The process of curriculum design 1 combines educational design with many other areas including: information management, market research, marketing, quality enhancement, quality assurance and programme and course approval.
The curriculum must evolve to meet the changing needs of students and employers. It must change to reflect new needs, new audiences and new approaches to learning.
Considered use of technology as part of the curriculum design process can help you to
- develop new solutions to address organisational, technical and educational issues
- communicate in new ways with stakeholders to facilitate discussion and collaboration
- access, record and capture information to inform your curriculum design
- improve access to guidance for those designing and describing curricula
- model, test and refine new approaches in curriculum design
- improve communication flows both internally and externally
- provide ‘single-truth’ sources of information that are accurate and can be interrogated and analysed to suit multiple purposes
- develop effective and agile validation processes that are more responsive to employer and community needs
- increase consistency both in terms of the learner experience and quality assurance
- develop more efficient administrative processes
We have identified eight stages in the curriculum design cycle from engaging stakeholders to ensuring the curriculum continues to be reviewed and enhanced in response to feedback and changing circumstances.
This guide will help you to work through these eight stages and suggests strategies, ideas and resources to improve your own curriculum design.
Each stage includes examples of how others are taking advantage of new technologies to enhance the student experience and to develop agile and responsive curriculum to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of students and employers in the 21st century.
Involving stakeholders in curriculum design introduces fresh insights that can improve the way a course or module is designed and delivered and find solutions to challenging issues.
It is more than likely that you already have strategies and processes in place for involving students, employers and professional bodies in curriculum design and possibly also for engaging other stakeholders such as those responsible for academic quality, IT staff, business and community representatives and student alumni.
The needs of each stakeholder group will differ and selecting an appropriate strategy will increase the likelihood of achieving a rich dialogue and sustained success.
There are a range of tools and techniques that can help you to develop meaningful engagement with stakeholders. The challenge is identifying your stakeholders and selecting the right strategy be that face-to-face or online.
- Birmingham City University developed a stakeholder engagement matrix as a framework for communication to help them prepare for different types of interaction.
- At the University of Greenwich different engagement strategies were developed for each stakeholder group to clarify the meaning of flexibility in the curriculum from different perspectives. Other strategies included rich picture workshops for curriculum staff and ‘world café’ conversations for students.
Online discussion tools enable individuals to overcome obstacles of distance and time while learning design tools offer a means of developing, visualising and sharing designs.
- The Open University used a combination of workshops and online tools to provide dedicated time and space away from daily routines as well as providing opportunities to continue to work collaboratively beyond face-to-face sessions.
During this stage of the process you will need to provide clear information about the nature and extent of the engagement you seek from stakeholders to manage expectations and maintain a focus on shared achievable goals.
Educational principles provide common ground which can frame discussions with stakeholders.
- Manchester Metropolitan University worked with employers and professional bodies to identify the skills expected of graduates as they enter employment.
The competencies required by professional bodies in the health care sector were mapped to help students evidence these skills in their e-portfolios.
The university has also developed a tool for tagging assignments with employability standards to support other course teams to adopt a similar approach.
Making the case for a new or revised programme, course or module is an integral part of the design process. A sound business case is dependent on good market intelligence that is accurate and accessible.
As someone involved in the curriculum design process you will need to analyse the current context and anticipate future trends in which the curriculum will be delivered to strengthen the rationale. Questions you are likely to discuss with colleagues include:
- What kind of students does my institution want to attract now and in the foreseeable future?
- How are the needs of students changing and what needs to be done to address these needs?
- What is expected of graduates in the workplace and how might this evolve?
- Are there any other initiatives or strategic intentions that are relevant to my curriculum design ambitions?
- Have I considered how potential partners and stakeholders will be engaged?
Students, for example can be key partners in curriculum design.
You may already have data gathered by market research teams, alumni, employers and professional bodies that help you to identify and address market trends. Robust stakeholder engagement strategies and accurate information from previous or similar curriculum models are also essential.
- The University of Bolton has developed and validated a new framework for interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning that enables work-based students to negotiate their own curriculum.
