Design the joint curriculum



For the design of the curriculum of a joint short learning programme, successive joint
decisions have to be made as the programme is co-owned and co-delivered by all
partners in a distributed environment:
• Define the learning objectives of the curriculum;
• Design a coherent curriculum in content and structure;
• Define course delivery modes;
• Design staff and student mobility modes;
• Design room for flexibility;
• Enhance the student learning experience;
• Determine the study load of the programme and its components;
• Make the programme inclusive.


Define the goals of the curriculum

• Define and justify the relevance of the learning outcomes of the joint master’s degree in view of the students’ future academic and professional opportunities; Eventually translate the outcomes into competence categories to be covered
(see European Skills and Competences, ESCO, jsp?catId=1326&langId=en
• Define the European Qualifications Framework level for the joint master’s curriculum
Joint master’s programmes can be designed at a 7 or 8 EQF level.

In the further design process, next to specific guidelines for joint programmes, we follow maturity dimensions for programme design, based on recent research and developed in the European Maturity Model for Blended Education (van Valkenburg et al., 2020; Goeman et al.,2021; Dijkstra & Goeman, 2021). Although these dimensions are developed for blended education in particular, we assume that they are relevant for digital education in general.

Design a coherent programme in content and structure

• Define the main educational topics of the programme in relation to the programme objectives and the needs of the field. Seek complementary expertise from key academic staff in the partnership to achieve the joint master’s objectives and involve them in delivering the required subjects. Compile the curriculum from existing courses in the partner institutions. Courses can also be newly designed, although this requires considerably more preparation time. However, many collaborative programmes provide a small amount of new components in different formats, such as lecture series, webinars, collaborative learning communities, independent research, which requires the commitment of the teaching staff;
• Order and structure the courses in a coherent curriculum. The curriculum can have a linear or branched structure. In a linear programme, all students of a cohort follow the same learning path after the learning modules at successive universities. In a branched programme, students follow differentiated learning paths that are laid down in their
individual study plans (ISP). Mobility is embedded in the programme. The programme board describes and demonstrates the academic and professional relevance of such differentiated options or learning paths;
• To make the programme coherent, both the vertical (course-programme) and the horizontal coordination (between courses) are looked at from a shared vision on the content of the programme;

• If applicable, explain how the internship / internship / fieldwork activities fit into the joint programme objectives and explain the interaction of the joint master’s with the relevant professional socio-economic / scientific / cultural sectors. What kind of involvement, if any, do these actors have in the implementation of the curriculum (cocreation of content, evaluation of courses, internship / placement providers, financial sponsors, research providers, employment prospects, etc.)? To what extent are they involved in the programme?

Define delivery modes

Determine which modes of delivery will be used for the joint master’s programme and for each course, next to physical delivery. Make coherent agreements about digital education. International programmes request flexibility in order to make them accessible for all students. Digital teaching and learning provisions are suitable as the internet is accessible
anywhere by anyone.
Digital teaching and learning is also more scalable and therefore an important asset for international education.
Three main approaches to digital education, we were further developed during the Corona crisis are (Pieters, 2021):
• Synchronous hybrid teaching and learning: based on institutions that have in common that both local students or “here” and remote or “there” students are simultaneously included (Raes, 2019);
• Blended teaching and learning with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous methods: based on a course design with a conscious combination of online and offline learning activities (Laurillard, 2012, 2015; van Valkenburg et al., 2020);
• Asynchronous online teaching and distance learning: based on a course design with a continuous physical separation between teacher and student (Castro et al., 2019; Martin et al., 2020)
These approaches can be combined. In a curriculum, one of these approaches can be dominant,
while another can be complementary.

Design mobility modes for staff and students

In the design phase of the programme, when ordering and structuring the courses in the curriculum, the added value and relevance of the (virtual) mobility component must also be accounted for De Moor & Henderikx, 2015; Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019). How to make the mobility of staff and students relevant and instrumental for the purposes of the curriculum? How are the mobility paths designed and embedded in the joint master’s?

