Subject Overview Report
Reference QO 5/96
Assessing the Quality of Education
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) assesses the quality of the higher education (HE) in England for which it provides funding. It also undertakes quality assessments in the Northern Ireland universities by arrangement with the Department for Education Northern Ireland (DENI). The purposes of quality assessment are: to ensure that the public funding provided is supporting education of an acceptable quality, to provide public information on that education through the publication of reports, and to provide information and insights to encourage improvements in education.
The main features of the quality assessment method are:
Assessment against Aims and Objectives
The HE sector is diverse. The Council funds education in 136 institutions of HE and 74 further education (FE) colleges. These institutions vary greatly in size, subject provision, history and statement of purpose. Each has autonomy to determine its institutional mission, and its specific aims and objectives at subject level.
Assessment of the Student Learning Experience and Student Achievement
Quality assessment examines the wide range of influences that shape the learning experiences and achievements of students. It covers the full breadth of teaching and learning activities, including: direct observation of classroom/ seminar/workshop/laboratory situations, the methods of assessing students' work, students' work and achievements, the curriculum, staff and staff development, the application of resources (library, IT, equipment), and student support and guidance. This range of activities is captured within a core set of six aspects of provision, each of which is assessed using a four-point assessment scale - (1 to 4, in ascending order of merit) - to produce a graded profile of the provision.
The aspects of provision are:
Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
Teaching Learning and Assessment
Student Progression and Achievement
Student Support and Guidance
Quality Assurance and Enhancement.
Each grade indicates the contribution made by that aspect to the attainment of the aims and objectives. Provided that each aspect is graded 2 or better, the quality of education is approved. The Council does not believe that aggregating the six grades in the profile produces meaningful comparative information; any such exercise is misplaced as each assessment is made against the individual provider's stated aims and objectives.
Assessment by Peer Review
Assessors are academic and professional peers in the subject. Most are members of the academic staff of UK HE institutions. Others are drawn from industry, commerce, private practice and the professions.
Combination of Internal and External Processes
The assessment process has three stages:
- Preparation by the subject provider of a self-assessment in the subject, based on the provider's own aims and objectives, and set out in the structure provided by the core set of aspects of provision.
- A three-day assessment visit carried out by a team of assessors. The assessment team grades each of the aspects of provision to make the graded profile of the provision, and derives from that profile the overall judgement.
- Quality assessment reports that are published following individual assessment visits. These reports form the basis of the subject overview reports. For the purpose of quality assessment, some institutions chose to join together more than one subject. Readers, therefore, may wish to consult more than one overview report, in order to obtain a broad view of the subject area. The subject overview reports are distributed widely to schools and FE colleges, public libraries and careers services and are available on the world-wide web
The assessors find the overall quality of the higher education provision in Italian to be good. All assessments, comprising 15 single-subject providers of Italian, including one with Iberian languages and studies, and 19 joint providers of modern languages including Italian, are approved. This Overview Report outlines the main findings of the assessments. It discusses the quality of the student learning experience for Italian, identifies good practice and indicates where improvements might be made. The aims and objectives for Italian programmes are clear and are being achieved. Italian attracts well-qualified students, most of whom have little previous knowledge of the language or related subjects. Three-quarters of the students are female. The number of providers is relatively small, but they offer a diversity of courses. Wide career opportunities cater for those students following a traditional language and literature focus and those linking Italian to vocational areas such as business and design. There is a caring learning environment where lecturers know their students well. This effective student support helps to lead to the high completion rates. There are highly successful strategies for teaching Italian, providing significant added value.
The rich variety of subject areas is well supported by the scholarly activities of the lecturers, but some providers need to reconsider their aims and objectives with respect to their range of options. Recent curricular developments provide increasing opportunities for students to study Italian alongside other subjects. The period spent in Italy by undergraduates, normally the third year of study, plays an important role, but in a few instances the potential benefits are not fully realised. Generally, students develop generic skills in line with the objectives set, but some institutions need to ensure that this work is integrated fully into the curriculum. Overall, teaching and learning is of high quality. However, in some institutions, the importance of students' contributions and the development of independent learning are not always recognised, despite the stated objectives. The range of assessment approaches has increased overall, but there are a few instances where traditional unseen examinations dominate, and stated objectives are not fully tested.