Obtaining reliable market intelligence was highlighted as one of the most critically important stages in developing a successful business case.
Technology can help to bring all the data together into one integrated system providing verifiable ‘single truth’ data sources that can be interrogated in multiple ways to provide focused and timely information. Working with those responsible for data management to improve information flow can aid the curriculum design process where centralised systems do not exist.
Where a new programme or course is being proposed, the robustness of the business case is particularly important. In this case, the use of business modelling tools can help. Innovative curriculum approaches frequently entail significant changes to processes and practices which can sometimes present a challenge to established cultures. Modelling software such as the open source solution, Archi, can help to highlight and anticipate where issues of this nature may arise.
- Cardiff University explored different approaches to business case planning to improve the feasibility of new programmes. These ranged from a ‘light-touch’ approach to complex, highly collaborative business propositions. They also recognised the need to balance the academic focus of approval events with greater awareness of market relevance. The project produced a template to capture information about the rationale, resources and associated costs of proposals.
At this stage in the curriculum design cycle, maintaining communication with stakeholders as the design process evolves is crucial and will help you meet the target audience needs, secure buy-in from key partners and inform marketing strategies.
Technology enables you to capture the richness of the discussions and complexity of the decision-making processes that inform curriculum design – little of which is visible in traditional, paper-based approaches to approval.
Capturing the decisions and the thinking behind them at this stage in the cycle provides powerful and authentic evidence of dialogue with stakeholders that can be easily verified and shared. Interviews on video can encourage greater reflection; make the design process transparent and the deliberations behind the decisions more easily accessible to others.
- Birmingham City University has developed a radically new approach to approval that facilitates the integration of authentic, real-world practices into formal approval processes.
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®. A rough guide to curriculum design takes course teams through the innovative approach and digital recording issues are addressed within the institutional data protection policy.
Recording and analysing the diversity of curriculum design processes that exist within an institution can highlight unnecessary duplication and complexity which inhibit creative thinking and slow down the approval process. Some organisations are addressing these issues by formalising approaches to curriculum design using process modelling to create leaner, more efficient and more consistent design processes.
Developing ‘light touch’ approaches reduces costs and improves the capacity to respond more readily to changing industry needs.
- At Cardiff University a curriculum approval process map exemplifies a simple approach to process mapping that also works well as a team activity.
Sharing the output of design discussions and curriculum modelling activities via online platforms can provide a repository of design ideas that helps to build tacit knowledge and understanding of curriculum issues and potential solutions across the institution.
- The University of Strathclyde developed an online system which replaced paper-design and approval processes. Providing timely pedagogic guidance to staff as they engage in the design process, the system builds understanding of what constitutes educationally sound decision making. Designs that have been proposed and reviewed are then added to an online repository providing a reference point for staff across the institution.
Using technology facilitates innovation by incorporating the creative decision-making processes of curriculum staff into the approval process to provide a more holistic design model.
Curriculum design is an inherently collaborative activity. Learning design tools enable curriculum designers to model a new or revised curriculum proposal, then share and discuss the outcomes with stakeholders.
While virtual design practices offer some advantages and efficiencies, they should be seen as enhancing the quality of design conversations rather than saving time. Staff value collaborative face-to-face activities such as workshops highly, not least because they provide much needed time away from daily routines to focus on curriculum design.
- The Open University developed a tool providing a compendium of approaches in learning design and built into the design the ability to collaborate on design activities at a distance. In addition, they have developed a set of course mapping and profiling templates and activities to help designers visualise the consequences of design decisions on pedagogy, cost and the student experience.
A combination of face-to-face activities and virtual collaboration activities offers an optimal model that more accurately represents the iterative nature of curriculum design. Establishing educational principles and collaborative processes at physical events that can be further developed online extends the design process and potentially broadens the range of stakeholders able to participate.
- The University of Ulster created storyboarding activities for face-to-face workshops based around a canvas and sets of cards that can be selected, arranged, annotated and used as prompts to decision making. Pedagogic values are placed at the heart of the design process.
