Universities are under increasing pressure to design and deliver curricula that develop the skills and capabilities students need to be successful in today’s job market. Jisc’s e-learning programme managers Ruth Drysdale and Sarah Knight share experiences from institutions that are successfully enhancing the curriculum design process.
Curriculum design combines educational design with other institutional processes including information management, marketing, market research, quality enhancement and programme and course approval. In the modern university curricula must be able to evolve quickly to meet the changing needs of students and employers.
We have identified eight key stages in the curriculum design process, from engaging stakeholders and developing a business case to ensuring a curriculum is well implemented, then continually revisited and enhanced.
Case studies from universities across the country show that technology can be highly valuable in supporting and enhancing curriculum design processes and practices.
Many institutions are enhancing their curriculum design processes by focusing on innovation within particular areas of the curriculum design cycle and course information management. These examples are from Jisc projects across the UK:
Cardiff University started its curriculum redesign process by focusing on the development of a single source of module information. Through the PALET project, the university identified a significant amount of duplication in relation to the module information required to support the development of new curricula.
The university set out to develop a centralised system for capturing module descriptions and programme information. The project resulted in estimated savings of around £55k per annum, but still more valuable to the institution was the resulting single source of programme information, ensuring consistency, making course expectations clear for students and reducing duplicated efforts for staff.
The PALET project also allowed Cardiff University to explore different approaches to business case planning, improving the feasibility of new programmes. These ranged from ‘light-touch’ approaches to complex, highly collaborative business propositions. Cardiff recognised the need to balance the academic focus of approval events with greater awareness of market relevance and produced a template to capture information about the rationale, resources and associated costs of proposals.
The Open University
The Open University (OU) started its curriculum redesign by engaging its stakeholders in the process, using both workshops and online tools to facilitate conversations. The OU developed Cloudworks, a digital space that harnesses the best of social media practice, creating an area away from daily pressures where stakeholders could share, find and discuss learning and teaching ideas and experiences.
“An overwhelming theme from feedback… was the opportunity… to take ‘time out’ from the day-to-day academic role and focus on the design of [a] module."
The OU also developed CompendiumLD, a digital tool allowing the collaborative design of learning activities. Using CompendiumLD, the Open University is able to analyse factors such as student satisfaction, retention, progression and employability at module or programme level. The results are then fed back into redesign activities, ensuring continuous enhancement of the curriculum.
When it comes to capturing the curriculum design process, technology enables institutions to record the richness of the discussions and complexity of the decision-making processes that inform decisions.
Birmingham City University
Birmingham City University (BCU) has developed T-SPARC, a radically new approach to course approval in which one-off, paper-based validation events are replaced by a continuous process of curriculum development and enhancement captured via digital media and supported through Microsoft® SharePoint.
This allows analysis of the diversity of curriculum design processes that exist within the institution and has resulted in the development of a curriculum design guide to create a leaner, more efficient and consistent design process.
Manchester Metropolitan University
As part of its curriculum redesign Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) set out to improve its approval and review processes. Changing the way it gathers all the information required for course validation and approval can lead to new approval processes that focus on the quality of curriculum design, outlining new ideas and supporting innovation, rather than simply documenting outcomes.
MMU developed a transparent approval and review process, even creating a board game to engage staff in course approval and provoke discussion. As a result, the university now operates a centralised light-touch approval system, ensuring agile curriculum validation and a consistent student experience.
When new curricula have been developed, their implementation requires: testing in a real-world learning context; support for staff and students to develop any new skills required; monitoring of engagement with new curricula, and the involvement of current students throughout the implementation process.
Leeds Metropolitan University
At Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) staff co-partner with students to ensure they play an active part in the development of any new courses and student ambassadors are appointed to help embed new modules and support their peers.
- Read more about Jisc’s curriculum design programme
- Find out more about Jisc’s course data programme
- Helping researchers to think the (previously) unthinkable
- Jisc's advice on improving student experience
- Our article on the summer of student innovation