Introduction

Curriculum renewal, as the term is used in this guide, refers to an initiative undertaken by a Faculty or unit that seeks to evaluate, analyze, and/or improve some element of a program’s curriculum. There are many entry points into curriculum renewal, for example an external review, enrollment concerns, a shift in departmental priorities, or the creation of a new program. The initiative might involve a whole program, a collection of courses (e.g., all second-year courses), or the whole Faculty. A Faculty or unit may be interested in investigating the development of specific student skills (e.g., critical thinking or communication) within a program, and that, too, would be considered curriculum renewal.

Regardless of how a unit comes to curriculum renewal, it is important to keep in mind that renewal is not a fixed process that must be followed, step by step, in its entirety for a project to be successful. Curriculum renewal is an iterative process – a unit may find, once outcomes have been established, that it is necessary to revisit data collection, or it may be beneficial to further refine the program vision at that point, and so forth. A unit may decide that program visioning, or curriculum mapping, are not steps that need to be taken. There is no one correct way to approach curriculum renewal and there is no such thing as a perfect curriculum renewal process. A unit may discover questions that would have been convenient to address at the beginning, but were not thought of, or there may be unexpected complications at certain points in the process. However, there will also be unexpected insights discovered throughout the process, and new interests sparked as a result. The driver for curriculum renewal may be to fulfil a specific goal (e.g., preparation for program review), but ideally engagement of faculty, students, and staff with the program’s curriculum as an ongoing process of continuous improvement will keep the program relevant and impactful.

There are two main themes underpinning the renewal process in this guide – backwards design, and alignment. Backwards design, a concept adapted for the educational context by Wiggins and McTighe (1), refers to the development of programs, or courses, or lessons with the end goals of the experience in mind. In other words, a developer considers the expectations for students before designing elements of the program, course or lesson. Given that concept, the renewal process starts by asking what a program will prepare graduates for.

Alignment, using the term broadly, refers to two primary theories that were developed near the beginning of the new millennium – John Biggs’ constructive alignment (2), and L. Dee Fink’s integrated design (3). Both theories address the principle that there should be coherence between the intended learning outcomes of an educational experience (for example, a course or program), and the assessments and teaching strategies implemented to demonstrate the achievement of those outcomes. In other words, the learning outcomes are developed based on the end-goal of the course or program, the assessments in a course or program are developed to help students achieve the learning outcomes, and the teaching and learning activities (e.g., class discussions, practice exercises, etc.) are developed to help students prepare for the assessments. In summary, backwards design informs what a program (or course, lesson, etc.) should focus on by identifying what students need to be able to do/know/etc. by the end of the experience, and alignment ensures all the components support students’ progress toward and achievement of those end goals.

UTQAP Connection

Curriculum renewal intersects with requirements of the University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process (UTQAP). Throughout this document, “UTQAP Connection” headlines hightlight these intersections to allow units to streamline their efforts wherever possible.