Curriculum development is a multi-step, ongoing, and cyclical process of continuous advancement towards intended goals for teaching, student success, and advancement of the program. For some departments/units the process is initiated through the QUQAP Cyclical Review process; for others, their interest stems from the recognition that a revitalization of their current curriculum is needed or a new program needs to be developed.
At the CTL, we view the process of curriculum improvement as:
- Collaborative, reflective, analytical
- Evidence-based (multiple sources of data)
- Student-learning focused
Our cycle for continuous curriculum improvement is inspired by the SOAR approach (SOAR: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results) – a positive approach to strategic thinking that allows an academic program to construct its future through collaboration, shared understanding, and commitment to action (Stavros & Hinrichs, 2009):
By virtue of arriving at this page, you’ve already initiated the work of curriculum development. In the Initiate Phase, we recommend that you identify:
What you hope to gain by focusing on curriculum development.
- What are your goals for curriculum development or review?
- What questions would you like to answer during this process?
Who will be involved.
- Who will form the strategic planning team? I.e. those who will be involved in making planning decisions as the core team
- Who is needed to gain a wider perspective beyond the core team? Who are your stakeholders (e.g. faculty, instructors, administrators, staff, students, others) and how will stakeholders inform, participate, or be consulted through the process?
What evidence or data needs to be readily available for initiating conversation.
- As you look forward to future phases, what data is already available or easily curated to inform the upcoming conversations?
- What data is missing or absent?
A sense of the timeline.
- What external expectations, deadlines, or timelines will impact the work? (e.g. QUQAP schedules, curriculum committee dates)
- What internal expectations, deadlines, or timelines will impact the work? (e.g. desire to introduce new courses or curriculum on a given academic cycle)
Once you have a sense of what you’re initiating and who’s leading the core team, it’s time to dive into dialogue. In the Inquire Phase you’re building a common understanding of the program’s strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and possible results (SOAR) through various forms of inquiry, input, and data collection.
The Inquire Phase involves Evidence Gathering and Data Driven Conversation, such as:
Facilitated dialogue on stakeholders’ perspectives of the strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. The CTL is available to facilitate SOAR conversations through workshops or retreats that are co-developed with the core leadership team. View a sample retreat plan.
When, where, and how do students experience the unique and defining aspects of their academic program of study? Where/How are the intended learning outcomes taught and assessed? These are some of the SOAR-Related questions that can be addressed through curriculum mapping.
Whether focused on QUQAPs or broader redesign initiatives, the efforts of the Inquire Phase will directly inform and advance your work. For example:
Preparing the Self-Study?
There are many ways of tailoring the Inquire Phase to directly benefit the self-study efforts of your team. Use the Inquire Phase to inform sections of the self-study report:
- Section 1: context for current review (articulating strengths and aspirations),
- Section 2: development of the self-study (describing processes taken and stakeholders who’ve participated)
- Section 3: program alignment with university priorities (strengths, opportunities, aspirations),
- Section 4: important elements of student learning now and into the future (curriculum mapping that highlights curricular strengths)
For programs undergoing Cyclical Review, the Inquire Phase may be thought of as extending through the self-study and site visits to feedback from external reviewers and preparation of final reports. From this review process, new directions and recommendations may emerge that lead to future phases: Articulating a Shared Vision and Taking Inspired Action.
Developing a New Program?
Use the Inquire Phase to build on strengths, concentrate on opportunities, and clarify aspirations of the new program and its development; all to articulate the measurable results that will demonstrate success of your curriculum development process and, ultimately, lead to welcoming new students who will be successful in their studies.
This work will lead your group into future phases of creating a shared vision for the program’s development, defining the strategic initiatives that will result in that development, and leading on action.
Visioning a New Direction for an Existing Program?
Use the Inquire Phase to create a common understanding of your new direction by focusing on strengths, opportunities, and aspirations. Articulate the desired results of your new direction as you head into future phases.
Consolidating input from the Inquire Phase, your core team will be in an advantageous position to “visualize a future of actions that reflect high potential opportunities, and the values and aspirations of the community” (Stavros & Hinrichs, 2009, p. 25).
Work with an Educational Developer from the CTL to unite aspects of identified strengths, opportunities, and aspirations of the program with the ultimate goals of:
- Articulating the vision and sharing it back to the stakeholders of the community
- Translating this vision into coordinated plans around ongoing curriculum development
What strategic initiatives (i.e. projects, programs, and processes) will support us in reaching our aspirations and desired results? Now that we know where we want to go, how do we get there?
A shared vision expresses imagined possibilities. This phase takes those possibilities and transforms them into strategic initiatives and action items. For curriculum development, this means deciding on and designing select efforts for curricular advancement that will have the most impact.
This might include:
- course design initiatives
- professional development for instructors to advance teaching and assessment skill sets
- adjusting alignment between program outcomes and course learning activities.
What changes to processes, structures, systems, and culture will be needed to ensure action and results? The CTL can work with your team to define and design these initiatives and help you take inspired action.
It’s time to take action on identified strategic initiatives and engage in the targeted projects, programs, and processes that have been planned for inspiring curricular change.
In this phase, meaningful and measurable goals are tracked, and the results are used as feedback for any needed corrections as the plan moves forward. For example, a course design initiative may track the number of participating faculty and the types of changes being made to course curricula.
The CTL can work with your team to select and collect data on measurable goals. The team can coach you in using results as feedback for continuous corrections and curriculum planning.
Ultimately, as a cyclical process your efforts will lead you back around to the beginning. The place where you once again reflect on progress made, take stock of where you’re at as a program and academic community, and ultimately look ahead to the future.
Before moving on, celebrate the successes of your team! Recognize and acknowledge the hard work that’s brought you to this point. Reward the efforts of your instructors, staff, and students in making the program the success that it is.
Questions to ask at this phase:
- What advances have we made in recent months and years?
- How can we recognize and celebrate our successes as a group?
- Where have we been and where are we headed?
- What are some new and arising opportunities on the horizon?
- How can the challenges we’ve experienced be seen as exciting opportunities for the future?
The CTL offers one-on-one consultations with individual instructors, and meetings with departments and other groups directly involved in teaching, who are interested in exploring and/or developing their programs or courses. To request a consultation with a member of the CTL, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Course Design: Curriculum and Program Review. Centre for Teaching and Learning, Queen’s University