Monthly Archives: December 2012

Quality Assurance in Higher Education: what has it got to do with teaching and learning?

I've just returned from a few days in Averio, Portugal to meet with other partners in our EU-funded Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality (SPEAQ) project.  It was a good time to meet as we are about to enter Phase 2 of the project. We have worked together to develop the quality workshop (for which the files will be made available on the SPEAQ website in the New Year)

University of Aveiro
University of Aveiro, venue for our latest SPEAQ meeting

and gathered interview data from students and staff in our institutions. In the second phase each project partner will be carryout a quality-related project in their own institution which  builds on previous findings. I will be a position to say more about the Southampton project in the New Year, but the overall essence of the project is about enabling teaching staff, students and quality managers to take ownership of quality. One of the consistent findings of the partners (as I alluded to in my thoughts about the EQAF conference in Tallinn) is that quality assurance as understood by quality professionals is very different from that of academic staff and students. This 'separation' persists up to the highest levels of university managers where at the second or third tier of seniority one person will be ultimately responsible for quality assurance and another for Education. It is interesting to see that despite the diversity of quality assurance regimes throughout Europe this dichotomy is the norm rather than the exception.

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Normal distribution curve in LaTeX

Amended: 22 February 2016: There were a couple of errors in the code which I have now fixed. The previous code omitted the need for the xcolor package and the some coding items symbols (notably '\' were missing).
I have been searching the internet on how to produce a normal distribution curve in LaTeX with the standard deviations marked. I wasn't able to find exactly what I wanted, but got some good clues here.  This code uses the pgfplots package. The code should work 'as is'.

Normal distribution diagram in LaTeX (Using Pgfplots package)

\usepackage{amssymb, amsmath}
\begin{axis}[no markers, domain=0:10, samples=100,
axis lines*=left, xlabel=Standard deviations, ylabel=Frequency,,
height=6cm, width=10cm,
xtick={-3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3}, ytick=\empty,
enlargelimits=false, clip=false, axis on top,
grid = major]
\addplot [fill=cyan!20, draw=none, domain=-3:3] {gauss(0,1)} \closedcycle;
\addplot [fill=orange!20, draw=none, domain=-3:-2] {gauss(0,1)} \closedcycle;
\addplot [fill=orange!20, draw=none, domain=2:3] {gauss(0,1)} \closedcycle;
\addplot [fill=blue!20, draw=none, domain=-2:-1] {gauss(0,1)} \closedcycle;
\addplot [fill=blue!20, draw=none, domain=1:2] {gauss(0,1)} \closedcycle;
\addplot[] coordinates {(-1,0.4) (1,0.4)};
\addplot[] coordinates {(-2,0.3) (2,0.3)};
\addplot[] coordinates {(-3,0.2) (3,0.2)};
\node[coordinate, pin={68.2\%}] at (axis cs: 0, 0.4){};
\node[coordinate, pin={95\%}] at (axis cs: 0, 0.3){};
\node[coordinate, pin={99.7\%}] at (axis cs: 0, 0.2){};
\node[coordinate, pin={34.1\%}] at (axis cs: -0.5, 0){};
\node[coordinate, pin={34.1\%}] at (axis cs: 0.5, 0){};
\node[coordinate, pin={13.6\%}] at (axis cs: 1.5, 0){};
\node[coordinate, pin={13.6\%}] at (axis cs: -1.5, 0){};
\node[coordinate, pin={2.1\%}] at (axis cs: 2.5, 0){};
\node[coordinate, pin={2.1\%}] at (axis cs: -2.5, 0){};

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Fighting the end of level monster, aka the PhD viva

I don't play computer games nowadays, I but assume that the end of level monster lives on in some form. In a computer game the end of level 'monster' (could be a spider or some other 'baddie') shows up after you have completed all other tasks on that level. Progress to the next level depends on being able to defeat the monster. PhD vivas are often presented in these sorts of terms. The hero has done everything s/he needs to do (her/his thesis) but now needs to do to defeat the ultimate adversary (aka external examiner).  The opposite 'danger' is that of complacency; that the viva is a mere formality, and all the candidate has to do is turn up and have a chat.

Today I have been making final preparations to the Postgraduate Research Training Programme session entitled ‘Your Viva: Q & A’, which takes place tomorrow morning.

I was tempted to invite recent graduates in to talk about their experiences of the viva, but had second thoughts. Firstly too many of those narratives are along the lines of “I was very nervous, but it was all OK in the end”. Nothing wrong with that of course (it pretty much sums up my experience) which brings me to the second point—that for reasons of balance it is essential to bring in someone who had problems, which I don’t really fancy doing. Thirdly with over 400 postgraduates in the Faculty I assume that most of them will be in touch with recent candidates who can share experiences.

Instead I will be helping the students to be able to talk about their thesis, in a ways which would in viva situtation.

1. Explain in the space below what your thesis is about: This space is small, but it is useful, not only for the viva ,but also for job interviews/application to be able to summarise the thesis is a few sentences.

What is your thesis about




Other questions include:

2. How would you describe your approach to the topic in terms of methodology/ theoretical approach/ philosophical approach?

3. I think the strengths of the thesis are…

4. My thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by…

5. The questions I most look forward to answering about my thesis are…

6. The questions I fear most are…

7. I am excited about my viva because…

8. I am worried about my viva because…

9. I think I can impress the examiners by…

10. Things I need to find out before my viva are…

I have put together a pack which includes:

Handouts for the PhD viva session
  • Questions and reflections (I’ve printed these off in Pink), including the above questions and some questions on “Darren’s” situation (see below).
  • Preparing for your viva: This University of Leicester document (available under a Creative Commons Licence) slightly modified for the University of Southampton. (Printed on buff paper).
  • When things go wrong. Messy viva situations are something of a taboo I believe, but a non-Southampton student, “Darren” whose experience was not good has shared some viva reflections with me. (He has said I can use them with my students as long as I don’t reveal his identity). (Printed on white.) I think these reflections would be a good OER, but I don’t have that level of permission at this stage). We will be discussing these reflections in the session.
  • Some internal documents relating to University of Southampton procedures.
  • A University of Southampton PhD viva checklist. (Most of this relates to knowing when and where the viva will be held).
  • A (blank) copy of the Doctoral Examiners’ Joint report form (for the University of Southampton).

I’ve not run this session before but I’m optimistic it will go well…

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