In developing a quality curriculum, keep in mind one simple word: Excellence. Ensuring that quality throughout the curriculum ensures that your students are learning the best possible content in the most efficient and effective manner. If quality and meeting outcome measures are vital for programmatic success, why aren’t more curricula developed with quality as a primary focus? Quality measures should never be afterthoughts, instead, as each course is built, there should a concerted effort to clearly identify the quality measures not only in the individual course, but how those measures of excellence build upon one another to optimize student learning. Providing a current and meaningful curriculum should be the primary goal of every educator, regardless of age or subject taught.
If tasked with reviewing your curriculum, there are basic questions to ask, not only of the faculty but of the students is to make sure that everyone is working toward the same focused goal. What is the vision and desired outcomes of the curriculum? What does the student need to learn and how is learning best accomplished? What are the extraneous details that may be interesting to teach, but really don’t contribute to either a specific course objective or outcome. What are the requirements set forth by accreditation standards, programmatic standards and the college or university parameters and are they being met? Answers to these questions need to be clearly understood and verbalized by the various stakeholders, because if there are divergent viewpoints or expectations, mixed messages and confusion may ensue.
What is the path to ensuring a quality-rich curriculum? The first step is to develop a thorough understanding of what the course needs to include over the semester. After all the research is completed as to the minimum requirements by the state, college and various accreditation agencies (programmatic, state and regional/national), a concept map should be developed to make sure that vital components are not missed, repeated or taught at a too high or too low a level. A concept map is a visualization of everything in the course, separated by the subject matter or major terms about a topic. A concept map can be hierarchical (what is taught first, then next and progressively until the end of the program), or by content area, or by course. The overarching goal is to have a logically progressive curriculum that builds with each subsequent course, rather than information presented haphazardly and inconsistently. Areas that are repetitive are easily identified, as are trivial topics that may be extraneous. Developing and/or reviewing syllabi would be then be the next logical steps after completing a concept map, ensuring that each syllabus includes the necessary content and is located within the correct course.
A master evaluation plan (“MEP”) is probably the most important road map you can use to evaluate curricular quality in an ongoing manner. The first step to creating this working table is to identify the categories needed, with those suggested as Criteria, Evaluation Methods, Frequency of Review, Responsible Evaluators and Evidence. Some also add an additional column labeled Follow-up. To give an example, under the Criteria column go all the required standards and areas needing measurement, such as “employment rates demonstrate program effectiveness.” The second Evaluation column illustrates how the standard is measured: “review employment rates, places of employment and time to starting to position from graduation.” Frequency is just that: how often the standard will be measured. In the Evaluators column, who will be in charge of ensuring that the quality standard is measured: a dean, a chair, a committee chair or a faculty member? And in the last column of Evidence, place “employment rates with a stated benchmark, places of employment and time to starting to position from graduation.”
Feedback is vital to hearing about the level of quality that is perceived by the various stakeholders. Primary feedback comes from students, with the best feedback coming not at the formal evaluation time at the end of the semester, but perhaps half way through the course in an informal request of “how is the course going for you and what can be changed to make it better?” It is important to hear what students believe they are not learning to make critical changes before the end of a course when there is time to make adjustments. Faculty members are another primary source of feedback, as long as they believe they can be truthful about the level of excellence in each course. Additional curricular stakeholders include community partners, employers, parents, prospective students, advisory committees, and any competing colleges. Constant and consistent feedback with satisfaction surveys and other self-reports, a review of student achievements such as retention rates, licensure and certification rates, employment, acceptance to graduate schools, are all significant and meaningful data that can be used to illustrate programmatic success.
A rigorous curriculum engages students to learn not only the surface information about a subject, but to attain a deeper understanding and wider breadth of knowledge. The elements of effective teaching, student/ faculty interaction and evaluative assessment are all equally critical to building and maintaining a quality curriculum by providing varied evidence that lead to meaningful student results. All outcomes, regardless if positive or negative, are valuable and should not be dismissed, but instead integrated into the master evaluation plan. Remember, quality attainment is a process, oftentimes a long process, but one that will result in the positive achievements of excellence in both students and faculty, enabling a path toward a well-defined learning goal that is both relevant and meaningful.
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Karin A. Polifko, PhD, RN, NEA-BC
Karin Polifko’s career has spanned both the academic and service fields of health care.
Along with teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels, she has held leadership positions as Vice President of Operations and Academic Affairs at Remington Colleges, Associate Dean at the University of Florida and Chair / Program Director at Christopher Newport University, with leadership roles in various healthcare settings.
In addition, she has worked as a consultant to various colleges for curricular changes, faculty development, dean mentoring, accreditation preparation and quality improvement in higher education.