AnthologyDigital curriculum management systems prioritise student experience and teaching quality

Digital curriculum management systems prioritise student experience and teaching quality

Degree and assessment overviews enable faculty to improve their academic offering

Universities need to prepare their students for the 21st century and make their assessments relevant to the jobs market, Jenny Poskitt, director of college projects at Massey University in New Zealand, told a recent round-table panel, hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with Blackboard.

“If we are really thinking about preparing our students for the 21st century, preparing them for citizenship and for the workplace, where there are real-world problems to solve, we need to broaden the types of assessments we’re setting,” Poskitt told participants of the roundtable.

Understanding the range of assessments students undertake is an area in which curriculum management systems and curriculum mapping come into their own, the panellists said. “We are able to capture quantitatively and in a common format all the different assessment modalities,” said Pip Pattison, deputy vice-chancellor for education at the University of Sydney in Australia. “It has helped us to understand the degree and nature of over-assessment…and it’s allowed staff in the university to see an aggregate level of what we’re asking the students to do, which is just way too much.” 

Courses or units can sometimes be taught in silos, and academics are unaware of how their colleagues are assessing students’ knowledge, said Tim Wess, deputy vice-chancellor for academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Digital course management systems ensure that, for example, whole degrees are not assessed by multiple choice, he said.

But the value of this curriculum overview extends beyond assessment into the quality of the academic offering as a whole, said Giselle Byrnes, provost at Massey University. “It’s much more transparent” and creates accountability, ensuring that “what is approved through academic governance processes is actually delivered in the classroom or online”. A CMS that serves as a platform, surfacing actionable insight across the learning experience can help drive accountability. 

Academics whose institutions had undergone the digitalisation of their curriculum warned that they also involved a “cultural transformation”.

“It's not simply a matter of creating a kind of super database, which is effectively what a CMS is,” said Byrnes. “But it’s also ensuring that academic autonomy is respected and so are academic governance measures.” However, such systems also “allowed us to effectively communicate to our academics, and to our students, the expectations” of the work they need to complete. 

While the responsibility for curriculum management once sat predominantly with registrars and IT departments, it is increasingly being directed by learning and pedagogy units, said Carol Miles, senior curriculum management architect at Blackboard. “It's marrying the pedagogy with the functionality of curriculum management,” she said.

Curriculum management systems also put students at the centre of the learning experience, panellists said. By personalising the learning experience, institutions can provide resources that support learners across their learning journey.

“It’s become even more necessary for students to receive (their materials) more quickly and efficiently,” said Peter Cook, associate deputy vice-chancellor for students at Southern Cross University in Australia. His institution recently undertook an efficacy review of learning support measures and found that digitalisation of the curriculum is “paramount” and impacted the retention of students.

A major growth area for these management systems could be in microcrentialling, panellists said. But this field remained nascent in Australia and New Zealand, and institutions continued to debate whether microcourses should count towards degree credits and how they would be assessed for quality.

But when it comes to curriculum management systems in general, the panellists said they offered a range of opportunities – but that institutions needed people to make sense of the deluge of data to deliver actionable insights.

“The greatest challenge, really, is to be able to have analyses of the data,” said Poskitt. “It’s about having the software, but also the people with the knowledge and skills to analyse the data, and then have the knowledge to know who to work with and how to do something about it.”

The panel:

  • Giselle Byrnes, provost, Massey University
  • Lisa Champion, manager of academic quality and standards, Edith Cowan University
  • Fleur Connor-Douglas, director of curriculum transformation, Massey University
  • Peter Cook, associate deputy vice-chancellor for students, Southern Cross University
  • Geoffrey Crisp, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president for academic, University of Canberra
  • Maree Dinan-Thompson, deputy vice-chancellor for students, James Cook University
  • Joyce Lau, Asia editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Carol Miles, senior curriculum management architect, Blackboard (chair)
  • Pip Pattison, deputy vice-chancellor for education, The University of Sydney
  • Jenny Poskitt, director of college projects, Massey University
  • Tim Wess, deputy vice-chancellor for academic, University of the Sunshine Coast - USC

Watch the roundtable on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about Blackboard and higher education.

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