Italian studies are supported by appropriate learning resources. The overall quality of teaching accommodation is satisfactory, although there is occasional overcrowding and some rooms are in need of refurbishment. Most institutions have good library, information technology (IT) and satellite television facilities. In some instances, however, the students need improved training in the use of such resources. Normally, students are consulted on the adequacy of the provision, leading to effective action as part of the quality assurance procedures. Most institutions provide comprehensive staff development programmes for both new and established staff teaching Italian. There is welcome growth of peer review of teaching and, overall, this should lead to a more focused assessment of staff development needs. In all areas and levels of Italian studies, students are taught by professional staff, committed to the enhancement of Italian in higher education.
1. This Overview Report presents the findings of the assessment in 1995-96 of the quality of higher education provided in Italian by universities and colleges in England and Northern Ireland. It has been derived from the reports of 34 assessment visits, of which 15 focused on Italian as a separate subject, including one with Iberian languages and studies, and 19 involved the joint assessment of modern languages including Italian (Annex A). Its main purposes are to highlight both positive features and areas for improvement, and to assist in the dissemination of best practice.
2. In the context of modern languages, Italian provision is small and mainly targeted at full-time undergraduates, although two providers also have taught masters programmes. Whilst some students have GCE A-Level or equivalent qualifications in Italian and others have GCSE or equivalent, most have no previous knowledge of the subject when they join undergraduate courses. This poses particular problems for providers in that they have to ensure that ab initio (beginners) students reach a high level of linguistic proficiency by the end of their programmes, whilst also providing demanding courses for the few students with significant previous experience.
Aims and Objectives
3. The aims and objectives for Italian programmes are clearly defined. Typically, institutions aim to provide students with opportunities to: develop their use and understanding of the Italian language in a variety of ways, gain knowledge and understanding of aspects of Italian culture and society, and develop analytical, critical and communicative skills within these areas. Virtually all also include the aim to provide students with opportunities to develop a range of general transferable skills in areas such as IT and group working.
4. In all cases, aims and objectives were clearly enough stated to permit thorough testing, and were appropriately rigorous. A small number of providers made claims, for example in relation to the range of provision, which proved ambitious and difficult to substantiate. There is a welcome diversity in the nature of the aims and objectives of the providers; as a result, potential students are provided with a choice of courses and programmes.
Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
5. On the single-subject visits, 94 per cent of providers received grade 3 and 6 per cent grade 2. On the joint visits, 16 per cent received grade 4, 74 per cent grade 3 and 10 per cent grade 2. Many institutions are going through, or have recently undergone, a period of major curricular development, often associated with the change to semesters and modular programmes. In the majority of cases, these changes are being effectively managed and have enhanced choice. As a result, Italian is available in a wide range of forms, including single and joint honours degrees, as both major and minor components of combined honours degrees and as part of institution-wide languages programmes. In a few instances, however, there is limited depth of study and consequent lack of intellectual challenge.
6. Language curricula are well designed to achieve their stated objectives. Particularly noteworthy is the design of programmes enabling students with wide-ranging initial competences to develop advanced language skills. All institutions offer separate language programmes for beginners and other students in their first year. Some maintain this separation into the second year whilst others combine the groups. Generally, final outcomes are unaffected by the policy adopted. In a few institutions, the assessors were concerned about the severe demands placed on ab initio students, who were not only undertaking intensive language courses, but were also expected to complete a full diet of contextual units.
7. Within Italian programmes, students are offered a rich variety of subject areas covering artistic, historical, linguistic, philosophical and political aspects of Italian culture. In most institutions, the curriculum is enhanced by the research and scholarship of staff. Furthermore, the subject has generally responded well to changes in students' requirements, notably in the development of programmes with a contemporary or vocational focus. A few larger providers are able to offer several specialist routes or pathways in Italian. However, in most of the institutions visited, Italian provision is relatively small and hence the range of options offered is sometimes limited. Although the majority of such providers acknowledge these limitations by setting appropriate aims and objectives, a few aim to offer levels of diversity and choice which they cannot deliver.
8. Small providers have been responsible for much curricular innovation, both in terms of moving the curriculum away from the traditional language and literature model, and in the organisation and delivery of the curriculum. New combinations are being developed, including Italian and design, Italian and business studies and Italian and international trade. Where the traditional curriculum remains, it is well structured, intellectually challenging and well supported by scholarly activity.
