Embracing a National Leadership Role

It is an interesting exercise to reflect on a final message one might pass on to a campus community as dynamic and diverse as the U of S, and to my colleagues in the GMCTE for whom I have tremendous admiration and respect.  And while I leave a lengthier reflection for the pages of Bridges this coming September, I wanted to focus on one key area that I hope brings this campus community together across all academic units – an area that I look forward to watching (and trying to emulate) from across the country when I start my new role at Dalhousie University.  That area is curriculum innovation and renewal.

A few years ago, PCIP agreed to fund a very forward-looking and ambitious plan to encourage strategic curriculum innovation in academic programs as one of the focal points for the third integrated plan adopted by the campus community.  This is an area of increasing importance across the country (and, indeed, around the world) for a number of reasons, including changes in accreditation requirements in many disciplines and, more importantly, increased government oversight and demands for quality assurance.  Many of these reasons have forced universities across the country to engage in activities related to curriculum across all disciplines, ready or not.

The higher education literature talks about three main reasons (or drivers) for engaging in curriculum renewal, none of which are mutually exclusive. They are: quality assurance (often externally imposed processes to ensure a minimum standard across and between institutions), quality enhancement (usually intrinsically motivated to improve the experience and development of students across a program), and the scholarship of teaching and learning (usually in the form of an improved understanding of evidence-based teaching and learning practices that might inform individual courses in a program or courses across an entire program).

Due in part to the provincial context in which we find ourselves, however, the U of S has an advantage over a significant number of other institutions beginning to pay attention to their curriculum.  Other than those programs for whom there are ongoing accreditation processes required by their professions, the U of S does not have an externally imposed quality assurance framework that we must meet.  Even though innovation in academic programs is included in the integrated plan as an institutional priority, the potential is there for all programs (departments, colleges) engaging in curriculum renewal to do so in a manner where a genuine interest in enhancing their programs is the primary purpose.  And this interest hopefully stems from a realization that there are evidence-based teaching and learning practices that might be adopted to improve the student learning experience.

When coupled with support frameworks that have been put in place to aid programs in their activities that are the envy of most campuses in Canada (including curriculum and course development specialists in the GMCTE who are freely available to consult with academic units, funding support from the curriculum innovation fund and other funds that have been recently created on campus (such as the experiential learning, undergraduate research, and community engaged learning funds), database tools developed support curriculum mapping, and other initiatives on campus to support curriculum innovation – including a learning analytics project to try to understand more about our students, and participation in the Bayview Alliance), our institutional and provincial context has positioned the U of S to become a national leader in curriculum innovation and renewal.

As I interact with colleagues at universities across the country (which I have had the pleasure of doing many times in the past three and a half years), I have witnessed dramatic increases in the respect shown to this institution and to the work being undertaken in academic units across the campus in the area of curriculum development.  Indeed, curriculum innovation and renewal is one area, regardless of disciplines, where the entire U of S campus community has the potential and promise of national leadership, that is if you collectively choose to embrace it.

Postscript:  It has been a pleasure working with all of you at the University of Saskatchewan.  Thank you for your generosity over the years, and for providing incredible opportunities for me to grow as a scholar, leader, and champion for all things teaching and learning.  My new contact information at Dalhousie University is brad.wuetherick@dal.ca.

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