Curriculum review is an essential tool for ensuring that the needs of a wide range of stakeholders in the teaching process are met. Students are, of course, the key stakeholders in the process, but others include employers, professional bodies, subject organizations, and even civic society at large.
Curriculum review can take place on a number of levels. It may take the form of an overview of the teaching provision across an entire degree programme or set of comparable programmes within a school or faculty, or can be as straightforward as a review of individual modules.
Large-scale curriculum reviews, often implemented through university teaching and learning bodies and across faculties or schools, tend to be outward-facing, addressing procedural and structural issues such as the alignment of provision with the subject benchmark statements set by the Quality Assurance Agency. Depending on their specific aims, such curriculum reviews may also address questions of recruitment, long-term sustainability, parity and efficacy of teaching delivery methods, employment rates, as well as the overall responsiveness of the curriculum to the priorities and needs of the subject area. Smaller-scale, more local (departmental or unit-level) reviews also provide opportunities to consider questions of content and assessment methods – questions which can be overlooked in the wider context.
A New Quality Code
In November 2018 a new UK Quality Code for Higher Education will be implemented, in coordination with QAA and the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA). An initial document from QAA notes that the new code will be ‘future-facing, co-regulatory, and truly UK-wide’. As with its predecessor code, the new code will address provision at the level of the provider. Universities will need to use the Code as the reference point in all internal reviews of provision, as well as in their external engagement with national funders and regulators, including QAA. This code will, therefore, need to be taken into account in all internal reviews.
Review the data
Depending on the type of review in hand, there are several key sources of data to respond to in any review. These include student feedback (via module reviews and NSS), external examiner reports, graduate employment data, competitor analysis, market research (including data from offer-holders who did not take up places, if available), and feedback from internal specialists in curriculum development, such as your institution’s Learning Development team or similar.
Make the best use of feedback
Student feedback can be particularly important as a direct response to the teaching on offer, but it is important to consider what the best ways of gathering the feedback might be – whether from individuals via online forms, in class, or from surveys of small groups of students, all with varying levels of anonymity. Consider too when might be the best time to gather feedback. Usually, feedback is gathered at the end of each module, but it can be useful to take stock at the mid-way point, in order to make adjustments to teaching to benefit the current cohort. Such mid-point gathering of feedback can help improve responses at the end of the review, by creating a sense that the student’s view is heard.
Update your content
Content, of course, is the key to all teaching. But in the rush of activity that is the exam period, and the pressure to focus on research over the summer, it is easy to think that the content of your modules can just stay the same, year in and year out. One of the most effective ways to adjust your teaching is to tie it to your on-going research, thereby ensuring the most up-to-date content provision. If time is pressing, try swapping out just one element per module for a new element – not only will your teaching be enlivened, to your students’ benefit, but you will, over time, build up a greater bank of materials from which to vary your delivery.
Don’t overlook assessment
With so much attention on the larger structural features of curriculum review such as benchmarking, a feature which can get overlooked is the question of parity of assessment. Consider not just the content, but how it aligns with the structure of the course so that each student has the same opportunity to meet learning outcomes through a variety of assessment. Consider how to make the best use of new and emerging technologies, and theories of pedagogy, in your ongoing assessment.