9. Full-time undergraduates of Italian are usually required to spend a period of time in Italy either as language assistants, on work placements or following university courses. This is normally for one year, but is sometimes less, particularly for students who study Italian in combination with another language. Given that most students have no experience of the subject prior to entering higher education, this time spent in Italy is very valuable in developing their language skills and awareness of Italian culture. This is evident in the final year of study. The period spent abroad is highly valued by both students and staff. However, the full potential of this experience is not always realised. Best practice is found in institutions where clear objectives are set, for example, in terms of courses and assignments to be completed; where students are regularly monitored and visited; and where the experience is well integrated into the curriculum. Less successful practice is characterised by lack of clear objectives, poor preparation of students, a lack of monitoring and a lack of awareness of how the experience could be used to enhance the students' performance in other parts of the programmes. Larger providers tend to be less successful in fully utilising this experience than smaller ones.
10. Generally, curricula are appropriately designed to develop generic transferable skills in line with aims and objectives. They achieve this through a variety of means, including the requirement for group working, the programming of tutorial presentations and the use of computer-assisted language learning (CALL). In some cases, this aspect of the curriculum is well integrated into the programmes, the relevant skills are clearly identified and assessment tasks appropriately designed. In other cases, the need to develop these skills is acknowledged, but as yet there is no strategy for ensuring that they are fully acquired and assessed, or that their relevance is made clear.
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
11. Of institutions receiving single-subject visits, 13 per cent received grade 4 and the remaining 87 per cent grade 3. On the joint visits including Italian, 21 per cent received grade 4 and the remaining 79 per cent grade 3. This indicates overall good quality for the Italian provision. There is a wide range of teaching approaches in Italian, including lectures, tutorials, seminars, language workshops and language laboratory sessions. The use and balance of these approaches are generally well matched to aims and objectives. In addition to formal classes, most institutions aim to develop students' independent learning skills. However, there are considerable differences in the meaning which institutions attach to such an aim. In some cases, it is understood to be the work students undertake on their own in preparation for essays, presentations and other similar tasks. In other institutions, it is seen as an altogether more structured range of activities. This area of teaching and learning strategies requires a clarification of objectives, if full benefits are to be achieved.
12. Language teaching is usually carried out by both English and native Italian speakers. There is an appropriate range of small and large-group work covering key linguistic skills. Full-time lecturers are usually supported by graduate teaching assistants, lectors and part-time lecturers. In most cases, such teams work well; however, in a few, a lack of co-ordination reduces the effectiveness of the language teaching programme. Instances of good practice were observed in several institutions; for example, remedial grammar classes are used during inter-semester periods and self-study materials are well integrated into the teaching and learning strategy. Providers have generally responded to students' changing linguistic needs and to the demands of employers by implementing a variety of approaches to language teaching. However, some courses lack an appropriate use of a communicative approach, whilst in others there is a lack of planning of independent learning methods.
13. Many Italian providers have traditionally focused on literary and cultural studies, and this aspect of Italian studies still features in most courses. Several providers have also made considerable efforts to introduce new courses, particularly in relation to contemporary Italian society in its widest interpretation. Non-language teaching is undertaken through formal lectures, seminars and tutorials, some of which are student led. However, there are still a few institutions where classes are largely teacher dominated and students are passive observers, despite clearly stated objectives to the contrary. The variety of methods used in the teaching of language and other aspects of Italian studies are also generally successful in promoting transferable skills such as team work and analytical and presentational skills. There is, however, scope for improvement in the fostering of transferable skills in some instances.
14. Class observations indicated that teaching and learning in Italian studies is generally of good quality. The assessors frequently commented very positively on the enthusiasm and commitment of both lecturers and students. Features of successful classes included effective preparation by students, encouragement of lively and informed debate and a variation of both pace and approach to ensure that objectives were met. Less successful classes were characterised by inappropriate pace, a failure to meet objectives to involve students in discussion and a lack of strategies for utilising student interactions in developing language skills. In several cases, the assessors expressed concern about the teaching of groups containing both ab initio students and those with GCE A-Level qualifications. These reservations concerned both the rather onerous demands placed on ab initio students and the provision of less challenging work for post-GCE A-Level students. The quality of teaching was high in the few examples of postgraduate teaching observed, and some students commented on the challenging pace.
15. The variety of assessment methods has increased substantially in recent years. Most students are assessed using a combination of examinations, oral and aural testing, essays, tutorial presentations, group work and dissertations. The combination of methods used is generally well matched to stated objectives. However, in some institutions, an over-reliance on formal examinations means that the attainment of all objectives is not being fully tested. Following the proliferation of assessment methods, students are not always being given adequate information relating to assessment and marking criteria. This is not usually a significant problem as lecturers are willing to give advice on an informal basis. Written feedback on assignments is of variable quality; some providers offer extensive and constructive criticism whilst others simply award a mark. In some institutions, there are no formal policies relating to feedback so that practice can vary widely within the same provider.
