Programme director's handbook

Curriculum development

The aim of curriculum design is a programme that helps students acquire the competence they will need in their field in the future and to acquire it within the target time frame. In this page, we have described the stages of curriculum development and instructions for each stage. You can find also tools and working templates to carry out each stage.

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Aalto people working. Photo: Unto Rautio

Stages of curriculum development

Curriculum development consists of four identifiable stages that are implemented over the curriculum period’s two-year span. The development may be seen as a continuing work in progress, for development of the next new curriculum may begin immediately after the publication of the current one. The stages may be adapted according to the needs of the degree programme or major. 

Stages of curriculum development:

  1. Assessment of the programme and its curriculum
  2. Identifying and setting the development goals
  3. Developing of curriculum alignment
  4. Implementation of teaching and learning

Assessment of the programme and its curriculum

Curriculum development starts with a comprehensive knowledge-based self-evaluation of the programme and its curriculum.

The curriculum’s success in different areas is assessed in the self-evaluation. The self-evaluation is based on feedback and statistical data which, together with input from the teaching community, stakeholders and students, create a foundation for understanding the current state of the programme. 

Aalto University takes part in national and international evaluations, audits and benchmarking activities, and regularly self-evaluates its own planning and implementation processes in the areas of teaching and learning. In addition, Aalto monitors its students’ academic progress, graduation and employment, and collects feedback from students during the time of their studies as well as feedback from employers and graduates on the quality of Aalto's education and the competencies Aalto graduates have acquired.

The assessment of the programme and its curriculum takes place in the following stages: 

  1. Defining the critical areas (key questions) to be assessed: what do we wish to know about?
  2. Collection and analysis of the relevant information. This preliminary analysis is important so that assessment discussions with the community and stakeholders may limit the amount of data presented and focus on the essential points.
  3. Building a shared understanding of the current state of the programme in the assessment workshops, based on analysis of the feedback and statistical data.

Tools and support for assessing the programme and its curriculum

Identifying and setting development goals

Curriculum development goals are identified and set based on a curriculum assessment that has been carried out. 

The goals are defined on the basis of analysing assessment data with teaching staff, students and stakeholders. Setting the development goals focuses on synchronisation and prioritisation of internal and external aims, drawing up a concrete short-term and long-term action plan, and monitoring the plan’s implementation. 

The setting of development goals is based on an assessment that is conducted in the following stages: 

  1. Identifying and prioritising the central areas for development: what kinds of development goals can be identified on the basis of the assessment? What are the programme’s own development goals, and what kinds of shared goals of the university or the school must be taken into account? How may the internal and external goals be synchronised? What is important to develop immediately and what may be developed over the long range? 
  2. Writing the development plan: clear development goals and measure are defined; areas of responsibility, the schedule and follow-up meetings are agreed upon. It is also important to agree on how the development work will be communicated: what information and feedback are the decisions based upon? 

Tools and support for identifying development goals

Environmental Engineering new flow channel in Otaniemi, with students and teaching staff

Goals for the curriculum design work in 2024–2026

Our shared goals in curriculum design are integrating sustainability themes into programmes, strengthening our lifewide learning offering, and implementing the new language guidelines.

Programme director's handbook

Developing curriculum alignment

Educational alignment refers to a state of cohesion and consistency between the intended learning outcomes and content of teaching, the assessment methods, and the study climate. Alignment may be viewed as alignment between different courses, or between a planned course and its specific implementation. Alignment may also be viewed at the level of the curriculum as a whole. 

Alignment between the level of the degree and the whole programme is also significant for course alignment: in a well-planned, cohesive degree programme, students develop competencies in a logical progression, deepening their previous learning while avoiding excessive repetition. An example of this is when new skills are adapted and put into practice only after the student has been introduced and made familiar with the subject through previous studies. 

Essential to achieving alignment is to have a shared understanding about building the curriculum and its joint planning at the programme level. Collaborative planning of the curriculum ensures that students have a variety of ways and methods to learn during their degree studies and make step-by-step progress in developing their competencies. Cohesion, alignment and predictability in study paths promote student well-being and motivation. At its best, a curriculum that is planned collaboratively may increase the well-being of the workplace community as well.

