Working Group on New Models of Academic Program Delivery
Mandate and Terms of Reference
Chris Buddle, Associate Provost, Teaching and Academic Programs - CHAIR
Manuel Balán, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Institute for the Study of International Development, and Associate Dean (Student Affairs), Faculty of Arts
John Mac Master, Assistant Professor, Department of Music Performance, Schulich School of Music
Annette Majnemer, Professor, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy and Vice-Dean (Education), Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Richard Martin, Executive Director, Analysis, Planning and Budget, OPVPA
Gillian Nycum, Registrar and Executive Director, Enrolment Services
Laura Pavelka, Faculty Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science
María Sierra Cordoba Serrano, Assistant Dean (Curriculum and Program Development), School of Continuing Studies
Laura Winer, Director, Teaching and Learning Services
Leigh Yetter, Senior Director, Strategy and Operations, OPVPA
Shanti Nachtergaele, Graduate Student Research Assistant
Claire Guyatt, Undergraduate Student Research Assistant
The McGill University Strategy Academic Plan includes a commitment “to supporting pedagogical and curricular innovation” and a diversification of “on-campus academic programming and modes of delivery”, including “alternatives to traditional degree organization and academic time-tabling.” In broad terms, University leadership will “encourage and support a culture of calculated risk-taking, with a commitment to ensuring agility, efficiency, creativity, and organizational learning across all our functions by eliminating barriers to change and through institutional support of the pursuit of new challenges.”
With this in mind, together with the recent experience of the rapid reorganization of teaching and learning in 2020 and emerging trends in university-level pedagogy, the Working Group on New Models of Academic Program Delivery is tasked with recommending a strategy and direction for the evolution of academic program delivery at McGill that will serve as a basis for growth and change over the next decade or more. In so doing, the Working Group should consider broad pedagogical trends and evolving best practices with respect to, for example, student assessment strategies, remote and blended learning, applied and experiential learning opportunities, and opportunities for multi-disciplinary and collaborate program delivery. The Working Group will likewise assess alternatives to the conventional academic calendar, opportunities for maximizing University resources, including human and infrastructural, opportunities for revenue generation, and the impact on and opportunities for students, teaching staff, and administrative staff.
The Working Group will explore bold and creative ways to meet the commitments of the Strategic Academic Plan. The orientation of the Working Group should be toward identifying opportunities for change, prioritizing and sequencing of these opportunities, and helping develop pathways for implementation, with key considerations around change management, impacts on academic culture, and communications. Concerns or obstacles should be noted, and the Working Group is asked to propose solutions to these potential impediments to change where change is desirable.
The Working Group will focus on three overarching thematic areas 1) Trends in Teaching and Learning; 2) Adaptations to our academic calendar, including space use on a yearly basis; and 3) Development, assessment and innovation in Academic Programs.
1) Trends in teaching and learning
The pandemic has accelerated many trends in teaching and learning within the higher education sector – these trends were already under discussion to varying degrees at McGill and at other institutions, but the experience of 2020-2021 has illustrated that we can do things differently and can consider ways to prioritize efforts in some of these areas.
In the McGill context, experience from the 2020-2021 academic year will help set the stage for considerations of these trends. For example, students indicated a strong interest in having recorded lecture materials available for their courses, and this interest may continue long-term. Many instructors also re-designed their approach to teaching, using synchronous classroom time for more interactive, inquiry-based learning. In a post-pandemic teaching context, a blended or flipped approach may be adopted more broadly. Laboratories used software that facilitated different kinds of experiential learning with online tools, and some of these practices could supplement teaching that might have traditionally only been considered as occurring in person. The University also modified drastically how students were assessed during the period in which classes were delivered primarily through remote means – and the future of traditional in-person, timed, and invigilated final examinations is something to consider.
How we use our teaching spaces will also be re-examined. In-person teaching that focuses more on discussion and inquiry is best done in active learning classrooms rather than in a theatre-style lecture hall, for example. How we prioritize trends in teaching and learning need to be matched with appropriate teaching spaces and technologies.
2) Alternatives to the traditional academic calendar
The traditional academic calendar, whereby degree-seeking students participate in intensive 13-week semesters of typically 12 to 15 credits each in the Fall and Winter, with long, often inactive summer periods, has advantages. But it is also predicated on conventions that may not align with more contemporary interests, including, for example, experiential learning, study abroad, work-integrated learning and/or part-time study, as well as changing faculty work-life balance interests. A more robust summer semester may present opportunity for alternative ways of distributing credit-bearing activity across a full 12-month period, facilitate off-campus coursework that requires particular seasonal conditions or alignment with other calendars of activity (e.g., stages), allow for accelerated study, or offer breaks at alternate points in the academic cycle (e.g., coursework in Winter and Summer with the Fall term off).
Alternatively, the summer term could be developed as a stand-alone period during which degree-seeking students could participate in more robust and university-sponsored enrichment activities, or as a period during which the University offers a fuller suite of learning opportunities to non-traditional and returning students (e.g., a concentrated graduate certificate). More generally, a fuller suite of academic activity across the full breadth of the academic year would allow for more sustained use of core infrastructure and enhanced productivity year-round. Such increased activity would bear additional costs (e.g., increased maintenance costs, utility costs, staff support costs), but could also accommodate a greater number of students. By expanding teaching into the summer months (as well as incorporating remote technologies as enhancements to in-person engagement), McGill may have the opportunity to increase and/or diversify enrolments to create space for more students without compromising quality or class size. Should this prove possible, the increased revenue may further support enhancements to teaching and research facilities as well as the academic complement.
Likewise, the length and structure of a traditional “semester” may be explored to weigh advantages and disadvantages of semester, trimester, and quarter systems, alternatives to the 3-credit course, and opportunities for self-directed or asynchronous learning. Within the semester itself, there are also opportunities to consider variations to the traditional scheduling of classes and laboratories, both within the boundaries of a regular work day, but also consideration of evenings and weekends.
3) Development, Assessment and Innovation in Academic Programs
There have been many trends in program development in recent years, including (but not limited to) micro-credentials, short-programs, certificates, stackable certificates. In part, this answers a broader need related to upskilling and reskilling among some sectors, and how some trends in the workforce are not always aligned with more traditional degree programs aimed largely at a 18 to24 year-old audience.
At McGill we have seen recent innovations in program developing including the development of a pathway to stackable Masters degrees, online offerings of existing programs (e.g., the Bachelor of Nursing (Integrated), and new certificates in areas with high demand among non-traditional learners (e.g., online Cybersecurity Certificate offered through the School of Continuing Studies). Many Faculties have also increased their range of non-credit offerings (e.g., Desautels Faculty of Management’s Personal Finance Essentials course, and a series of Professional Development Certificates offered by the School of Continuing Studies). There remains an opportunity to consider whether a more strategic approach around new program development is needed, and perhaps additional efforts to link program development more tightly to our international engagement strategy, revenue generation, connections to strategic priorities (e.g., in-community teaching for Indigenous learners, and innovation).
The other area of interest in our academic programs lies in the manner and approach to our assessment of existing programs. While professional programs have accreditation requirements, most other programs are built without program assessment formally considered. Our cyclical unit review process has, in the past, partially addressed program evaluation, but not necessarily in a way that allows careful and regular adjustments to curriculum. As we look forward, is there an opportunity to build program assessments into all new programs, and review and revisit existing programs in a more direct manner?
Any change recommended by the Working Group must necessarily consider the impact on McGill students, faculty and staff and take into consideration pedagogical relevance and added value. Careful consideration should be given to mechanisms for sustained consultation of current and potential future McGill students. What appeals most to them and why? What would enhance their experience as students? What would facilitate their transition to post-university working life? Would an alternative to conventional modes of delivery make McGill more attractive? How would pedagogical innovation enhance academic delivery at the Faculty or program level? What changes are most advantageous? What obstacles would need to be overcome? Would the opportunity to teach during a Summer term, with no teaching assignments in Fall or Winter, facilitate teaching or research productivity for some faculty members? What would incentivize faculty to adopt an alternative academic calendar?
Consultation and Engagement
In pursuing this mandate, the Working Group will consult broadly with MAUT and other staff associations, with Faculties and implicated administrative units, and with graduate and undergraduate students, and students in non-degree programs. The Working Group will also consult with peer institutions who have implemented, or who are contemplating, similar changes. The Working Group may also look to other sectors for ideas and inspiration and/or to future employers about perspectives on pathways for our graduates. The student Research Assistants will support the completion of environmental scans or external consultations.
To facilitate the engagement of as broad a range of colleagues as possible, Faculties are also encouraged to identify local faculty Liaisons who may serve to ensure that Faculty based colleagues are apprised of the progress of the Working Group, and that the Working Group is aware of particular concerns, opportunities, or achievements relative to their particular Faculty. To this end, the Liaisons will help ensure that the Working Group engages with the Faculty in a manner that is productive and effective.
In addition to the core membership of the working group and the Faculty-based Liaisons, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will be identified and consulted as required - e.g., colleagues will be identified within the University Libraries, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Information Technology Services, Campus Planning and Development Office, Human Resources, Communications and External Relations, etc.
The Working Group composition will be finalized by mid-way through the Fall 2021 term, and meet on a regular (twice per month) basis over the course of a year. The Working Group on New Models of Academic Delivery will submit its final recommendations to the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) the end of the Fall 2022 semester, with a preliminary report expected by 15 October 2022.