Quality assurance: positive tension and integrity

How a positive tension structure holds together the elements of quality assurance in teaching and learning

25 June 2014 / Jump to comment (2)

In order to achieve ‘quality’ it is paramount that the system for building and maintaining it is in place and fully functioning. In the arena of delivering learning this means that for quality to thrive the people, content and structure of what is being delivered have to be ‘the best they can be’. To achieve this aim the entire learning process has to be thoroughly planned, supported, monitored and evaluated to ensure that everything operates at an optimum level.

All systems and models rely on the required components being in place and held in balance. A good visual example of this is the ‘tensegrity’ model. The term ‘tensegrity’ was formulated by architect and systems theorist R. Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s as a combination of the terms ‘tensional integrity’. A tensegrity model can take many forms but this is one example:

Tensegrity model

It is a structure where the components are held in balance by the tension between them and the structure clearly and visibly responds to any increase or decrease in pressure on it. As a result when it is ‘squeezed’ at any point the entire model distorts and loses its symmetrical shape and balance.

Quality assurance in delivering learning is likewise a system for ensuring that all the necessary components are place and symmetrical so the model holds its structure and does not get distorted. In learning - these components are factors such as:

  • Suitable planning
  • Assessment of risk
  • Appropriate resources – particularly staff
  • Time for preparation
  • Ongoing support
  • Sampling & monitoring
  • Record keeping

If pressure is exerted on the quality assurance model such as by components being reduced or removed, the positive ‘tension’ holding the entire system for ensuring quality will alter and the shape of the model will be distorted. It will no longer be in balance or hold its overall structure – and it will no longer guarantee the quality of the learning being delivered.


Fuller, Buckminster. "Tensegrity," Portfolio and Art News Annual, No. 4 (1961), pp. 112–127, 144, 148

Comments 2 Comments

Catherine Murphy

01 July 2014

I believe with the above blog completely. I was a Lead Internal Verifier for many years and now I work freelance for different companies and different awarding bodies. I have found that some companies who use on line assessment and quality assurance are not managed properly and because the Verifier is unable to see the process of the teaching, learning and assessment the whole process falls down. This is not the norm but is still quite common and should be addressed for the sake of the vocational student taking apprenticeship ensuring that they are not set up to fail and that it is a level playing ground for all apprenticeships.

Anneli Smart

14 October 2014

I am finding Karen's blogs very interesting and concurr with what is being said. I am the college wide Lead IQA working in the quality department of a GFE. The lack of funding is having a huge impact on Colleges and we are having to find innovative ways of working smarter but keeping the quality.
I would interested in how others are managing.

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