Curriculum renewal

In the November edition of Edubytes, we’re pleased to share insights from within our own team at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT). Our guest editor is PJ Rayner, Curriculum Consultant at the CTLT, in collaboration with the Curriculum and Course Services team (Andrea Han, Roselynn Verwood, Carrie Hunter, Nausheen Shafiq). PJ presents an overview of the team’s work on curriculum and program renewal, offering an overview of the approach and several examples of the CTLT’s work to support Faculty groups with this endeavour.


Curriculum and program renewal: An introduction

Program renewal, also called curriculum renewal, is a process that departments and programs can use to answer questions about how the suite of courses offered in their specialization work in concert with one another. It’s a process that considers how the program as a multi-year educational whole can, and does, reach learning goals that no one course can do on its own.

This degree- or program-level perspective invokes program curriculum, focuses on the learning design of the entire degree, and asks questions about the program structure that holds all of the individual courses together in a cohesive learning experience for students. This kind of work is broad in scope and complex in process, as it often involves dozens of courses, multiple stakeholders (students, faculty, alumni, industry, community), departmental politics, and the culture and educational values of the discipline in which it sits.

To help navigate this complex terrain, program renewal considers big, broad and complex questions through a set of tools and processes, such as program visioning, program outcomes, curriculum mapping and enrollment analytics.

This past summer, the CTLT launched new web content dedicated to program renewal, explaining what it is and how it works. The new content describes the program renewal process in-terms of three lenses—the field, the department, and the courses—which can be used iteratively in order to identify how a program could be (re)structured to enhance student learning. We invite you to click through to learn more about our approach.


Motivations and tips for program renewal

There are many different reasons for a program to begin a curriculum renewal initiative, a few of which are listed below (more can be found in the goals section on our website):

  • Reimagining the academic direction of the program
  • Improving student learning experiences
  • Managing program growth
  • Preparing graduates for the next stage of their life
  • Ensuring the program meets required standards

Regardless of the motivation, there a several recommendations for how keep your program renewal initiative on track. McLeod and Steinert (2015) offers twelve such tips, the first two of which will do a lot to keep program renewal initiatives focussed:

  • articulate the reasons for curricular change and ongoing curricular renewal; and
  • build a strong, influential curriculum renewal team.

Being clear about your purpose, repeating it often, copying it in the header of every document, and asking a team of faculty colleagues to champion the initiative can bring both clarity and momentum to the project.

Another valuable how-to resource is the University of Toronto’s guide to curriculum renewal (PDF). It offers a six-part process for curriculum renewal, beginning with a robust preparation phase which echoes much of McLeod’s and Steniert’s (2015) tips:

“Preparation phase: 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?” (p. 9)


Examples of program renewal at UBC

The CTLT has supported program renewal work at UBC for over ten years, and it is only gaining in momentum as more programs ask questions about scaffolding learning at the degree level. Over the 2020 and 2021 academic years, for example, we have collaborated on 90 projects across 45 academic units in 10 different Faculties. Our support is as diverse as the disciplinary cultures at UBC.

We have highlighted below of a few of these collaborations:

  • Through a process of interviewing and curriculum mapping, one department collapsed five of its sub-specializations into one core degree. The new degree fosters multi-disciplinarity, and is built around a backbone of core requirements that create a shared foundation for learners.
  • Through a process of curriculum mapping and enrollment analytics, one department realized that its honours students were getting a crucial learning opportunity in their second year that its major students were not. To fill that gap, the department created a new course designed specifically for the major students, which mirrored several of the goals in the honours stream.
  • Through a process of student interviews and surveys, one department determined that its prerequisite structure was misaligned, which led to the recommendation to move a fourth-year course into the third year. Through the same student survey, this department also recommended a new pedagogical approach to its research methodology course, so that it could better align with accreditation standards.
  • Through a process of visioning, faculty consultation, and course review, one department created a new undergraduate minor that is targeted to appeal to students from several cousin disciplines.

These are just a few examples of the kind of work and output of program renewal. For a more detailed and nuanced case study, consider A Conceptual Framework for Interdisciplinary Curriculum Design: A Case Study in Neuroscience (abstract below).

“If students are only taught to think in particular disciplines without integrating these into a coherent framework to study the nervous system, it is unlikely that they will truly develop interdisciplinary thinking. Yet, it is this interdisciplinary thinking that is at the heart of a holistic understanding of the brain. It is, therefore, important to develop a conceptual framework in which students can be taught interdisciplinary, rather than multidisciplinary, thinking. It is also important to recognize that not all teaching needs to be interdisciplinary, but that the type of curriculum design is dependent on the aims of the course, as well as on the background of the students. A rational curriculum design that aligns learning and teaching objectives is, therefore, advocated.”


Get support at UBC

The CTLT Curriculum and Course Services team can support any aspect of your program’s renewal. We take a customized and flexible approach that responds to the needs of your department or unit. Email us to discuss how we can support your program.


Additional resources:

Enjoyed reading about curriculum renewal? Learn about other topics we covered in the November 2021 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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