• Mobility of staff is necessary at all stages or when setting up a common curriculum:
− internal or embedded staff mobility within the partnership: the staff of the partner institutions contribute, among other things, to the joint curriculum; develop the courses and the planned technological resources; install the administrative framework; the joint implementation of the programme, including the admission, examination and certification of students;
− Mobility of external staff from outside the partnership: external staff and experts can be invited, for example to guest lectures, webinars, projects or to demonstrate good practices.
• Student mobility must be structurally provided in a joint curriculum:
− internal or embedded student mobility as students participate in the joint curriculum at successive partner universities. In linear curricula, all students follow the same mobility path. In branched curricula, they follow the core curriculum and individual pathways of study (ISPs), which are planned in the learning agreement when students start the joint master’s;
− external student mobility as learners can still take courses in a third institution as part of a learning agreement between the learner, the partnership and the host university. However, in a joint curriculum, the mobility of external students is quite exceptional.
Since courses can be delivered in different ways, mobility can also be synchronous hybrid
(eg Virtual classrooms, webinars), mixed (face-to-face and online combined) or virtual / online, always in accordance with the courses.
Tools from the ECTS Users’ Guide (European Commission, 2017) are used when organising mobility in a joint curriculum:
• all parts of the joint programme are recognized by awarding ECTS credits (learning outcomes, workload);
• a learning agreement between the student and the partnership regarding his individual study track (ISP) is signed before the start of the joint study programme and confirms to the student that the credits obtained will be recognized for the award of the joint master’s degree;
• the transfer of records (credits and grades for the mobility components are stored in the central database for the joint master’s).

Share, evaluate and fine-tune tools

Learning tools are used for many functions in education, such as assessments and assignments, collaboration, communication, conference calls, virtual classrooms, polls and surveys, and feedback and videos.
The alignment and coherence of the learning tools (learning environment, software, media, …) used in the programme should be based on the type of learning activities organized by the courses. Decisions are made by the teaching and support staff in the programme and based on evidence or experience.
In an inter-institutional setting, there are likely to be many tools available in the respective learning environments that can be shared. However, they must be coordinated and used in a coherent way in the programme. This rubric supports a multi-dimensional evaluation of functional, technical and pedagogical
aspects of eLearning tools.

Design room for flexibility

Although joint master’s programmes are already flexible, mainly due to the modularization and use of digital delivery methods, learners at work and international learners need a maximum degree of flexibility (Zone Flexible Education, 2019).
Consider whether students can have the opportunity to modify certain features of the programme. This includes features such as alternative delivery methods (blended courses, remote online courses, traditional courses), workload (full-time / part-time), pace (institution pace / own pace), optionally the ability to take courses at other institutions.
The flexibility in a programme must be deliberately designed. Learners have the opportunity to customize certain features of the programme and receive advice on their options.

Improve the student learning experience

To reach maturity, a programme must actively provide support and guidance to students to develop and improve the learning process and their self-regulatory learning skills (SRL). This means that SRL-related activities are included in every course of a programme and that SRL skills are regularly monitored. Methods and tools to measure self-regulated
learning are described and based on both qualitative (eg, surveys, observations, interviews) and quantitative data (eg, from learning platforms, student information systems or other applications) (Winne & Perry, (2012); Gonzales-Torres & Torrano (2008).

Determine the study load of the programme

• Define the study load of the curriculum in terms of ECTS credits.
• The study load of the various components of a joint master’s programme should be deliberately geared to each other. The study load and peaks of parallel courses in a course are taken into account.
• The total study load of a study programme and the courses must be monitored,
evaluated and adjusted.

Make the programme inclusive

Consider the diverse needs and backgrounds of students to create a programme where all students feel valued, safe and at home and where all students have equal access to the programme. Tailor inclusivity to all courses of the programme. The sense of inclusion is based on evidence or experience.

next chapter: Agree on qualifications
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