27 Apr 2017

Interview with Simon Boehme, The Quality Assurance Commons, USA

In this interview we talk to Simon Boehme, Director of Student Engagement at The Quality Assurance Commons for Higher and Postsecondary Education based in Oakland, California, which has been established to explore new ideas in quality assurance. Simon also serves on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI).

1. Can you tell us about your journey in student engagement? You’ve studied both in the USA and Ireland, so has that helped you to develop a good comparative understanding of the term?

Advocating for empowering students to be decision-makers in their education first started in high school. I spoke with then-U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in a roundtable discussion and encouraged him to include students in meaningful ways at the U.S. Department of Education. This moment prompted me to explore other avenues for students to be leaders in their educational journey. As my schooling went on, I become fascinated at how American, and later Irish, learners engage and are given agency to influence their learning. From my education, and my work with The Quality Assurance Commons, students must be engaged as partners at every level in their institution and external quality assurance systems. This will make a stronger education system for all students and ultimately, a better society.

2. What exactly is The QA Commons, and what is your role within it?

Many people in the United States are questioning the value of an undergraduate education. Employers often cite a lack workplace readiness of recent graduates. Universities and colleges are confronting changing demographics to include more adults, people of color, and women. These changes put new pressures on programs within institutions to learn employment skills critical for their future careers. As one of the founding members of The QA Commons, an innovative project aiming to influence quality assurance and build a new model in the U.S., I spend my time listening and learning from students across the U.S. and the world about their concerns and ideas to improve educational quality. From these conversations, along with dialogue with employers, The QA Commons is building a program-level review process focusing on Essential Employability Qualities, desired skills students should have upon graduation regardless of their discipline or field. We will be co-designing this prototype with several pilot programs this fall (and if you are interested in becoming a pilot program or have any other questions email me!).

3. Is that just for universities in the USA, or are you interested in international participation – or at least learning from international practice? We’ve seen a lot of focus on employability in Scotland for instance, including an employability Enhancement Theme some years ago.

We are eager to learn from our international colleagues. Along with the sparqs conference, I travelled to Brussels earlier this year to participate in the student focus group for EQUIP 2015 (an ERASMUS+ funded project). From our research and conversations, we are constantly considering what practices we might adopt or adapt for our work. Initially, our pilot institutions will consist of American institutions. We hope to pilot with international institutions as we rollout our project. Again, let us know if you are interested!

4. How do you involve students in shaping the work of The QA Commons?

The QA Commons recently formed the Student Quality Assurance Working Group (SQAWG), a committee composed of students and recent graduates advancing quality assurance issues. SQAWG will provide insight to The QA Commons at all stages of our process. To learn more, visit our website.

5. We met you last month at our conference in Edinburgh, and you also participated in our International Delegates’ Day and some of the institutional visit opportunities we organised. Now you’ve had a bit of time to reflect on your time in Scotland, what did you take from your visit? And what do you see as the key similarities and differences between Scottish and US approaches to student engagement in quality?

I had a wonderful time in Scotland at sparqs 2017. Visiting QAA Scotland in Glasgow to Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, it became clear that students are valued and involved in capacities I hope the United States will one day mirror. It was also encouraging to hear about New Zealand moving in a similar direction to have students engaged in the quality conversation. Some key takeaways from sparqs 2017 I have discussed with my colleagues includes the urgency to train and equip students to effectively contribute in positions regarding quality. Few, if any, mechanisms exist in the United States to accomplish this. Another important message resonating with me is building a culture of learners’ involvement. To do this requires specific reporting mechanisms back to students about their impact and ability for student representatives to have good data about a program or institution available for their decision-making process. Overall, I had a wonderful time and hope to return in the future.

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Thanks to Simon for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.

This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.

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