Academic freedom, the assessment movement that is beginning to infiltrate higher education, and the corporatization of the university are issues that begin a discussion about which came first and how does it impact our students and their learning? (Orzeck, 2012, Arum & Roksa, 2011, Berg & Seeber, 2016). What is really happening in higher education, is that we are being asked by the media, accrediting bodies, and parents to show that we are making sure our students are learning what we think they should be learning. How do you determine that without assessing their learning?

As faculty, we are a different breed of student. We LOVE learning and school. We love these so much, we have careers that allow us to continue to research, learn and participate in a school setting. We are not the same as most of our students. Most of our students have a different view of what higher education is supposed to do. Yes, learning is imperative, preparing them for a life after college is paramount.

As faculty we hope that we encourage students to work toward lifelong learning, whether in their future employment or in further schooling. We need to consider the best way to build a curriculum that will meet the needs of our students to help them achieve in their future. This is not a solo activity. Curriculum design takes discussion that is in-depth and thoughtful. While I share with you a bulleted list of how to design a curriculum step-by-step there is no intention of implying that it is simple and can be completed quickly. On the contrary.  Instructors Learn More can help you navigate this list, but here is a list of steps to consider as you develop or revise program curricula:

1.       Program Goals – What are the goals of your program? These either need to be developed or they are written in a catalog or on some manuscript in the Department Chair’s office. Find these first. If they need to be developed, the discussion has to consider the future of learning and the consideration that students are going to be exposed to more tools and technology than ever before.

2.       University Goals – Determine how the program goals meet or align with the university’s goals. Redesign these if none meet the university goals.

3.       Catalog Descriptions – Develop or find the current catalog descriptions of courses for the program.

·         Developing course descriptions – The catalog description for each course should be written to incorporate or lead to the 2-3 big ideas (course goals/objectives) that students will learn. This is how you market the course to the students. The descriptions should be interesting and brief (about 50 words).

·         Already have course descriptions – If you have course descriptions already, this may be the time to consider revising those descriptions to include the course goals/ objectives (2-3 big ideas that students will learn) in approximately 50 words.

4.       Course Goals/ Objectives – The course goals/ objectives will help students achieve the program goals.  Course goals/ objectives should be measurable and observable. There should only be 2-3 and these are the big ideas you want students to be able to say they learned in the course. As you develop these:

·         How will you assess if the students have met the course goals/ objectives? These assessments may give you data for marketing your program to parents and students and/or provide information for accreditation purposes.

·         If the course objectives are met, ask yourself if they will lead to successful completion of any of the program goals? These may be a direct match, which means you can use them for accreditation purposes or they may be a match once you include one or more other objectives from this course or others.

5.       Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) – These show up in the course only.  SLOs are an excellent way to guide your master syllabus design. SLOs communicate how you will meet each of the course goals/ objectives.

·         Try to limit SLOs to 6-9 for each course, these are not lesson objectives. They are based on your assessment of student learning.

·         Measurable and observable-accrediting bodies are now looking for criteria of competency as well. Make sure you include the 4 components of a good objective: A-audience, B-behavior—what will the students do to accomplish the objective (write, present, etc.), C-content or context, D-Degree of competency (see Instructors Learn More for more information)

·         When considering the projects, papers, tests and/or assignments think about how they relate to a SLO?

·         How will you assess the SLO? Will data be collected? Where will the data be stored and/or recorded? Who will store and/or record the data?

·         How do the projects, papers, tests, or assignments for each course demonstrate student learning and how they align or meet the course goals/ objectives? You should be able to say, this SLO meets part of the learning expected in [this] course objective and/or these 2-3 SLOs meet the criteria of [this] course objective.

·         You may include an SLO that is in addition to the course goals/ objectives if you wish to emphasize or review a concept from another course to begin the course.

6.       Assessment – Now that you have developed your SLOs, you have an idea of what kind of projects, papers, tests, or assignments will be expected in the course.

1.       The projects, papers, tests, or assignments may not be designed in detail, but there is a general idea of what they will look like.

2.       Identify what types of assessment will determine if students have met the SLOs

o   Determine the grading system – rubric, grading guide/criterion checklist, or test/quiz scores

o   Use of an assessment that does not produce data – how will you document the students have met the objective?

7.       Evaluate – Check the following:

  • Assessment designed
  • Student Learning Outcomes-assessment measures the degree of competency of the SLO
  • SLOs are designed to demonstrate that the course goals/ objectives are met
  • Course goals/ objectives are described in the Course Description
  • Course goals/ objectives demonstrate students will achieve the program goals
  • When put together all course goals/ objectives demonstrate that all program goals have been met
  • Program goals clearly meet the university goals

The program is now complete. You have written and designed a road map that the instructor may use to effectively design the lesson objectives and instruction.  They can now use the information you have put together to assist them in instructional design by reviewing:

  1.  The course catalog description
  2.  Course goals/ objectives
  3.  Student Learning Outcomes
  4.  Suggested assignments and/or assessments

This is where academic freedom meets the needs of the university to demonstrate students are learning. Instructors are now free to instruct students using their abilities as educators. Their only caveat is to use the suggested assignments or assessments that are used for pulling data for accreditation and marketing.

To help you through this process Instructors Learn More can help faculty through our course auditing system and then through our curriculum mapping process. We would be happy to discuss with you the opportunity to provide these sessions with your faculty. These sessions walk you through the design of a course or the design of a program. As a result of these sessions we have had faculty publish their process. We are here to help meet your needs and most importantly, the needs of your students.


Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. The University of Chicago Press.

Berg, M., & Seeber, B. K., (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy.  University of Toronto Press.

Orzeck, R., (2012). Academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and the place of politics in geography. Antipode, 44(4), 1051-1578.