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New online system expected to speed approval of new courses

June 5, 2012 By Stacy Forster

Classes at UW–Madison can now be added, deleted or changed with the help of an online system for tracking and routing all course proposals.

Over the years, the system for approving new courses, as well as changing or deleting current ones, has not only been confusing for newcomers, but also for seasoned veterans at the university.

Much of that confusion will be cleared up with the new system, although the process for course approval – governed by the faculty who create the underlying governance requirements – won’t change. Any new courses will still need approval from departments, schools and colleges, and divisional committees before being added to the course guide by the Office of the Registrar.

“The new system will require just as much involvement by faculty, departments, and school/college curriculum committees, and people will still need to talk to each other, but we are counting on it making the process much more transparent.”

Jocelyn Milner

Those who administer the process say they expect it to work more quickly and smoothly, making it easier for faculty and staff to know where a proposal stands and what needs to happen to get it approved.

“Faculty are still requiring departments and programs to submit the same information, and the proposal still has to be approved by the same groups of people, but how it’s submitted and tracked will be different,” says Andrea Poehling, administrative program specialist and divisional committees coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty, which oversees the system. “In the old process, people were wondering, ‘What step are we at in the process?’ In the new system, any faculty or staff member can track the proposal’s journey through the process.”

Those proposing courses in the new system will receive how-to instructions as they fill out the forms, and all proposals will be routed automatically to the appropriate people for approval.

Laura Dast, liaison for the School of Medicine & Public Health curriculum committee, says having all of the information about the process in one place should help people keep better tabs on their proposals. They will also be able to more easily collaborate with each other by using the same technology and version of the proposal, she adds.

“Before, the forms had instructions and information, but you couldn’t necessarily be sure people were following a process they understood,” says Dast, who works with people in about two dozen departments to move proposals through the process. “Using Web forms reinforces there’s a way to get things done.”

Poehling estimates that the necessary committees could approve a proposal passing through smoothly within about two months. In the past, proposals often spent a semester or more in the approval process.

Greg Downey, director of the UW–Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and past chair of the College of Letters & Science curriculum committee, says the system should allow faculty and staff to give scrutiny to new ideas, while also moving with greater speed and agility toward making them permanent. A faster process will also make things easier for departments with more straightforward course changes – such as adjustments to the catalog description or the name of a course, he adds.

“We want to be able to spend our limited time thinking about the way we’re designing courses and the way we’re designing curriculum,” rather than tracking proposals through the process, Downey says.

The effort to develop the online system grew out of a 2009 push to remove obsolete courses from the university’s catalog, and was guided by a faculty advisory committee, says Jocelyn Milner, director of the Office of Academic Planning and Analysis.

Milner credited UW–Madison’s DoIT with creating a system that uses innovative solutions to solve complex problems.

But the introduction of the online course approval process this summer is timely, arriving when people across campus are thinking about new and different ways of teaching. Interim Chancellor David Ward launched a campuswide Educational Innovation campaign to enhance student learning while improving the university’s capacity and identifying new revenue sources.

For Educational Innovation to move the campus into the future, it was essential that the university develop new policies and practices to support those changes, says Aaron Brower, vice provost for teaching and learning and a member of the Educational Innovation organizing team.

Although courses should move through required steps more quickly, those involved will still need to pay close attention to proposals. The system will provide updates to people involved in a proposal when decisions are made along the way, or if questions arise that need to be answered before it can advance.

“The new system will require just as much involvement by faculty, departments, and school/college curriculum committees, and people will still need to talk to each other, but we are counting on it making the process much more transparent,” Milner says. “That’s where the gains in efficiency will come from.”

Administrators also expect to see the number of proposals increase from the current rate of 400 a year as departments and programs find the process less onerous, which will make them more inclined to keep course information up to date.

Dast says the new system should improve course proposals, as those looking to develop them can learn from what others have submitted to the system.

Training is required for those on campus who register approval for course proposals at the department/program or school/college level. Individuals who plan to prepare a course proposal should also attend training. The training will introduce users to Web-based forms and the electronic workflow associated with the online course proposal process. It will also provide instruction on how to propose a new course, course change or course discontinuation.     

More information about the system is available here.To register for a training session, click here.