Designing or Redesigning a Program to Integrate Geoscience and Societal Issues

Participants in the workshop Programs that Bring Together Geoscience and Sustainability discussed the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of program design and implementation. We present here resources generated from these discussions in the context of a strategy for designing a new degree program or redesigning an existing program based on the "backward design" philosophy advocated for course design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) described in detail in the On the Cutting Edge course design tutorial).

1. Set program-level learning goals/outcomes.

What do you want your students to be able to do upon successful completion of your program? Consider having the faculty developing your program complete the ideal student exercise, developed to help faculty articulate program-level goals. It is easier, and therefore tempting, to focus on what courses students should take, but thinking about program-level learning goals and outcomes will allow everyone involved to focus on the bigger picture. This has the added benefit of setting you up for a straightforward process of program assessment: by measuring the extent to which your graduates achieve these outcomes, you will be assessing the effectiveness of the program.

2. Consider your assessment options.

Once you have a list of program-level learning goals and outcomes, the process of program assessment becomes straightforward (though not necessarily easy). Assessment is a necessity, not only to satisfy institutional requirements, but also to evaluate whether your program is accomplishing what it is intended to accomplish, thus satisfying you, your colleagues, and potential employers of your graduates.

3. Look at what other programs are doing.

Why re-invent the wheel? Once you know what you want to accomplish and how you are going to measure your success, it's worth looking for examples of other programs with similar goals.

4. Select courses that contribute to your program goals, and do a gap analysis.

Begin by taking an inventory of existing courses, perhaps in several departments on your campus. Can you build a strong program from existing courses? If not, what new courses will you need to develop?

5. (Re)design courses to provide the kinds of experiences you want your students to have.

The success of your program rests on the collective success of your courses. Consider how you will infuse your learning goals into your program at the level of individual courses.