Curriculum alignment is developed through the following stages: 

  1. Building a shared understanding about the programme’s purpose and the primary competence produced by the degree What are the essential skills and knowledge? What kind of professional identity as an expert does the graduating student have?
  2. Development of programme intended learning outcomes to match the shared understanding built in the previous stage. What is the student is expected to know, understand and be able to do after completing the degree programme? Intended learning outcomes consist of the substantive content of skills and knowledge specific to the field, as well as other specialist or professional competency aims required in working life (generic know-how). 
  3. Development of degree requirements What study modules compose the student’s degree? A degree with clear structure smooths the way for starting and progressing through studies, helping students to complete their degrees within the target time. Degree requirement design is guided by the degree structure set forth in the degree regulations.
  4. Planning course alignment for timely study progress Do courses proceed logically and have their study and assessment methods been examined from the perspective of the student’s study load? Viewing this at the programme level also helps to ensure that students are introduced to learning tools (such as software) at the right time in their studies. It is also important to prevent courses from being scheduled on top of one another so that students can make steady progress in their studies. 
  5. Being aware of changes in programme resourcing

Tools and support for developing curriculum alignment

Implementation of teaching and learning

Aalto’s way of working is based on the PDCA cycle (Plan–Do–Check–Act). After the curriculum is published and teaching has begun, the process of continual development proceeds by promoting a teaching culture that encourages feedback and interactivity.

Feedback is an instrument whereby teachers can strengthen their own interaction with students and assess and improve their own work and work outcomes. 

While teaching and learning is occurring, teaching can be developed through the following stages: 

  1. By soliciting feedback before studies begin, teachers can adjust their teaching for the course before it starts. Feedback before a course can be collected by means of pre-class assignments or various kinds of questionnaires (using Presemo, Zoom poll or MyCourses tools).
  2. Feedback obtained during a course allows the teaching to be fine-tuned while the course is ongoing. Feedback during a course can be obtained by assigning learning tasks, group discussion, feedback groups or various kinds of questionnaires (using Presemo, Zoom poll or MyCourses tools).
  3. When a course implementation ends, Aalto course feedback collects feedback automatically on it through the electronic system. The course teacher then analyses and reflects on the feedback for planning possible further improvements to the course. Peer discussions on the feedback and actions to improve a course facilitate its development. 

Tools and support for use during teaching and learning

ITP student team working outside

The principles of feedback in education and student feedback in Aalto University

In Aalto, feedback is collected from students during different phases of their studies. Hearing the voice of students is vital for the development of teaching and training as well as for quality assurance and for improving study-related services. Feedback is used on multiple levels in many ways and its utilisation is a special area of focus in Aalto. Student guilds and organisations are also interested in and benefit from feedback and surveys.

student, learning center, library

Course feedback in Aalto University

Course feedback is a unique part of the feedback portfolio in Aalto University and it reaches students in all phases of their studies and is collected systematically throughout Aalto. Hearing the voice of students is vital for the development of teaching and education as well as for quality assurance and for improving study-related services. Feedback is used on multiple levels in many ways and its utilisation is a special focus area at Aalto.

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Teacher’s Handbook

This handbook contains practical information for a teacher on teaching at Aalto University.

Infographics of the PDCA cykle

PDCA cycle

The quality management of Aalto University is based on the principle of continuous development, the PDCA cycle (Plan-do-Check-ACT).

Aalto Handbook
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Supporting students' sense of community and belonging

Central to community and inclusion is that the community members feel accepted and valued as themselves. Belonging to a study community means gaining experiences of the relevance of studies and identification with the student community. The sense of belonging is unique and can only be triggered if students identify themselves with the community. That is why it is important to think how to create and promote the sense of inclusion in your teaching.


Other instructions related to this stage

To the main page Curriculum design at Aalto University

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Curriculum design at Aalto University

Aalto University’s curriculum design guidelines and schedule aims at supporting sustainable, future led degree programmes.

Programme director's handbook
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