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Agile Curriculum - Take 2


In my last post, I used a metaphor of snooker balls to define agile curriculum, but it nagged at me that something was missing. The missing piece is the frame that holds the snooker balls in check – this frame/constraint is a sustainable course portfolio.


When reviewing timetabling, I often see too many low enrolled classes leading to poor use of teaching space. Student numbers change quicker than the course portfolio. Course portfolios need to slim down and be more responsive to enrolment numbers. It is not just about cancelling courses, but also reducing option choice on courses that are still viable. Staff resource needs to be better focused rather than spread too thin.

Last summer I was asked by a university to devise a methodology to review their PGT portfolio and pilot with a few academic Schools. I talked to the PVC about her requirements and “heard” two things: market-led and competition benchmarked. I took a quick at the PGT student numbers enrolled and was not surprised to see too many courses with too few students.


In devising a review methodology, two things sprang to mind:

  • Bill Massy’s mantra of “Mission, Market and Margin”

  • The open-source business canvas model.

These two concepts covered the market-led requirement. Competition benchmarked was easy for me to add to the mix, given I have been benchmarking UK universities for the last seventeen years.


The methodology currently has two components:


  • A modified canvas adapted to course portfolio review which I call the framework

  • A facilitated half-day workshop which uses six steps to populate the framework.

The framework looks at the demand side of the equation (Market and student) before looking at channels (f2f or online), and the value proposition to the student. Only then does it look at the current portfolio components and discuss what needs to change. Benchmarking of peer universities' course portfolios stimulates the discussion. Ambition is then tempered by resource considerations when converging on a revised portfolio. The final workshop step is to agree in outline a three-year development plan.


The workshops went well, but in three hours we only covered mission, market and competition with a nod to margin by agreeing a manageable number of developments. Ideally outside of a workshop there needs to be some activity-based course costing to verify margin. (I finally got around to reading chapter 4 of the Massy book “Re-engineering the University” in order to realise this!)


I would be happy to use this methodology with other universities to determine if it works with all types of subject, university and course level. Finally, if anyone wants to commission me to work on developing activity-based course costing to complete my methodology then get in touch.

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