Overview of the Curriculum Renewal Process

There are several different models for the process of curriculum renewal, but most processes have common elements or stages. A unit creating a new program, or approaching an external review, may find it useful to progress through each step in the process; however, each unit can determine the appropriate path of entry based on the scope and priorities of their project.

Graphic information of curriculum renewal: preparation for curriculum renewal, program visioning, program outcomes, curriculum mapping and analysis, planning and implementation, evaluation and assessment

Preparation for Curriculum Renewal

Before a unit begins to make changes to a program’s curriculum, it’s important to consider who and what to consult to determine what changes will improve the curriculum. What information do you need to make well-grounded decisions about the curriculum?

Program Visioning

Considering the vision of the program is helpful in articulating the program’s identity, which contributes to the creation of outcomes and establishes the overall focus of the curriculum. What is the program trying to accomplish?

Program Outcomes

Create program-level outcomes to articulate the specific expectations a unit has for a graduating student. Program outcomes translate the goals and purposes of the program into concrete expectations. What should your students know and be able to do by the time they graduate?

Curriculum Mapping & Analysis

Curriculum mapping provides an analytic framework to establish how elements of the curriculum relate to the program outcomes. What is the program curriculum currently doing well? What needs improvement?

Planning & Implementation

The analysis stage will have revealed areas for improvement in the curriculum which should result in curricular change. Before planning changes in specific courses, consider an overall pedagogical strategy for the program. What change is needed to make the program curriculum effective?

Program Assessment

Assessment is the process of collecting, analyzing and evaluating information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of student learning within a course, series of courses, or program. How do you know the program curriculum is doing what it is intended to do?

Other Considerations

Timing & Scale

As a metaphor, consider a house renovation project. Depending on the issues with a house, the time available, resources, patience, etc. the home owners would decide on the scope of the renovation project – they might choose to simply patch holes and put on a fresh coat of paint; renovate one or two whole rooms; or, bulldoze the whole house and rebuild from the ground up. House renovation is a helpful metaphor to consider when deciding on educational reform, described by Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case in their book Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading educational change for a 21st century world (5). Depending on the state of the curriculum, the time the department has to make changes, the resources required and available, and so on it may make sense to revise a course or two to address a specific issues within the curriculum; overhaul a section of the curriculum (e.g., several second-year courses); or, completely reinvent the entire curriculum. Even though it may be exciting to imagine a completely re-envisioned curriculum, that route may not be a feasible option. It is important for a unit to consider what they have the time and resources to accomplish before getting too far along in the renewal process.

Leadership Models

Curriculum renewal may require the commitment of the department at large, but facilitation of the process requires strong leadership from one or several people to keep the initiative moving. The following is a list of possible leadership/facilitation models that the unit could consider:

  • Program leader: a Department Chair, Associate Chair, or Program Director may elect to take the lead on a curriculum renewal project as part of their leadership or administrative duties for the department.
  • Faculty member: a faculty member, with the support of the Chair and/or Associate Chair, may volunteer or be assigned the task of leading a curriculum renewal initiative. This option will likely include course release to accommodate the workload, or the leadership role may count as the faculty member’s service to the department.
  • External facilitator: if it is not feasible for a faculty member or someone else within the department to take on the role of facilitating the process, it may make sense for the department to hire a facilitator externally or seconde someone for the duration of the process.

In all models, it is useful to have a committee of faculty and staff to consult with and support the renewal process. If the unit has a standing curriculum or program committee, it may make sense to have one act in this capacity, if feasible. If there is no pre-existing committee, it may be worthwhile to form at least one for the duration of the process. A guiding principle is that curriculum renewal is not a ‘spectator sport’. It necessitates the engagement of leaders and faculty from the unit.