Whether building a new program or making major revisions to an existing program, program developers are faced with making many complex curriculum decisions. They can be guided in their work by curriculum design principles such as those outlined in the “Design Principles” section of the curriculum road map.
Building new programs or making major revisions to existing college programs is an iterative process that usually involves a number of different players—each bringing a different perspective to program development. There are many different approaches to building program curricula. Each college will have identified a process and framework for program development. There are, however, common elements that can be found in most of these approaches. An overview of common, inter-related processes involved in program development is outlined here.
Refining the Initial Program Concept
Ideas for new programs come from a variety of sources and emerge in many different forms. Usually the initial concept for the program needs to be clarified, expanded and refined. Early in the program development process the curriculum developer needs to
- develop a beginning description of the program
- consider the rationale for the program (why it is important for it to be developed)
- identify potential learner population(s) to be targeted by the program
- describe anticipated graduate abilities
- summarize key values and beliefs that will shape and guide program development
Many of these beginning ideas will change as the program develops but an initial exploration will provide focus and promote a shared understanding of the potential program.
Needs Analysis/Situational Analysis/Feasibility Study
Normally a situational analysis and initial feasibility study begins before major curriculum work is undertaken and continues as the program develops. For example, an initial assessment of feasibility is made and, later as the program takes shape and specific resource needs are ascertained, program viability is reassessed. Usually a program advisory committee (PAC) is assembled to assist with the situational analysis and with the development of the actual curriculum. The program developer may use primary and/or secondary research to undertake a needs assessment.
There are several questions that may help to guide this phase of program development. Here is a sampling of questions that may be addressed in this process.
- How does the proposed program “fit” within the college’s strategic plan?
- Are there other similar programs being offered in your area? In Ontario?
- How is the proposed program similar to/different from existing programs?
- What will be the impact of this program on others in your College?
- Who is the target audience for the program?
- What interests, abilities and experience are these learners likely to bring to the program?
- Will there be a demand for the program? Will there be sufficient numbers of learners interested in taking the program?
- What are the potential employment opportunities for graduates of this program?
- Will graduates be able to find employment in this field?
- What will be expected of program graduates on entry to the work place?
- What are the trends and issues in the field of study?
- Are there standards or guidelines for this program that are established by professional associations, labour groups, or government?
- What resources are needed to implement this program?
- Are learning experiences in work places (field work, clinical experience etc.) likely to be required? Is this experience available?
- Is this a stand alone program or will it be linked to other program(s).
- What are the possibilities for delivery options (semestered, continuous intake, intensive, online or blended learning, co-operative programs etc.)?
Information contained in the six sections of the curriculum road map’s “contextual framework” can be used to help answer these and other similar questions.
The proposed plan for the new program requires approval at several different levels.
- Each college will have identified the individuals and groups within the college that must review and approve the program proposal. There will be designated times when the program is to be reviewed by groups within the college as it is developed. The final approval, at the college level, is given by the college’s Board of Governors (BOG).
- If the program is one that leads to an Ontario College Credential, the Credential Validation Services (CVS) reviews the curriculum to ensure that the program title conforms to provincial guidelines and that the curriculum is consistent with the credential framework.
- If the program is to be funded by the provincial government, it is sent to the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) who reviews it for funding purposes. Funding approval by MTCU occurs after the BOG has approved the program and CVS has validated that the program is consistent with the credential framework.
- The approval process for programs leading to a degree in applied learning is outlined by the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB).