Best Practices for the Development of New Courses

Allan Hancock College, ASCCC Curriculum Committee member
MSW, Moreno Valley College, ASCCC Curriculum Committee member

Faculty members are interested in developing innovative, vibrant, engaging curriculum. They can generate creative ideas and topics for courses that may appeal to students and be interesting to teach.  However, simple creativity and appeal are not the only factors to consider when determining whether a course should be developed. In addition to compliance and curricular standards, Academic Senate Resolution 13.04 F11 states that course development and enrollment management should be guided by demonstrated student and community educational need, as well as be fiscally and academically responsible. Student and community need can be defined in a number of ways and supported by both quantitative and qualitative data.    Available resources are also an important consideration in determining the viability of a course.  All of these factors should come into the discussion when new curriculum is being proposed and developed.

To determine need, a curriculum committee might consider data available from its college or district Institutional Research Office, such as existing enrollment management data that may show trends, outlooks, gaps, and emerging patterns. FTES projections and demographic data could also be included, as might existing retention and success data for the program that the new course would be in. The college may also consider student surveys, but such surveys should include students other than prospective majors in the discipline, since asking kinesiology majors if they would take advantage of a potential new kinesiology course is like asking children if they like candy. A carefully crafted student survey that goes out to all students at the college would provide more accurate data on this issue of need.

Colleges might also consult with external advisory boards in the area to determine whether the need for the course is real or perceived. Discipline faculty might gather data by contacting community agencies or making a presentation and gathering feedback.  They can also consult with employers and industry to learn if career technical education (CTE) courses meet their needs. If the course is CTE-oriented, the faculty might gather agendas and minutes from relevant agencies that document need for the course. To further establish need, the course proposal might include data related to employment opportunities that include salary and wage information. The college’s financial aid office can indicate whether the course or program is counted in gainful employment data that is reported back to the federal government. All of this data will help to show clearly that students will acquire unique skills that enhance their employability.

Counselors can also provide valuable input regarding course development and student need.  With regard to transfer-level courses, counselors can indicate whether trends appear in course requests, especially concerning general education requirements that have limited course offerings or are difficult for students to register for. Counselors can provide information of an anecdotal nature about student need as well as documented evidence of students’ movement within the college: what courses they take, what courses they want, and what they look for and need.  Further, counselors can share information on UC and CSU transfer pathways and show trends based on students’ educational goals that provide a glimpse into what is needed to petition for graduation. Finally, counselors might help to establish whether the course could fulfill general graduation or transfer requirements.

After compiling solid data documenting the need for a new course, the proposers might be asked to develop a student recruitment plan. This plan could consider outreach opportunities within the college as well as outreach to high school students, the community at large, and area employers. It might also factor in the cost of developing promotional materials such as brochures and fliers or even publishing an article or advertisement in the local newspaper.

Another crucial factor for successful course development is determining that adequate resources are in place. For example, college librarians can conduct a library holdings inventory analysis to determine whether the library has all the support materials students may need in order to be successful in the course. If such materials are not in place, the new course proposal may need to indicate the associated cost of obtaining the materials and who will absorb the cost. The proposal might also be required to indicate that existing facilities are adequate to offer the new course or that new facilities are needed.  If existing facilities would need to be upgraded, this need might also be indicated along with the associated cost.  Similar consideration should be given to supplies, equipment, and technological needs.

Personnel resources are an additional important factor to consider in course development.  The college must have qualified instructors to offer the course. If no full-time faculty can be identified to teach the course, a sizable pool of part-time faculty might be considered as a substitute, at least on a temporary basis. Ongoing evaluation and revision of curriculum is a faculty responsibility, so without full-time faculty in place the college will need to identify part-time faculty committed to initiating revisions and sustaining currency of the course. In addition to faculty, the course proposal might also indicate the existence of sufficient support staff, such as lab technicians or necessary coordinators.

Finally, the curriculum committee should consider the appropriateness of the course to the mission of the California community colleges in general and to the mission of the local college.  New curriculum is generally expected to support current statewide initiatives and the local college’s area needs.

A new course is an opportunity to bring forth innovative and exciting curriculum that provides new and valuable educational experiences for students.  However, all new course proposals should be scrutinized to ensure that they are addressing real student and community need and that the college has sufficient resources to offer the course.  Curriculum committees have an obligation to ensure that students are being taught what is needed, that students will be properly prepared for transfer, that students will be properly prepared for employment, and that CTE courses meet industry standards.