Integrate > Programs > Designing Programs

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.

  • Read examples of student learning goals and outcomes for geoscience programs. While these examples are all from geoscience programs, they provide a range of examples adaptable to other types of programs.
  • Consider what careers your program will prepare students to pursue. We gathered a list of careers pursued by alumni of the programs represented by participants at our 2012 workshop on programs that bring together geoscience and sustainability. These careers span many disciplines, including business, health care, science and technology. Which of these careers would you like to see alumni of your program pursuing? Are there careers you'd like to prepare them for that aren't on this list?
  • These pages on professional preparation include strategies for building professional preparation into programs and have some information about goescience careers, as well.

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.

  • Develop an assessment plan. This is essentially a matter of deciding what data you need to collect to determine how successful your program is in achieving the outcomes you've chosen.
  • Once you know what data you want to collect, use or adapt existing program metrics and instruments to collect those data. In particular, consider using tools such as the alumni surveys, student surveys, exit interviews, or student portfolios featured in this collection of geoscience program assessment instruments. While all of these examples are designed to assess geoscience programs, the methods behind the instruments can be transferred to any field or discipline.

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.

These collections will grow over the life of the InTeGrate project. Current collections:

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?

Questions about courses:

  • What existing courses could serve as entries to your program? That is, what introductory-level courses already contribute to your program-level goals and outcomes, or could do so with minimal changes?
  • What existing courses could contribute to your core curriculum? That is, are both their content and their design well-aligned with your program-level goals and outcomes?
  • What existing courses would be good electives for your program? That is, are they well-aligned with your program-level goals and outcomes, and would their content be appropriate for some students?
  • Will you have a capstone course? What type of course or experience will it be?
  • Are there topics that you consider to be important in helping students reach the program-level goals and outcomes that are notably missing from the available courses? Will you need to develop new courses to provide opportunities for students to learn about these topics, or can they be incorporated into existing courses?
  • Are there skills that you consider to be important in helping students reach the program-level goals and outcomes that are notably missing from the available courses? Will you need to develop new courses to provide opportunities for students to learn these skills, or can they be incorporated into existing courses?
  • Are there experiences (research, service learning, study abroad, etc.) that you consider to be important in helping students reach the program-level goals and outcomes that are notably missing from the available courses? Will you need to develop new courses to provide opportunities for students to have these experiences, or can they be incorporated into existing courses?

Questions about sequencing:

  • Which courses, if any, will be prerequisites for other courses in the program? Is this sequencing likely to cause problems for students? For example, are there required prerequisite courses that are offered infrequently or irregularly?
  • Will your program have "tracks" that allow students to focus on particular sub-themes? This can be one way of providing students with some flexibility in career pathways.

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.