The success of the approach shows that time set aside for reflective, hands-on activities can make a significant difference to the forward thinking of curriculum teams.
A representation of the curriculum as experienced by students provides valuable insights, making it a sought-after goal. These representations can be recorded for reuse and to share with colleagues.
Using technology to improve both the efficiency of the compilation of evidence for validation and to capture and share the quality of preceding discussions can bridge the gap between formal validation processes and pedagogic intent. Presenting a bigger picture and facilitate richer understanding for all involved.
At this stage in the curriculum design cycle you will be gathering all the pertinent information available for those involved in the approval process and will want the pedagogic intent behind the design to be prominent. Any new or innovative designs should be clearly outlined for the benefit of approval panel members and stakeholders.
Changing the way evidence is gathered and reviewed can lead to new lighter-touch approval processes that bring the quality of the design processes to the fore rather than simply documenting the outcomes. These more agile processes can provide a better framework for assuring the quality and appropriateness of curricula and support innovation without sacrificing quality.
- The University of Strathclyde developed structured online systems to replace paper-based design and approval processes, provide more efficient workflows and provide timely pedagogic guidance to staff as they engage in the design process.
Mapping current validation and review processes and practices can establish a rationale for change; process maps can demonstrate where duplication and delays exist in current processes and provide a focus for constructive discussion with others. Critically reviewing systems, cultures and working practices opens up possibilities for change in the future.
- Staffordshire University used Archi, an open source modelling tool to explore where dependencies, bottlenecks and unexpected consequences might occur in a proposed curriculum and to contrast the current and future state of business processes at the university.
A similar approach was taken to bring together business processes, institutional regulations and pedagogic advice to develop a tool to support curriculum staff to develop innovative flexible programmes.
New systems and processes are challenging the traditional dependence on large-scale approval or validation events using centralised and structured systems that provide more efficient workflows focused on continuous improvement, principles and design frameworks.
Inviting students to take part in approval and periodic review panels ensures that the quality of the student experience remains the focus of discussions. Student representatives offer a valuable perspective on the quality of the learning experience and often respond favourably to evidence presented in digital formats.
- Manchester Metropolitan University aimed to develop curricula that were more responsive to the needs of students and employers. They developed streamlined documentation and transparent approval and review processes including an innovative board game based on curriculum design and approval processes.
Faculty-based approval processes were replaced by a centralised light-touch review and approval system ensuring a more consistent student experience across all units of learning. This work ran alongside another strategic initiative, that of re-engineering the entire undergraduate curriculum to provide a sharper focus on formative assessment.
Institutions that use technology to address weaknesses in the communication of course information can achieve both educational gains and cost savings.
The success of any new curriculum design will depend in part upon how this is communicated to prospective students, to employers and professional bodies and partner organisations. Information will be required for multiple audiences in differing formats for use in course marketing, student handbooks and reading lists, the virtual learning environment (VLE), Key Information Sets (KIS) and Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEARs).
Replacing dispersed and document-based systems with technology supported systems and improved documentation increases the accuracy of information, cuts down on time-consuming manual input and improves response times. Data entered once that can be accessed, analysed, interrogated and reformatted to suit different audiences increases the time available for the more creative aspects of curriculum design.
- At the University of Greenwich work on systems interoperability ended the necessity of re-entering course information into different systems. Having first mapped all student-related systems, a series of bespoke changes were made to the student records system to increase the granularity of programme and course information.
The new system was made available to all users: academic and administrative staff benefit from more effective management of curriculum-related information, and; students benefit from improved access to up-to-date information and services relating to their programmes of study like online access to enrolment for overseas students, personalised timetables and course-related resources on the VLE.
Students are naturally a key audience. Forward-thinking institutions are ensuring good design decisions are acted on swiftly and communicated in an appropriate language, style and at an appropriate time.
- Cardiff University worked on several fronts to ensure more effective communication of course information. They developed web services to enable academic schools to manage the publication of module data; they also restructured the information held in the student information system by developing templates for module and programme descriptions. These developments have transformed the ability of staff and students to access programme information and improved the likelihood of providing consistent and accurate information.
