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Important attributes for reviewers

When you take part in quality assurance reviews, you will be required to attend meetings or take part in various activities related to the subject. Students as members of institutional audit and review teams are working in partnership with their university and consequently have an authority and responsibility to be proactive in this role. They play a vital role in getting their experiences heard in the development of their education and the institution as a whole.

Students can make a difference at all levels of education, from changes in classroom teaching to national level policy changes. While they can make these changes on an individual basis, benefitting their local group, it might be necessary for a collective voice. This can have more power than individual voices. A collective voice is particularly important when aiming to change an issue that a number of students are experiencing: it is more efficient and effective. A collective voice is powerful.

In order to make these bigger changes, it is often necessary to run campaigns. A campaign can raise awareness about a certain issue. This is often a necessary function of a campaign but it should be viewed as a starting point, rather than the sole purpose of the campaign.

Campaigns must be well organised and executed to be successful and in the following sections are some tools you can use to identify, plan and run a good campaign.

It will help you to make the best out of your experience as a student reviewer to be aware of
the importance of an effective communication.

You will be working with three main audiences:
  • Your team.
  • The organisers of the review.
  • The team that is being reviewed, i.e. the people you will be engaging with during the review event, including students.

You will interact with each of these groups for different purposes and in different ways. You will have to adapt your communication style depending on the audience and the context.

Listening
Listening covers more than the simple function of hearing something. It is a process where you must focus on the message to understand it, analyse and evaluate before considering an appropriate response if necessary. Sometimes we listen better and more effectively than other times. There are two types of listening: passive and active.
Passive, or attentive listening, is listening without reacting. It is allowing someone to speak freely, without interrupting or doing anything else at the same time. Passive listening takes place when you focus on hearing and understanding the message with a genuine interest, but the listener does not follow-up with what they have been told, i.e. fails to take action.
Active, or reflective listening, takes place when the listener is genuinely interested in what the speaker says and verifies their understanding of the message with the speaker. Active listening is reacting or doing something that demonstrates you are listening and have understood. It is giving non-verbal cues to demonstrate that you are paying attention, for instance by nodding, making eye contact or making facial expressions appropriate to what is being said. It is reflecting back on the main points and summarising what has been said.
For the purposes of the review, you will need to actively listen during interviews in order to hear fully what is being said, but to also critically evaluate the conversation and to be able to explore in more depth what you are being told.

Questioning
Questioning serves various purposes. It enables you to get a response to a query, but it can also help you to clarify an issue, or even prompt action from the person you are asking a question.
There are two types of questioning and each will give you different outcomes.
Closed questions should invariably get a yes/no or facts as answers. For example, “Are you thirsty?” Closed questions are useful when you want very specific information, to establish an agreement, or to check something before going any further.
Closed questions are not helpful when you want to invite people to talk about themselves and their experiences. They have the potential to stifle the free flow of a conversation. They can set up a balance of power where you pose the questions and the people feel they have to search for the ‘right’ answer.
Open questions elicit longer answers. They usually begin with what, why, how. An open question asks the respondents for their knowledge, opinion or feelings. “Tell me” and “describe” can also be used in the same way as open questions. For example, “What happened at the meeting?”, “Tell me what happened next”, “Describe the circumstances in more detail.”
Open questions can be answered in many different ways. They encourage people to:
Clarify their thinking.
  • Look at the assumptions they might be making.
  • Look for the evidence behind the judgements they are making.
  • Think about the implications of what they think, say and do.
  • Consider other viewpoints or perspectives.
Open questions are not helpful when you want to draw the conversation to a close as they encourage further responses.
In a review, you will be questioning people to elicit as much information as you can and you want to do this in a non-judgemental way. Careful questioning can make people feel comfortable to share with you more information than questions worded in such a way as to put them on the defensive.
Try to keep “why” questions to a minimum, especially if it is in relation to a negative point in the review. “Why” questions are good for soliciting information, but can make people defensive so be thoughtful in your use of them, e.g. “Why did you choose to…?”
Asking multiple questions at once can be confusing for the person responding to them. It can make people unsure of which question they should answer first, but it also gives them the opportunity to avoid answering questions that they would rather not answer. By asking more than one question at a time, you are not likely to get the information you are looking for. Ask questions one by one, particularly if they are long.
Leading questions suggest the answer or contain information leading to the desired answer.
When you ask a leading question you are directing the person to respond in a certain way, which might not be helpful in that you might not get all the relevant information. By asking leading questions, you are directing the response to an answer you want, as opposed to a genuine answer, e.g. “Shouldn’t you have taken into account …?”
Asking purposely challenging questions can be seen as confrontational or critical and is likely to result in the person becoming defensive and less likely to provide the information you need freely. If you purposely challenge with difficult questions, you are not likely to get the in-depth information that you are seeking, e.g. “Was that not something you should have done differently?”

A, B, C, D of effective feedback
It is essential to provide feedback when you are a member of a panel, but how do you do it
effectively? You can use the A, B, C, D of effective feedback to help you do so.

AccurateBe specific when you are commenting on the learning experience and provide evidence for what you are saying. Avoid sweeping generalisations or emotional language. If you have a survey telling you that 67 per cent of people do not like the feedback they receive, do not tell staff members that 97 per cent do not like it.
BalancedDo not only pass on negative comments to the staff, even if that is what you hear most often from students. Say positive things too. This helps to soften the blow and makes you look more professional.
ConstructiveYou are not just there to identify the problems, you are also there to help find a solution. If you raise an issue, make a suggestion at the same time. This also helps you to look professional.
DepersonalisedEven if students think that a member of the staff has done something wrong, it is always hard to make or receive personal comments. Try not to mention anyone by name in meetings. Talk about the class and the impact on the learning experience.


The facilitator
As a member of a review team you will be responsible for chairing some of the sessions during the review. You will therefore have to facilitate discussions with a range of people to ensure that you get a good picture of their views.
A facilitator’s role is to support and encourage discussion, ensuring that everyone can contribute who want to. He/she manages the discussion while following the agenda and time plans. It can be a challenging role and you will need to juggle a lot of things at once.