Early in the renewal process, it is useful to bring faculty and staff together to discuss the overall values of the program, the purpose of the program, the key approaches to teaching and learning, and the nature of the learning environment. Ideally, this discussion will be informed by the analysis completed during the preparation step.
The following is a list of questions compiled by the University College Dublin Teaching & Learning unit to guide discussion on the purpose and values of a program. The examples given below have been adapted to suit the context of higher education in Ontario.
What are the current trends and potential future developments that might have an impact on the purposes of the program?
Examples: International student mobility; size and growth of domestic education systems; student characteristics
Based on these, what is/are the key purpose(s) of the program, including who it is aimed at?
Examples: Purposes – subject specialization, internationalization, inter-disciplinary engagement, active citizenship, widening participation, employability, building partnerships and networks, etc… Aimed at – students with an interest in a career in science; practitioners in a specialized field.
What do you value most, individually and collectively, in the discipline/subject/profession?
Examples: Theoretical perspective, professionalism, identity with subject, historical perspective, competent designers, problem-solvers, specialist knowledge, empathy, ethical behaviour, scientific approach, evidence-based practitioners.
What are the core educational values in the program?
Examples: Autonomous student learning; opportunities to learn from peers; work experience; thinking reflectively; social-awareness; curiosity; dedication; motivation; student commitment to their studies.
What is the nature of the learning environment?
Examples: Strong laboratory component; 50% of work is on-line; work placements integrated into the program; year abroad encouraged; studio work is key throughout; clinical skills laboratories in early years; lectures aligned with seminars; tutorials are the primary approach.
What are the key teaching, learning and assessment approaches that reflect the collective values?
Examples: Group work; problem-based learning; simulations; critical writing; debates; case-based assessments; student presentations; essays; online multiple choice questions.
A unit may want to consider gathering the whole department for a half-day or day-long program or curriculum retreat at this stage in the process. A retreat is beneficial for a number of reasons, including:
- Time for a comprehensive review and analysis of the findings from the data gathering, research, and preparation stage
- Deeper engagement with discussions about the goals and purpose of the program
- Getting into a different environment may help the unit focus on program visioning
It can be useful to marshal the discussion points into the form of a vision and/or values statement – a statement can provide not only focus for the discussion, but can be used on the department’s website or other informational materials to provide context for prospective students, new faculty, and other institutions. To illustrate, here is the program intent from the Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Toronto, which outlines the vision of their undergraduate programs:
Statistical Science encompasses methods and tools for obtaining knowledge from data and for understanding the uncertainty associated with this knowledge. The purposes of the undergraduate programs are to: (1) equip students with a general framework for obtaining knowledge from data; (2) give students skills that they are able to flexibly apply to a variety of problems; and (3) to provide students with the ability to learn new methods as needs, data sources, and technology change.
Students in the major and all specialist programs of study in statistics will acquire core learning outcomes in statistical methods, theory, computation, and communication. The three specialist programs are distinguished by the depth of the outcomes in each of these areas. All of the programs of study prepare students for employment as a statistical scientist or for graduate studies in statistics or related disciplines. The distinctive aspects of each of the specialist programs provide particularly strong preparation, not typically achieved through undergraduate programs in statistics at other institutions, for specialized employment or graduate study opportunities. In particular, the mathematical rigor of the Specialist Program in Statistics ensures excellent preparation for advanced graduate studies in statistical theory and methods. The Specialist Program in Applied Statistics provides outstanding scientific training for collaborative work in industry or research, and preparation for post-graduate work in statistics, biostatistics, or a concentration discipline where the students’ quantitative expertise will prepare them to make potentially unique contributions.
Consider a hypothetical unit, the Department of Scandinavian Languages and Literatures. The Scandinavian Department found, during the preparation stage, that students in their undergraduate Swedish Studies program need more research skill development. The information collected during the consultation process provided the following perspectives: a number of the program’s past graduates who went on to graduate programs indicated they felt unprepared for the work that was expected of them; several employers confirmed that the graduates of the program generally lack the ability to gather and analyze information at a satisfactory level; and, a number of the faculty responsible for teaching upper-year courses suggested that many students have a difficult time completing research papers. Given the emphasis placed on the importance of research by multiple types of stakeholders, and the concerns that surfaced regarding the effectiveness of the current curriculum to adequately provide students with opportunities to develop the requisite skills, it would be worthwhile for the unit to make research a part of the program’s goals, and perhaps its vision. With that in mind, the Scandinavian Department revised the Swedish Studies program vision to the following:
The Swedish Studies program offers students a comprehensive exploration of Swedish language, culture, literature, and politics. The curriculum consists of a variety of language, literature, and culture courses designed to prepare students to conduct research in a variety of areas within the discipline. Graduates of the program will be prepared for work in many areas – for example, work in translation, graduate studies abroad, government work, tourism, international relations, and so forth. The Department of Scandinavian Languages and Literatures is known for its intimate class sizes which allow fruitful interaction between students and their peers, as well as with instructors. The Department is also known for its strong relationships with government agencies, employers, and researchers in Sweden. Students in the program can take advantage of an exchange program with the University of Stockholm to work on research projects in various sectors in the city.
A 200 word “Program Description” is required for all new program proposals. The visioning process described captures all of the required elements.