Student Progression and Achievement
16. Of the single-subject assessments, 73 per cent of providers received grade 4 and 27 per cent grade 3 for this aspect. Of the joint visits including Italian, 47 per cent received grade 4,
47 per cent grade 3 and 6 per cent grade 2. Despite the limited provision of Italian in secondary schools, demand for courses in Italian studies in higher education has been buoyant and enrolment targets have been met. Entry requirements for what is a challenging discipline, taught largely on an ab initio basis, vary significantly. For students entering with GCE A-Level qualifications, requirements typically range from 15 to 28 points. On the other hand, Italian, as a less commonly taught language in secondary schools, generally encourages applicants with non-standard entry qualifications. Some three-quarters of all students enrolled for Italian are female.
17. Student progression is generally good, with a high proportion of students completing their courses. This reflects students' high levels of motivation and the high level of care provided by the usually small number of specialist staff. Moreover, the assessors found that the processes for monitoring attendance and production of work functioned effectively. The very small measure of non-completion includes a few students electing to transfer to other courses or institutions. In modular schemes, which allow students to change from their original choice of course, Italian tends to gain rather than lose students.
18. All institutions provide intensive ab initio teaching of Italian, with one institution having the added refinement of streamed oral work. Students learn the techniques of rapid acquisition at an early stage, and teachers have acquired considerable expertise in the required methodology. Students attain high levels of linguistic competence by the end of their undergraduate courses, although in one institution their written skills were not as well developed as their oral skills. Given that most start their studies in Italian on an ab initio basis, the level of added value is high. External examiners have generally commented favourably on the levels of student achievement and quality of work produced, and on the maintenance of this quality, despite the complexity of some degree structures recently adopted by some institutions.
19. Work on literary, historical and cultural topics is generally well organised and proficient, and students display good analytical ability. In a minority of cases, such work is descriptive rather than analytical. In one institution, the assessors were concerned about options which are offered to both second and fourth-year students, and assessed in the same way. They felt this to be inappropriate and of insufficient challenge for final-year students.
20. Students' attainment of the intended outcomes is indicated overall in the level of final degree performance. The majority of students of Italian are awarded Second class honours degrees, and in many institutions the majority of students achieve Upper Second class honours degrees, the proportion having increased in recent years. A small number of institutions noted the fact that only modest numbers of students reach First class honours level, despite their high-quality intake to Italian. Few students are awarded Third class degrees and, with one exception, there have been no recent failures in Italian. The assessors expressed some concern, given the modest total of First class awards, about the extent to which the most able students are being challenged by their overall learning experience.
21. Students acquire wide-ranging and complementary transferable skills. One institution, for example, cited independence, self-motivation, analytical skills and communicative abilities, whilst another mentioned presentation skills, articulacy and computer literacy. However, students are not always made aware of the transferability of such skills during their acquisition.
22. The extent and quality of information on graduate destinations vary. Most institutions maintain records which are general in character, and only a minority keep more detailed files. The data available nationally suggest that there is a high level of graduate progression to further study or a diversity of employment. Amongst the latter are the worlds of industry and commerce, academic careers, a range of professional destinations, business and management, journalism and public relations. Others secure temporary initial employment before moving subsequently to full-time employment. Many graduates are able to use their foreign language in the working environment. A number of providers make effective and well-supervised provision for taught postgraduate programmes, which subsequently permit entry into academic research. Graduates interviewed during the assessments spoke well of their own learning experiences. The few employer and professional body representatives who were interviewed were also highly supportive of the graduates from programmes.
Student Support and Guidance
23. Overall, support and guidance for students of Italian is excellent. Of the single-subject assessments, 87 per cent were awarded grade 4 and 13 per cent grade 3 in this aspect. On the joint visits, 74 per cent received grade 4 and 26 per cent grade 3. New students are normally provided with detailed information about their courses. This information comes in varying format, but nearly all institutions produce high-quality course handbooks, leaflets, reading lists and other published documentation. These are, where appropriate, in addition to pre-admission open days, institutional visits and interviews. There are also generally well-framed, practical induction arrangements; the purposes of induction are well understood by both staff and students. Relations between staff and students are excellent. Institutions provide friendly, caring and attentive learning environments, with helpful and accessible staff. Students in one institution were fulsome in their praise of the system of academic and pastoral support, whilst in another valuable systems of remedial assistance had been installed.
