Harmonizing Divisional and Departmental Curricula

Student affairs divisional curricula often evolve either from “division-to-department” or “department-to-division.” In the “division-to-department” approach, a division takes the lead in developing a collective educational priority and set of learning objectives that guide curriculum development at the departmental level. In a “department-to-division” approach, it is often one constituent department that may take the lead and a divisional curriculum is established that encompasses the entirety of the work of a division–across all departments. However curriculum is developed, divisional and departmental curricula should be in sync and coordinated.

Starting at the Divisional Level

Divisions that choose to embark on a curricular journey follow the traditional path of developing an educational priority and defining learning goal areas and statements. These goal areas should be broad enough to encompass the breadth of educational work across departments, but specific enough to so as to provide focus. As a rule of thumb, fewer learning goals is preferable in order to ensure the process maintains focus and does not become unwieldy to administer.

Outcomes, which cascade from a learning goal, can either be left to be defined at a departmental level, or pre-defined at the divisional level. If defined at the departmental level, work should be undertaken to ensure that common outcomes can be harmonized across departments. Outcomes should also be mapped back to the broader divisional goals. In cases where a department may have a goal or outcomes that are important to their work, but may fall outside the division’s priorities, a department may add a contributing goal of its own, even though it may not be formally tracked on a divisional level.

If outcomes are defined at a divisional level, departments should adopt those goals and outcomes that are most germane to their work. For instance, it is possible that more niche departments may only focus on one goal area or a specific sub-set of outcomes. This is perfectly reasonable given the expertise and focus of departments may be different. However, even with this variance, the division should ensure that all goals and outcomes are addressed as a whole.

Starting at the Departmental Level

In some cases a department (or departments) may take the lead in curricular development. As partnerships are established and stakeholders engaged, it may become increasingly clear that a broader divisional curriculum could harmonize approaches across departments and lead to greater effectiveness in achieving stated objectives. Although this is a less frequently seen path, departments may take the lead in establishing their own curriculum and a divisional curriculum can be developed out of the emergent themes present across all departments. Although somewhat of a backwards design, the divisional and departmental curricula need to be harmonized and aligned. If this path is pursued, it is important that all departments feel represented and have voice in the process. Furthermore, there should be a reciprocal process of revision and refinement between divisional and departmental curricula.

Similarly, and as discussed in here, this mapping of departmental to divisional objectives can also occur with international and national standards. What standards may be most germane to your institution and students will be based on a number of contextual factors. The key to this process is greater understanding and alignment through time.

Key Questions

  • How can you design a process at a divisional level that ensures all departments and voices are represented?
  • How can you ensure that the divisional curriculum development process moves along smoothly and efficiently without becoming mired in overly specific detail?
  • What international and national standards might inform your work?

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