Preparation for Curriculum Renewal
The first stage in the curriculum renewal process is dedicated to establishing the context of the program, and seeking feedback on the program from a variety of sources and stakeholders. When designing a course, it is important to review situational factors that may impact the success of the course so that they can be kept in mind throughout the design process (6). Situational factors might be things like the number of students, students’ reasons for enrolling, or the instructor’s prior teaching experience. Similarly, reviewing program-level situational factors is an important step for the success of the curriculum renewal process. What is the unit’s motivation for undertaking curriculum renewal? What are similar programs doing? What are students’ perceptions of the learning experiences offered within the program? Are there any courses within the program that students struggle to complete?
The amount and extent of research and consultation needed to prepare effectively for a curriculum renewal project depend largely on the scale and scope of the project. A unit that is planning to completely overhaul their entire curriculum will need more extensive preparation than a unit that is planning to review the development of a few key skills across the second year courses in a program. Given that, it is important to establish goals for the renewal project, and from those goals determine the parameters of the research and consultation needed to move forward with the project.
Establish Drivers for Research
Before getting started, consider what kinds of information will help the unit make well-grounded decisions about the curriculum, specific to the scope of the initiative. Framing this thinking in the form of questions may help drive the preparation stage. What goals does the unit have for curriculum renewal? Why is change necessary? What are the best ways to engage faculty, students, and other stakeholders in the renewal process? What internal data will help the unit better understand the context of the program? What external data will help the unit better understand the context of the program? Who should be consulted with to compile feedback on the program?
Once goals have been established, consider documenting the driving questions in a shared file that can be referenced as needed, or used as an organizing structure for the findings.
Review External Data (Environmental Scan)
- Review of similar programs nationally and internationally (on-par and ideal)
- Input from non-governmental organizations (e.g., associations, employer/host surveys, non-profits, think tanks, etc.)
- Reports from disciplinary and other associations
- Review of research landscape (e.g., recent discoveries, new directions, etc.)
Review Internal Data
- Application data – provides information about the kinds of students who are currently drawn to the program
- Enrollment data – provides demographic information about students so the unit knows who is taking the program (gender, age, program(s) of study, year of study, part-time/full-time, domestic/international, commuter/non-commuter, etc.)
- Course evaluation data – provides information about students’ perceptions of the extent to which the institutional core teaching and learning priorities were part of their overall learning experiences within their courses
- Grades – provides information about which courses students typically perform well in versus average or poorly
- Drop/withdrawal/fail rates – provides information about course completion patterns
- Student satisfaction survey data – provides information about students’ satisfaction with aspects of their program, department and/or the university
- Graduation and retention rates (7) – provides information about how many students successfully make it through the program (and at what points students leave the program, if applicable)
All of these data can help paint a picture of students, their experience, and how they enter and move through the program. Basically, how ‘successful’ the program is through particular lenses.
The preparation phase should include diverse consultation to get a wide variety of perspectives on the program.
- Current students and alumni – run surveys, focus groups, and/or other forms of consultation to garner feedback from students and alumni on their experience and satisfaction with the program. It is also useful to find out more about what alumni have done since completing the program and what elements of the program they have found relevant to their life, work, or post-graduate studies.
- Faculty – while faculty will be involved in the substantive phases of the renewal process, it is also useful to engage with them during the preparatory phase to learn what they consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of the program.
- Staff – although not as directly impacted by curricular matters as students and faculty, unit staff play a significant role in the administration of the program. It is useful to garner feedback early in this process on how the current curriculum features into their work, what impressions they have of it (particularly if they work with students), and how changes to the curriculum may influence the work they do to support the unit, the program, and the students.
- Disciplinarily cognate units/programs – review similar programs within the unit and connect with other units that offer similar or related programs to learn what works best for them. What have they found successful? What have they found challenging? In what ways are the programs similar, and what makes them distinct?
- Structurally cognate units/programs – it can be helpful to look at what works well in programs that have a similar structure to the unit’s program, but belong to different disciplines. For example, if the unit is interested in creating a new graduate program with a variety of fields or concentrations, it would be useful to connect with another unit within the university or beyond that offers a graduate program with a variety of fields or concentrations to learn what benefits and challenges that structure offers.
- Graduate or professional programs – If the program has a graduate-level or professional counterpart, it is helpful to consult with the leaders of those programs – especially if the undergraduate program is helping to prepare students for those graduate programs. Consulting with graduate or professional programs can help to establish a point of distinction for content or skill level (e.g., where should the undergraduate program leave off, and where should there be useful overlap?), and it can also help to learn what gaps (in content, skill, and attitude) may exist at the level of admission which the undergraduate program should address.
Departmental Research Inventory
In what ways do the research endeavours of the faculty – disciplinary and those related to teaching & learning – impact the curriculum? Are there current areas of expertise that are not being utilized in the curriculum that could be valuable? Are there gaps in the alignment between research areas and teaching requirements that may indicate a need for future hires? Is it possible to build student research opportunities into the curriculum based on the faculty members’ projects?
Because the review of external and internal data, consultation with faculty, students and staff, and consideration of faculty research in relation to the undergraduate and graduate curriculum are hallmarks of the requirements of the UTQAP cyclical review process, and specifically of the self-study, it may make sense to leverage this required process to support curriculum renewal. Consult the schedule of reviews and the Dean’s Office to determine if the timing can be aligned.