24. Most institutions provide comprehensive academic and pastoral support mechanisms. It is common practice for students to be allocated to a personal tutor whose prime task is to act as first point of reference for individual academic guidance and counselling. This practice is generally effective, and in one instance was described as thorough and robust. However, in another case increasing student numbers were putting staff under a lot of pressure. In many cases, staff operate an open-door policy in addition to established reception hours.
25. Institutions have a full range of central support services covering health, personal counselling, careers guidance, accommodation and welfare. Facilities for these services are generally readily accessible, and the extent of their provision is broadly known to both staff and students. In their discussions with students at a number of providers, the assessors noted some variation in the degree to which students use these central services. There was evidence at one institution that students leave their first visit to the careers service until relatively late in their degree course.
26. Given the significance of the period spent in Italy in almost all of the programmes assessed, it is important that students receive good support both in preparation for the experience and whilst they are abroad. ERASMUS courses and similar EU programmes generally have sound support mechanisms in place through arrangements made with the partner institution. The pattern of preparation and support elsewhere is more variable, with some students having to be largely self-reliant. Generally, responsibility for foreign study organisation and support lies with one or two members of departmental staff, and student feedback ranges from entire satisfaction to some very occasional disillusionment with their learning experience whilst abroad. Many providers have found it helpful to draw up information leaflets based on the real-life experiences of returning students, and to arrange face-to-face meetings between outgoing students and their returning colleagues.
27. In some institutions, a member of staff visits students in Italy. Where this happens, students universally record their appreciation both of the visit itself and of the facility it offers for on-the-spot supervision; it also provides an opportunity for moderating examination marks achieved whilst attending the partner institution. One institution even assists with loan support for any students in financial difficulty whilst abroad. Other institutions, having been convinced of the benefits of such practices, are now introducing such visits into their working patterns.
28. In this aspect, on the single-subject visits 40 per cent of providers were awarded grade 4, 53 per cent grade 3 and 7 per cent grade 2. On the joint visits, 37 per cent received grade 4, 42 per cent grade 3, and 21 per cent grade 2. The general quality of teaching accommodation for Italian studies is satisfactory, and some is of high quality. In a few cases, there are problems associated with overcrowding and with extraneous difficulties such as traffic noise. Some teaching rooms are in need of refurbishment, although staff endeavour to enliven the appearance of teaching rooms with appropriate posters and other visual stimuli.
29. Most providers are well equipped to support the teaching of Italian studies. All of the providers have language laboratories and almost all make use of CALL facilities both with tutor support and for independent learning. Audiovisual equipment is widely used and is generally well supported by a wide range of learning materials. In some cases, the layout of teaching rooms housing such provision restricts interaction between teacher and learner. Most institutions now provide satellite television facilities for their students, but the assessors found that relatively little use was being made of these for teaching purposes.
30. Many institutions consider that the provision of IT and computing facilities is essential for the effective learning and reinforcement of Italian, particularly by means of the flexible use of CALL programmes. Most provide computing facilities on an open-access basis, sometimes for 24 hours a day. However, students are often not provided with the necessary training to ensure that they make the most effective use of these resources. It is now common practice for staff members in Italian studies to be provided with desktop computing facilities for research, study and materials preparation. Many lecturers also have access to the Internet, from which a wide variety of contemporary teaching materials can be derived.
31. Most providers have well-stocked library resources enabling students to retrieve the primary and secondary material necessary for studying Italian literature, history and culture. Some institutions, especially those in London and large regional centres, have additional access to nationally recognised libraries, capable of supporting detailed research studies. In three institutions, library resources are in need of improvement if subject objectives are to be fully met. In virtually all cases, one or more members of teaching staff maintain close liaison with representatives of the library to oversee the provision for Italian and hence ensure a good match between the library service and the needs of the subject. The quality of the service offered by library staff, the quality of guidance and induction in the use of library facilities, and the extent of opening hours are good in almost all cases. Some Italian providers hold limited book collections and key reference texts, whilst others have purchased duplicate copies of essential texts with departmental funds.
32. Teaching staff are highly motivated, well qualified and well matched to the teaching requirements declared in institutions' objectives. They are often hard pressed as a consequence of enhanced student numbers and an increasing range of tasks. Virtually all institutions make use of part-time staff, particularly for language teaching, as well as native-speaker Italian language assistants. These teachers are generally highly committed to their endeavours and generally well deployed. Technical and secretarial support staff, whilst universally committed and much appreciated by their colleagues, are often too few in number for the increasing range and sophistication of the tasks assigned to them.
