Everything You Need to Know About Updating Course Content

February 6, 2021

When it comes to choosing the right school, students are faced with tough decisions every day. 70% of students in 2021 were impacted by finances when it came to deciding whether or not to attend university (and which university to attend). After financial and medical concerns, however, the next concern students had was whether a university offered a degree program they were interested in, with 55% of college students calling this a must-have to choose a university. 

But even when students are in a program they like, there’s a chance they won’t stick around to complete their education. Nearly half of all students enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program don’t achieve a Bachelor’s degree in four years, if ever. One reason may be that their hopes for college are not matching up to their experiences. 39% of students are looking for the best program to advance their career interests. Just because a university says — on paper — that it can help you advance your career does not mean the courses are as relevant as they need to be in today’s ever-changing career environment. Updating course content can keep your classes relevant to your students, improving retention and helping students succeed both in school and after graduation. 

What is the Average Life Cycle of Life Sciences Content? 

Keeping Life Sciences courses up-to-date is particularly hard since both the content and your students’ learning objectives can change regularly. Your course material needs to reflect the most up-to-date scientific knowledge possible, which can be difficult since science is always changing. 

Pin this up against the fact that science and math are much more rigorous at the college level than they were in high school, and it’s no wonder that 40-60% of all STEM majors end up washing out and either switching majors or dropping out of university altogether. 

The Association of American Universities recently released a goal of making STEM classes more interactive within the next five years. The idea behind this initiative is that if students are engaged in their math and science classes, they’re more likely to stick with them and achieve college (and career) success. Schools like Notre Dame, which have already begun implementing more labs and project-based learning, have shown an increase in retention rates as a result. 

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Update Content? 

Although it’s important to keep your curriculum flexible and replace old content with new, more engaging activities, it’s also impossible to fully revamp every course every year. So how do you know which courses to prioritize? There are several signs you can look for that indicate when a course needs to update its content: 

  • Low retention rates in a particular program
  • Students or faculty members stating that a program or course is out-of-date
  • Consistently low grades in a course or exams showing low content retention
  • Few hands-on activities or projects in a course
  • Teacher assessments stating that a teacher or class is boring or doesn’t prepare students for their careers

It’s also good to look at which textbooks are being used to teach a course, how old they are, and what new research has come out in the field since that textbook was released. 

How Can You Get Faculty On Board with Content Changes? 

One of the fastest ways to frustrate faculty members is to tell them what they need to be doing differently in their existing courses. They’ve been in the teaching trenches, often for years, and may not appreciate administrators coming in and upsetting the balance of their teaching day. 

Instead of telling professors what needs to be fixed and how to fix it, get them on board early by soliciting their opinions. Have a meeting with them and ask where changes can be made to get students more involved. 

Faculty members may know there are issues and need help implementing changes, however. For example, a faculty member may know that students are not engaging with one another enough in their online course, but they may not know enough about Elearning technology to fix that on their own. Once you know their concerns, you can develop strategies to address those specific course issues with the faculty member’s needs in mind. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that changes can take a lot of time for faculty members to implement. Any time you ask them to take on more work in one area, it’s critical that you reduce work in another. For example, if you’re asking for professors to provide more study sessions after hours, you might also offer them the ability to have fewer office hours. Or, if you’re asking for more online discussions and engagements, you might counter that by allowing them to outsource a portion of their grading to TAs. 

How Can Online Proctoring Help You Update Your Course Content? 

Online tests and online test proctoring both saw a major uptick in use during the pandemic. However, these new testing formats have additional benefits on top of allowing learning to continue during global emergencies.

Online tests allow non-traditional students to take tests during a time that’s convenient for them, rather than forcing them to come in during traditional school hours to take their test in front of their professor. Hiring online proctors can also free your professors up, so they are able to spend more time supporting new course materials or providing mentorship to their students. 

What Steps Should You Take When Updating Your Content? 

Updating your course content should always be done intentionally, with the goal of making courses more up-to-date and more relevant to your students. 

The first step should be to look at your learning outcomes. Determine what you need students to be learning in the course, and examine old tests, quizzes, and knowledge checks to decide which of those outcomes students are meeting and which outcomes need more focus. 

Once you determine your learning outcomes, the next step is to make that learning accessible to today’s students. Keep in mind that non-traditional college students make up a larger portion of the population today than ever before. Any way you can make the course more accessible to these students — whether it’s offering both in-person and online lectures or allowing exams to be taken after hours — can help students stay engaged. 

Next, you should update teaching materials to embrace any new scientific findings that have emerged in recent years or address concerns in the field. 

Finally, prioritize hands-on learning, experiments, frequent knowledge checks, and career-focused examples over memorizing equations, long lectures, or busywork. The more students can connect with what they’re learning and understand how the knowledge applies to their future careers, the more likely they are to stay engaged during class and appreciate the content they’re learning.

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