Questions to Guide a Curriculum Review

Recently I facilitated a workshop in which participants talked about aspects of their program that they were interested in knowing more about, and that could be informed by data collected as part of a curriculum review. The brainstorming activity revealed that the groups were interested in exploring different aspects of their curriculum, from broad, encompassing questions to specific curricular concerns. A “one size fits all” approach to curriculum review won’t be as effective as a tailored process. Some of the questions might need a bit more definition, but here’s a list of starting points of questions to guide a curriculum review process:

Purpose of the program:

  • How current is the program? What is being emphasized? Are we preparing graduates for traditional and/or emerging roles?
  • How can we make the program more innovative?
  • What is the right balance of discipline-specific courses and interdisciplinary courses to give students a solid grounding in the discipline yet enhance their learning of broader perspectives? What might a multidisciplinary approach look like?

Students:

  • Who are our students and what do they want out of the program?
  • Why is there so much drop-off in registration after the introductory course? Why do students decide not to continue in the discipline?

Student learning experiences:

  • How are we integrating learner experiences into the program? How can we further integrate them?
  • How might we plan a non-traditional learning experience for students? What would that look like? How would it be scaffolded and assessed?
  • How are we connecting theory to practice? What improvements should be made in this area?
  • What teaching methods are currently being used? Is there sufficient diversity?

Prerequisites:

  • Do we have the right prerequisites for upper-level courses?
  • Are more prerequisite courses needed for students to be successful in upper-level courses? Less?
  • Is a lack of prerequisite courses in certain upper-level courses problematic for students in terms of their success in certain upper-level courses? Do they have the necessary understanding in order to succeed in these courses?

Consistency across sections of a course:

  • What approaches are different instructors taking to multiple sections of a course? How consistent are course outcomes, student learning experiences, and student assessments? Are there any issues, especially in courses that are prerequisites for other courses?
  • How much flexibility should we give different instructors in multiple sections of a course to bring their own expertise and research interests to the learning experience?

Content coverage:

  • Are students getting opportunities to acquire foundational knowledge in the field?
  • Is there a balance between foundational knowledge/ content and other curricular concerns such as critical thinking and communication?

Core courses:

  • Do we have the right core (required) courses in the program?
  • How are the content and theories in core courses built upon in subsequent courses? How are we scaffolding student learning throughout the program?

Time to completion:

  • Where are the bottlenecks in the program and how do we resolve them?
  • What courses have high percentages of failure rates and/or withdrawal?
  • What courses are out of sequence or offered in the wrong term?
  • Who is graduating from our program, and who isn’t? Why do students transfer out of the program?

Intended and Perceived Curriculum:

  • How effective are instructors at conveying course expectations to students? What is the difference between the intended curriculum and what students actually learn (the perceived curriculum)?

Academic integrity:

  • How do students learn about academic integrity? Are we doing enough and the right things in this area?

Staffing:

  • Where should we put our resources? Should we be “realizing efficiencies”, lowering class sizes, using sessional instructors more/ less?
  • Do we concentrate on the learning experience in service courses that have students from all faculties (for example, first-year tutorials) or dedicate more resources to advanced courses that have more of our majors?

Graduate attributes:

  • How does our program align with graduate attributes, at the faculty and/or institutional level? Does our program align with strategic priorities?

Obviously a curriculum review cannot possibly investigate all of these questions! A general rule of thumb is to select 3-5 questions for exploration. What are the priorities for your curriculum review?

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