Each degree-granting academic program has a unique set of program educational goals. These goals are defined and assessed by the faculty in each program.
In the writing of our 2021 Middle States Self-Study, we realized that these goals and assessments are not being systematically documented across the university. The Task Force on Learning Goals & Assessment recommended that the goals be collected by the Faculty Senate and published in the academic catalog. Several committees of the Faculty Senate agreed with this recommendation and approved a resolution in the spring of 2020 requiring that accredited programs submit their educational goals to the senate. The complications of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the original timeline for the submission of these goals; programs that already have goals (e.g. accredited programs) will be asked to submit their goals by the fall of 2021 and programs that do not yet have goals (e.g. non-accredited programs) will be asked to submit their goals by the fall of 2022.
Characteristics of Good Program Educational Goals
Program educational goals should:
- Clearly state the expected knowledge, skills, attitudes, competencies, and habits of mind that students are expected to acquire in the specific degree program.
- Appropriately incorporate and reinforce educational goals from the university, college, co-curricular, and appropriate disciplinary values.
- Reflect a course of study that is appropriately rigorous for the students admitted to the program.
- Reflect a course of study that students are able to complete it within the average or a reasonable time-to-degree for that program.
Clearly stated outcomes are essential in providing students (and many others) with information about what they can expect to learn and do in the program. Moreover, they provide clear signposts for faculty when creating or revising the program’s curriculum.
Incorporation of other goals
Programs at the University of Delaware do not exist in a vacuum; they are situated in many other contexts and those contexts may impose or suggest program educational goals. For example, all undergraduate programs at the university must allow students opportunities to complete their General Education requirements (e.g., breadth requirements, capstone) and meet the General Education objectives (e.g., critical reading, quantitative reasoning). Accredited programs have requirements that may include specific courses and topics. And all programs have obligations to accurately educate students in accordance with their disciplinary norms.
Well-written program educational goals should take into account the nature of the students who enroll in the program and the resources that are available to support them. A program that is highly selective and has a large number of faculty to support its students can have program goals that qualitatively differ from the goals of a program that is not selective and has only a small number of faculty.
Students should be able to complete the program in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, this relates to not only the number and type of courses that are required but also many other factors that are not as easily controlled e.g., faculty availability to offer courses, departmental resources to support courses (especially more expensive or complex instances such as labs or service learning courses). This may also require coordination with other programs and departments to ensure that courses that are required or recommended are available.
Approaches to writing or revising program educational goals
There are four broad approaches to writing or revising these goals:
- Reverse engineer your curriculum
- Follow standards and recommendations of your discipline e.g., accreditation standards, scholarly organization recommendations
- Transform broad departmental goals into program-specific educational goals
- Create them from scratch
Reverse engineering your curriculum
With only a few very special exceptions, every degree program has a curriculum, courses that are required and courses that are recommended. In many instances, those courses are explicitly grouped together under topical headings; these groupings indicate program educational goals.
When analyzing an existing curriculum to determine the educational goals of that program, it may be helpful to ask:
- Why does this program include these courses?
- Why are specific, individual courses required or recommended?
- Why are groups of courses required or recommended?
- If there are required credits in specific areas outside the department, why?
- Do the required or recommended courses act as “gatekeeping” courses? This can be explicit (e.g., prerequisite courses, demonstrated prior knowledge or experience) or implicit (e.g., assumptions of prior knowledge or experience, assumption of access to or ownership of specialized tools or equipment?).
Following standards and recommendations
Accredited programs frequently have some or all of their program educational goals mandated. But in many programs, accredited and non-accredited, scholars in those disciplines have conducted work to determine the common educational goals of programs in those disciplines. In some cases, this work has not been focused directly on program educational goals but on related areas such as disciplinary norms and practices, disciplinary competencies expected by professionals in the field, or what is commonly taught in programs and courses (e.g., signature pedagogies).
The Tuning Project is one large, multinational project that has documented disciplinary competencies in many different contexts e.g., different disciplines, different geographical locations, different cultures. This project was initiated in Europe as many countries aligned their college- and university-level degree programs to enable movement between those countries and their colleges and universities. It has since been replicated and extended by many organizations across the world, including the United States. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) has a great listing of tuning resources. Another webpage with “Reference Points,” one of the key products of tuning processes, is maintained by the Tuning Academy; note that these documents produced in an international context refer to “first cycle,” “second cycle,” and “third cycle” instead of “bachelor’s degree,” “Master’s degree,” and “doctorate.”
Many scholarly and professional organizations have produced explicit recommendations for or studies of educational goals. Some of them have done this in the context of a tuning process e.g., the American History Association Tuning the History Discipline project produced a “2016 Discipline Core.” Others have done this work independent of the tuning process e.g., the Association for Computing Machinery and the Association for Information Systems collaborated to write IS 2010: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Information Systems, several funding organizations of biology research and education supported the writing of Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education A Call to Action.
CTAL also maintains an internal listing of discipline-specific materials and has developed some experience in searching scholarly literature for this information; please contact us if you would like assistance or advice in locating this information in your own discipline.
Transforming departmental goals
Academic departments and other units at UD have goals. These are often listed on their webpages, frequently discussed at annual retreats, and included in documents such as those produced for the Academic Program Review. These goals often include some broad educational goals but they also include goals that are not directly related to program curricula and student learning e.g., faculty research productivity, faculty service, departmental resources. It seems plausible in many instances to begin with departmental goals and combine them with an analysis of program curricula to make program educational goals explicit.
Creating goals from scratch
For programs that are in development, it may be necessary to create program educational goals “from scratch” as there is not an existing curriculum to analyze, departmental goals may not be adaptable, and relevant scholarship is still being written. The process used in the different tuning projects may be very helpful; Tuning American Higher Education: The Process describes how tuning projects were carried out in the United States. In brief, this process involved (a) defining the discipline core, (b) mapping career pathways, (c) consulting stakeholders, (d) honing core competencies and learning outcomes, and (e) implementing results locally & writing degree specifications.
Although there is an abundance of scholarship on program educational goals in specific disciplines, there is a disturbing dearth of scholarship on program educational goals broadly construed. However, many of the resources originally developed to help write course-level educational goals are applicable to writing program-level educational goals. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) listing of tuning resources also includes many applicable resources.
Faculty and staff are welcome to request support from CTAL to develop or revise program educational goals. These consultations may include briefings at faculty meetings, guided workshops, reviews of drafts, assistance in identiying examples and disciplinary resources, or other interactions and support services. We also offer some events and workshops that are specifically geared toward helping groups of faculty begin this work e.g., the Winter Institute on Learning in 2020 and 2021.