Before implementing changes to a new information management system it is important to consider the impact of any change on users and workflows. Be clear about the benefits and purpose of any new system and support users with time and training to learn how to use it effectively.
Testing a new curriculum design in a real-world learning context is a key stage in the iterative cycle of curriculum design and redesign.
Close collaboration between multi-professional teams who support teaching and learning is required as students interact with a designed curriculum. IT, learning and library staff, careers officers, learning technologists and educational developers work alongside academic staff and may need support to develop new skills, as may any students involved in the curriculum design process.
Virtual tools and spaces for learning design can facilitate the experimentation, evaluation and iterative design process at this stage, increasing understanding within course teams and sharing effective practice.
- At City University London staff developed a cascading ripple model of staff development helped to build capacity and make the curriculum a major talking point. A module on technology-enabled academic practice was developed as well as guidance on developing student-facing programmes and module specifications.
Student learning is enriched by timely, accessible and personalised curriculum-related information such as timetables, reading lists and assignment deadlines; making enhancing information access a priority for many institutions.
Technology supported processes as the design is realised help to monitor and support student engagement. Tracking tools, for example, provide warnings to curriculum staff of emerging issues and highlight patterns in student attendance and performance that can be swiftly addressed.
Co-partnership with students in the delivery of the curriculum can help to develop and embed new curriculum models.
- Leeds Metropolitan University developed a 20-credit Masters’ level module on personalised learning through coaching. In addition, a coaching toolkit has supported academic staff in applying the coaching philosophy to other modules. Students have played an active part in the development of the new curriculum and taken up roles as ambassadors benefitting the wider student community as well as course teams.
Embedding technology effectively into learning and assessment activities enhances the delivery of all types of curricula. As one example, e-portfolios provide opportunities to record and reflect learning while the new curriculum is being implemented. Detailed guidance on transformative uses of technology in curriculum delivery is also available.
The potential gain of technology-enabled systems is not just one of increased efficiency. A clear finding from those who have invested in them is that improved approval and review processes aid rather than inhibit good educational design.
At this stage of the cycle you have the advantage of experience and a wealth of rich information from students, curriculum teams, those supporting delivery, external assessors and wider stakeholders to inform the next iteration.
Integrated and well-managed information systems provide potent new ways of obtaining, collating and analysing feedback at more granular levels.
- The Open University were able to analyse factors such as student satisfaction, retention, progression and employability at module or programme level across the curriculum offer and feed the results back into redesign activities to support the process of continuous monitoring and more timely curriculum enhancement.
The clearest insight into the performance of the curriculum will come from the experience of students and the most effective strategies are those that move beyond ‘listening to students’ and recognise the importance of students as partners and co-collaborators throughout the design cycle.
- Cardiff University now expect that students will work with academic staff as co-partners in the curriculum design process.
- Students at City University London now participate in both approval and periodic review panels.
While improved information management systems can facilitate more efficient curriculum review and redesign processes the expertise of curriculum designers is essential to deliver curriculum enhancement that is student focused and based on sound educational understanding.
- The School of Real Estate and Planning at the University of Reading used a learning design tool to redesign courses to better address the needs of students and employers. Teaching staff have been able to focus more keenly on the benefits to students using visualisations to prompt discussion and generate feedback.
- The University of Ulster has created reflective workshop resources underpinned by pedagogical principles to enable stakeholders to collaborate more effectively on curriculum design. The impact has extended beyond workshops at course team level to inform cross-institutional strategy and embed principles in relation to assessment and feedback within institutional policy.
This guide is based on findings from the 2008-2012 Jisc programme on Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design. A partner Jisc programme of Transforming Curriculum Delivery run from 2008-2010 explored the impact of technology on the delivery of the designed curriculum to students.
- 1 We are using the term ‘curriculum’ in its broadest sense to include both the formal and informal academic and study support experiences of students throughout their programme of learning.