NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NORWAY)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 49-52
ISBN: 978-84-617-5895-1
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2016.0101
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
Quality assurance programs of some sort are universally applied at most higher education institutions. Historically, such programs have seen a complex combination of aims, including making higher education more of a worthwhile experience for more students, dealing more effectively with diversity, and managing ambitious learning objectives. The most recent version of Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Area (ESG, 2015) provides guidelines for vital areas, but does not outline procedures for implementation. Furthermore, the term “quality assurance” is used to describe all activities within the continuous improvement cycle, including assurance and enhancement activities. This purpose of this study is to outline the rationale for quality enhancement of learning as Grounded Action: Which are the implications, and what supports its application in higher education?

Quality enhancement in higher education is frequently associated with a focus on “teaching” making use of student evaluation surveys. Even though the rhetoric of quality initiatives is often impressive, experiences on the ground appear to be mixed. Means are frequently confused with ends; teaching is seen as an end, rather than being a means towards an end. Furthermore, the interpretation of teaching is often taken for granted as knowledge transmission, thus effectively ruling out other interpretations.

Grounded Action (GA) draws fundamentally on Grounded Theory (GT) as outlined by Barney Glaser and several others. A key tenet in GA is that many attempts to solve organizational problems fall short because “solutions” are not systematically derived from data, and are not comprehensive enough to capture the complexities of real life settings. To the extent evidence is collected on improved learning as part of quality programs, chances are that no effect at all can be measured, probably exactly for the same reason: The approach taken is simply inadequate to change underlying, generative mechanisms.

Grounded Action is a systems approach as opposed to an individual approach. It seeks to discover all or most relevant factors to explain events. This study outlines tenets of Grounded Action, and brings examples of practical implications for improvement. Characteristic of Grounded Action is the absence of presumptions of methods, categories and variables. Tendencies and emergent patterns are drawn from data, and all subsequent actions have to be grounded in available data. This is to increase chances that actions will produce desired effects. Research problems are emergent rather than preconceived.

Quality programs are routinely accompanied by beliefs and hopes that they generate positive effects; however, this is not necessarily so. The quality movement’s ideological root in business management is still discernible, with an emphasis on a managerial approach and the execution of given procedures. Research studies, including theoretical considerations, are still short. This study argues that Grounded Action has much to offer when it comes to social explanations and solutions; however, its relevance is likely to become more visible if quality programs have to bring evidence of their effects on learning.
Quality enhancement, grounded action, social system, learning, teaching.