Quality Assurance and Enhancement
33. In this aspect, of those providers receiving single-subject visits, 47 per cent received grade 4, 47 per cent grade 3, and 6 per cent grade 2. On the joint visits, 32 per cent received grade 4, 58 per cent grade 3, and 10 per cent grade 2. Institutions have formal mechanisms for quality assurance. Effective formal procedures are in place for the approval or validation of new courses, modules and programmes, although the rigour of these varies significantly. In addition, institutions have in place, or are developing, procedures for the regular review of existing programmes. The assessors found considerable variation in the extent to which staff at subject level have embraced the practices associated with monitoring the quality of their programmes and responding to issues that arise.
34. In most institutions, staff are expected to monitor the quality of provision through annual programme reviews and to undertake more fundamental reviews less frequently, usually every three to five years. Such processes are informed by the views of students, staff and external examiners. There are effective measures to obtain students' views, including questionnaires and committees with staff and student membership. Many questionnaires are designed for use by all students in an institution, with varying levels of appropriateness for Italian studies teaching and learning. In one case, the questionnaires made no reference to such matters as course content, structure and aims and objectives, but concentrated on the lecturing performance and style. At one institution, staff and students jointly administer the questionnaires, thus allowing students significant additional input in the process. In a few cases, students did not understand the purpose of evaluative questionnaires.
35. The assessors found considerable evidence that students' views are valued and acted on. However, the procedures for disseminating the results of students' questionnaires and dealing with issues raised vary considerably. An example of good practice was observed at an institution where the findings of questionnaires were discussed with individual lecturers, and at staff-student and departmental meetings. A great deal of consultation between staff and students occurs informally. Such consultation benefits from, and contributes to, the excellent relations which exist between staff and students. In addition, it enhances the teaching and learning experience.
36. External examiners' views are sought annually through questionnaires or full reports. Most providers respond promptly to their external examiner's comments, with changes documented through appropriate committee minutes. However, in a few cases the speed of response could be improved. With two providers, the use of the external examiner as a third internal examiner, rather than as a moderator, resulted in the lack of an overview of achievement across the range of examination papers.
37. Induction and mentoring programmes for new staff have been introduced by several providers and are implemented centrally. One institution has recently introduced a formal induction programme at departmental level, and other subject providers have procedures that are informal. In some institutions, induction for new staff is not mandatory, and the length and content of induction programmes vary greatly. One institution has a commendably comprehensive induction programme, in which participants study five core modules in the first year and further modules over the following two years; in addition, there is a mentoring system and formalised evaluation of the whole process. Whilst most institutions limit induction training to full-time, permanent staff, better practice is found in the few that extend such training to include part-time and temporary lecturers, lectors and graduate teaching assistants.
38. Staff training and development features in all institutions visited and is organised centrally. All providers have staff appraisal procedures, and many use the appraisal to ascertain staff development needs. Occasionally, it was not clear how, if at all, staff training needs were identified. In contrast, one institution has a policy of requiring heads of department to accept managerial responsibility for the training and development of departmental members of staff. Generally, the assessors felt that staff could be encouraged to undertake more training, and areas that were specifically mentioned were language teaching methodologies and computer skills.
39. Peer review of teaching is becoming increasingly recognised as an effective way of improving teaching performance. The practice is well established in some institutions. In one example, lecturers in Italian were encouraged to undertake appropriate training, resulting in a process that contributed to the development of a culture of excellence in teaching and learning. The same provider has produced a valuable document giving guidelines for good practice covering all aspects of programme provision. Some providers have no system of peer review, while others have informal arrangements or limit the practice to new staff only, as part of the induction process.
40. The subject attracts well-qualified students, most of whom have no previous knowledge of the language or of related subjects. Three-quarters of the students are female. The quality of education that these students receive is good. For example, in Teaching, Learning and Assessment, on the single-subject visits to institutions, 13 per cent received grade 4 and the remaining 87 per cent grade 3. On the joint visits including Italian, 21 per cent received grade 4 and the remaining 79 per cent grade 3. Overall, the aims are met and, with most providers, at least a substantial contribution is made to the attainment of the stated objectives.
41. Although the number of providers of Italian programmes is relatively small, they offer a diversity of provision. Courses range from those with a traditional language and literature focus to those which link Italian to vocational aspects such as business and design. The number of lecturers in Italian at institutions is small; however, they provide a caring learning environment in which they know their students well. Such an environment helps to lead to high levels of completion. As most students have no previous knowledge of Italian, lecturers have developed highly successful strategies for the intensive teaching of language, leading to considerable added value.
