Developing or revising curriculum or student learning assessment plan can be energizing, community-building, and transformative for an academic program. But it can also become exhausting, frustrating, and fracturing. Situational factors may impact the motivation, capacity, or readiness of participants to undertake the work. Cultural factors may impact the perceived value of the work and the ways in which the work is accomplished. Successful curriculum and learning assessment efforts incorporate awareness of situational and cultural factors, focus on achievable goals, and implement best practices from change management, participatory design, and assessment. 

Before beginning a curriculum or assessment change effort, the CAT recommends that program leaders first spend time evaluating their landscape in order to prepare their programs for success and map out a process that will align with their specific needs and goals. Based upon literature on change in higher education that focuses on departments as units of change, as well as observations of successful curricular and assessment change efforts, there are four principles for success that emerge:

  • shared motivation: the members of the program recognize the need, value, and urgency of the project.
  • active leadership and structures: program leaders are actively involved. Structures, such as co-chairs, committees, and scheduled updates, support the work.
  • participatory and inclusive processes: the work is done in a way that is collaborative; includes diverse perspectives; values all voices; is transparent; and iterative.
  • manageable goals and timelines: the scope of work is aligned to the time available. Overlapping priorities and other situational factors are incorporated into planning. 

Approaches and Examples of Change in Academic Departments

The accordions below highlight some theoretical approaches and practical examples of pursusing change in academic departments. Recommended readings and a reflective checklist based upon the principles described above are available at the bottom of this page.

Further Resources

  1. Bolman, L. and Deal, T., 2013. Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Corbo, J.C., et al., 2016. Framework for transforming departmental culture to support educational innovation. Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 12: 010113.
  3. Gehrke, S., & Kezar, A. (2016). STEM reform outcomes through communities of transformation. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 48(1), 30-38.
  4. Henderson, C., et al., 2011. Facilitating Change in Undergraduate STEM Instructional Practices: An Analytic Review of the Literature. J. Res. Sci. Teaching 48(8):952-984.
  5. Hutchings, P. (2011) From Departmental to Disciplinary Assessment: Deepening Faculty Engagement, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43:5, 36-43, DOI: 10.1080/00091383.2011.599292
  6. Jeffrey L. Buller. 2015. Change Leadership in Higher Education: A Practical Guide to Academic Transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  7. Ngai, C., et. al., 2020. Developing the DELTA: Capturing Cultural Changes in Undergraduate Departments. CBE Life Sci. Educ., 19:ar15.
  8. Quardokus Fisher, K., and Henderson, C. 2018. Department-Level Instructional Change: Comparing Prescribed versus Emergent Strategies. CBE Life Sci Educ., December 1, 2018 17:ar56
  9. Quan, G.M., et al., 2019. Designing for institutional transformation: Six principles for department-level interventions. Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 15: 010141.
  10. Quardokus, K. and Henderson, C. 2015. Promoting instructional change: using social network analysis to understand the informal structure of academic departments. High Educ: 70:315-335.
  11. Reinholz, D.L., et al., 2019. Fostering sustainable improvements in science education: An analysis through four frames. Science Education: 103:1125-1150.
  12. Reinholz, D.L., et al., 2019. Transforming Undergraduate Education From the Middle Out With Departmental Action Teams, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 51:5, 64-70, DOI: 10.1080/00091383.2019.1652078
  13. Reinholz, D. L., Corbo, J. C., Dancy, M., & Finkelstein, N. (2017). Departmental action teams: Supporting faculty learning through departmental change. Learning Communities Journal9, 5–32.
  14. Reinholz, D.L. and Apkarian, N. 2018. Four frames for systsemic change in STEM departments. International J. of STEM Ed.(2018) 5:3.
  15. A “Before You Begin” readiness checklist created by the WFU CAT.