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A Balancing Act Between Efficiency, Rigor and Time When Developing Curricula

New curricula require new systems to better streamline the development and approval processes.
New curricula require new systems to better streamline the development and approval processes.

Developing a curriculum for a brand new program is an exhaustive process that involves so many sets of hands, levels of review and ideas bounced off various walls.

Measuring efficiency, saving time, accelerating new programs and systematizing the review process are all benefits to making curriculum development a more streamlined, systematic process.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do you balance the need to be thorough but also efficient when managing a curriculum cycle, while reviewing any curriculum changes or new program launches?

Amanda Barnett (AB): The curriculum proposal allows us to process curriculum approvals uniformly. We can update the proposal formatting based on feedback from stakeholders to make sure it really fits what our institution needs in the process. Everything can be in the same place, so folks know where to find things and what to expect from that proposal. It all gets in there. If something is missed or found to be inaccurate along the way, we can review that, have discussions, so by the time we get to our last approval step, we’re certain this is a high-quality curriculum with all the pieces it needs.

And that piece about just knowing where to find things really helps the implementation side. Our Registration and Records department, who’s now responsible for our Acalog and the bulletin, can be checking and cross-checking as needed if there’s ever an inaccuracy or discrepancy in the proposal. We can be thorough and efficient in the way we check and implement approved curriculum to ensure accuracy in reporting our bulletin.

Kristine Meshak (KM): In the proposal itself, we can add as much or as little as we need to, to get the details down for curriculum proposers. There is transparency in routing the proposal. Whether stakeholders are on the first curriculum committee or the last, they can see the process, what’s coming and what has already been approved.

Evo: We’ve all heard stories about how long it can take for a new program to go live. Why is that the case in a pre-Curriculog approach to curriculum management?

AB: I was faculty in that process, when we used paper and manual curriculum approval processes. We would have to get it from one office to the next for a signature. Word documents or hard paper copies would have to go back to a proposer for approved edits and revisions. Things easily got lost in the process or left people wondering where the proposal was in the process. It took more time and effort to complete a curriculum approval cycle.

As for Curriculog proposals, while there is substantial information requested to complete the proposal from the beginning, the information is grouped into one location. And we can make changes right in the moment (in a curriculum committee), rather than sending a proposal back and forth. It helps us keep curriculum moving so much better than what I understood it to be pre-Curriculog.

Evo: How do you measure or see the value of efficiency in this process?

AB: In the approval process, being able to see the curriculum laid out, with visible program objectives, and having many eyes on the proposals as programs or courses are routed for approval is a significant part of curriculum quality. At any time, if someone has a question, I can send them the link to the proposal and say, “This goes to our Gen Ed Committee next week. Make sure your representative or the chair of the committee gets feedback on it.” So, it allows for that open communication and ensures our institution has those checks and balances at each step to support the quality we want.

Evo: How much time would you estimate is being saved while monitoring or developing and approving new programs?

AB: I’m not sure it’s changing much for us there. It might be because of the way we approve curricula on campus. The documentation needed for program approval by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents is initially included as attachments on the curriculum proposal. The Curriculog proposal shows our institution’s curriculum committees the curriculum, resources, etc. We don’t, however, submit the Curriculog proposal to the UW Board of Regents. So, Curriculog provides efficiency as far as internal approval processes and archiving but not necessarily in the additional approval steps needed outside our institution.

Evo: And internally, does it accelerate the time to market for new programs?

AB: It might. While we have separate documentation for internal and external approvals, all documents are included as attachments in the Curriculog proposal, so everything is in one place. When proposals for new programs are moving along from department to college and then our other university-wide curriculum committees, we can refer everyone to one place for the documentation. This then supports our ability to archive all documentation together.  

Depending on the program’s curriculum and resource needs, we can have a new program routed and approved in as few as three months.

I know some still think the approval process feels slow or clunky, but I don’t know of any alternative that would be any different or help it move along any quicker or more efficiently.

Evo: How are you able to spend your time in a curriculum management role with these elements of the curriculum management approval and review process being systematized, and what does that mean for how you’re able to spend your time and focus?

KM: Utilizing a curriculum management system with a digital workflow approval processmeans I can spend more time on other curriculum-related tasks, including program assessment or program health initiatives. Since the workflow allows for any stakeholder to be able to see what step a proposal is on, it creates transparency for our staff and faculty. This transparency helps me and our stakeholders easily track each proposal’s progress through the approval process, which keeps items moving and avoids having to track down any paper records.

Additionally, the ability to customize approval process forms means each type of curriculum proposal can route appropriately through committees, which adds to the process’s accountability and reliability. Because these checks and balances are built into the proposal workflow process, I can focus on supporting curriculum committees in their work and answer user questions. As a system admin, I can assist users in their edits if needed, regardless of the approval step. All these features help me prioritize my workload and efficiently serve stakeholders.

Evo: When it’s pencil and paper, is it common for approval or change processes to fall off just from losing a proposal, whether physically lost or lost in the shuffle?

AB: It is my understanding that the previous curriculum data managers were tasked with manually tracking and routing paper proposals for approval. It sounded like it was very time-intensive and involved a lot of minute detail to which only stakeholders at the current approval step had access.

Curriculog has allowed us to streamline the curriculum approval process by allowing for quicker turnaround on approvals between committee meetings. For example, there are sometimes three days between our college approval step and General Education Committee step. Without this gap, we’d have to wait a whole month to align with the curriculum committee scheduling cycles. Kristine, however, can set up the committee’s agenda because she checks with the college regarding what’s coming down the pipeline, what we can expect to be approved that month, then set the next committee’s tentative agenda. So, that committee knows which specific curriculum proposals are likely to come before the committee and therefore need their review. We’ll update the committee agenda if any items do not pass. This process ensures we only move curriculum approved at the previous step while simultaneously allowing us to coordinate the next approval step, and that it’s extremely helpful to moving things along in a timely way.