42. Other key features of education in Italian studies include the following:
a. Programmes overall offer a rich variety of subject areas covering cultural, literary, historical and political aspects. Such subject areas are well supported by the scholarly activity of the lecturers. However, a few providers need to reconsider their aims and objectives to ensure that they more realistically reflect the range of options which can be offered by a small team of lecturers.
b. The time spent in Italy by undergraduates is an important element of the curriculum. It plays a significant role in developing language skills and cultural awareness, particularly for the large majority of students who have no experience of Italian before entering higher education. However, the potential benefits are not fully realised in all institutions. In such cases, more needs to be done to ensure that the objectives of the experience are clarified, that students are fully prepared beforehand and that the experience is clearly related to other aspects of the programmes.
c. Curricula generally develop generic skills in line with objectives. Students develop communication, analytical, presentational and IT skills which prepare them well for further study, research and employment in a wide range of careers. Some providers need to ensure that the development of these skills is integrated fully into the curriculum and that students are made aware of their relative importance, as articulated in the aims and objectives.
d. Teaching approaches are generally well matched to objectives, with the strategies for the intensive teaching of language being particularly noteworthy. In a few institutions, teaching strategies for non-language subjects are based on teacher inputs and provide limited opportunities for student participation, despite objectives which emphasise the importance of student contributions and the development of independent learning. Classroom observation confirmed that teaching and learning is of good quality.
e. In most institutions, the variety of assessment approaches has increased in recent years so that the methods used are now well matched to the diversity of the stated objectives. In a few cases, however, heavy reliance is placed on a very limited range of assessments, usually traditional unseen examinations.
f. The majority of students are well supported both in preparation for and during their period in Italy. Many benefit from formal links to institutions in Italy through such networks as ERASMUS. Students particularly value opportunities to discuss the experience beforehand with colleagues who have returned from Italy and they also value visits from tutors whilst in Italy. An increasing number of institutions are adopting these practices.
g. Italian studies are generally well supported by appropriate learning resources. There is a range of accommodation from high quality to some in need of refurbishment. The overall quality is satisfactory. Most institutions have good library, IT and satellite television facilities. It is important, however, that students are given adequate training in the use of such resources to ensure that they make best use of them and of their own time.
h. In general, the Italian providers have sound mechanisms related to quality assurance. Included are extensive formal and informal means for ascertaining the views of students and these often lead to changes in aspects of the provision. Some providers, however, need to ensure that when they undertake surveys of students' views they disseminate the outcomes more effectively.
i. Arrangements for the induction and mentoring of new full-time members of staff for Italian are generally good. In addition, most providers have comprehensive staff development opportunities for established staff. However, take-up of such opportunities is often limited, In some cases, there are inadequate mechanisms for ascertaining staff development needs, despite established staff appraisal systems. There is welcome growth in systems of peer review of teaching and, overall, this should lead to a more focused assessment of staff development needs.
The Graded ProfileThe graded profile for an institution indicates the extent to which the student learning experience and achievement demonstrate that the aims and objectives set by the subject provider are being met. The tests and the criteria applied by the assessors are these:
- Aspects of Provision
- 1. Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
2. Teaching, Learning and Assessment
3. Student Progression and Achievement
4. Student Support and Guidance
5. Learning Resources
6. Quality Assurance and Enhancement
- Tests to be applied
- To what extent do the student learning experience and student achievement, within this aspect of provision, contribute to meeting the objectives set by the subject provider?
Do the objectives set, and the level of attainment of those objectives, allow the aims set by the subject provider to be met?
- Scale Points
- The aims and/or objectives set by the subject provider are not met; there are major shortcomings that must be rectified.
- This aspect makes an acceptable contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives, but significant improvement could be made.
The aims set by the subject provider are broadly met.
- This aspect makes a substantial contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives; however, there is scope for improvement.
The aims set by the subject provider are met.
- This aspect makes a full contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives.
The aims set by the subject provider are met.
Institutions Submitting a Self-assessment in Italian
|Institution||Aspect of Provision||Assessment Outcome||Quality Assessment Report|
|Lancaster University (with Iberian Studies)||3||3||4||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q59/96|
|Royal Holloway||3||3||4||4||4||3||Quality Approved||Q143/96|
|University College London||3||3||4||4||2||4||Quality Approved||Q157/96|
|University of Birmingham||3||3||4||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q5/96|
|University of Bristol||3||3||3||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q215/96|
|University of Durham||3||4||4||3||3||3||Quality Approved||Q156/96|
|University of Exeter||3||3||4||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q164/96|
|University of Hull||3||3||4||4||4||4||Quality Approved||not published|
|University of Leeds||2||4||4||3||4||2||Quality Approved||Q33/96|
|University of Leicester||3||3||4||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q183/96|
|University of Manchester||3||3||3||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q203/96|
|University of Portsmouth||3||3||3||4||3||4||Quality Approved||Q228/96|
|University of Reading||3||3||4||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q202/96|
|University of Warwick||3||3||4||4||3||4||Quality Approved||Q7/96|
|University of Westminster||3||3||3||4||3||3||Quality Approved||not published|
Institutions Submitting a Self-assessment in Modern Languages including Italian
|Institution||Aspect of Provision||Assessment Outcome||Quality Assessment Report|
|Anglia Polytechnic University||4||3||4||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q230/96|
|Coventry University||3||3||3||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q199/96|
|Leeds Metropolitan University||3||3||3||3||3||4||Quality Approved||Q210/96|
|Liverpool John Moores University||3||3||3||3||4||3||Quality Approved||Q90/96|
|Manchester Metropolitan University||3||3||3||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q91/96|
|Oxford Brookes University||4||3||3||4||4||4||Quality Approved||Q139/96|
|Queen Mary and Westfield College||4||4||4||4||4||3||Quality Approved||Q105/96|
|Sheffield Hallam University||3||4||3||3||3||3||Quality Approved||Q180/96|
|The Queen's University of Belfast||3||3||4||3||3||3||Quality Approved||not published|
|University of Bath||3||3||4||4||2||3||Quality Approved||Q82/96|
|University of Brighton||3||3||4||4||3||3||Quality Approved||Q41/96|
|University of Cambridge||3||4||4||4||4||3||Quality Approved||Q171/96|
|University of Central Lancashire||3||3||4||4||3||4||Quality Approved||Q222/96|
|University of East London||3||3||3||4||2||3||Quality Approved||Q61/96|
|University of Huddersfield||2||3||2||3||2||3||Quality Approved||Q4/96|
|University of Kent at Canterbury||3||3||4||4||3||2||Quality Approved||Q141/96|
|University of Luton||3||3||3||4||3||4||Quality Approved||not published|
|University of Oxford||3||4||4||4||4||2||Quality Approved||Q240/96|
|University of Sussex||2||3||3||4||2||3||Quality Approved||Q117/96|
- Aspects of Provision are:
- 1. Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
- 2. Teaching, Learning and Assessment
- 3. Student Progression and Achievement
- 4. Student Support and Guidance
- 5. Learning Resources
- 6. Quality Assurance and Enhancement
Subject Specialist Assessors in Italian
Professor Gino L Bedani
Mr William Brierley
Dr Anna Bristow
Dr Ann Caesar
Professor Christopher S Cairns
Miss Stella Cragie
Dr Jane E Everson
Mr Clive E Griffiths
Dr Susan A Hill
Mrs Lucia Ingham
Ms Jennifer A Lorch
Professor Ian R Macpherson
Professor Eileen A Millar
Mrs Marina E Orsini-Jones
Dr Letizia Panizza
Ms Anna Proudfoot
Dr Luisa Quartermaine
Mrs Milena Sellitri-Van Kraay
Professor Lucio Sponza
Professor A Douglas Thompson
Dr John F Took
Mr Christopher G Wagstaff
Mrs Christine M Wilding
Mr Andrew Wilkin
Reporting Assessors Participating in the Assessment of Italian(Including those RAs participating in modern language visits that included the subject)
Dr John Barkham
Professor David Booth
Eur Ing Alan Chantler
Mr Peter Clarke
Professor Donald Conway
Eur Ing Roy Crowcroft
Professor Robert Davies
Dr Andrew Dawson
Professor (Emeritus) Geoffrey Doherty
Dr Michael Emery
Ms Helen Galas
Mr Anthony Harding
Dr John Hurley
Mr David Kinnear
Mr Anthony Laird
Mr David Lewis
Mr Alan Nisbett
Mrs Christine Plumbridge
Mr Michael Ryder
Dr Robert Schofield
Professor Gerald Vinten
Mr John Warren
Professor David Weitzman
Dr David Whan
Printed copies of this report are available priced £2.00 from:
Quality Assessment Division
BRISTOL BS16 1QD
Telephone 0117 931 7442
Facsimile 0117 931 7446
Full Subject Index