveys are anonymous and the main purpose is to offer and receive learner views regarding each module experience. In essence, each student is asked to present feedback on each module they undertake using a six-point Likert scale for 25 quantitative questions covering issues ranging from their own learning to the module’s organisation, from their own participation to the presentation style employed by the lecturer(s), from the module content to their experience of it. In turn, two qualitative questions ask ‘What was especially good about this module?’ and ‘How could this module be improved?’ and here the students are invited to present constructive and free-flowing comment.

Once the survey window closes – two weeks is the normal timescale offered to students – reports based upon the aggregated and anonymised feedback are sent directly to the module convenors concerned, and primarily (though not necessarily only) for their use. It doesn’t stop there, but that is the essence of the process. In future posts, this Q&A blog will explore how this particular learner feedback process has been established, how it has evolved, and where it might be heading into the future. But, for now, it’s just nice to be back blogging!