New to the role of Programme Director or taking on the challenge of a new programme? Use our handy toolkit to guide you through the areas of consideration, responsibility and opportunity the role can present.
The Programme Director role can be compared to that of a Theatre Director. A Theatre Director has responsibility and awareness of all the different elements of a production – the actors and script being enacted on stage (i.e. students and the curriculum), the technical and backstage support (the teaching teams, Unit Directors, faculty and school admin staff) and the audience (industrial partners and accreditation bodies, employers, parents). It is their job to ensure that all the different parts work together seamlessly to create the best student experience possible and that at the end of the production, all contributors to the process are happy and fulfilled.
We interviewed two Programme Director’s from Engineering to find out more about their experience of the role.
The curriculum, the logistics and the people
Organising activities of the Programme Director role can be split into three areas (however there is huge crossover between them!). Let’s start with the curriculum.
Whether starting a new programme or taking on an existing one, your role as Programme Director gives you the opportunity to impact what plays out on the stage. Like scenes in a play, units need to work together to create a coherent programme. A good Programme Director can see the bigger picture how the student experiences it.
As Programme Director, it is essential to map and understand all of the teaching and assessment methods across the units on your programme. So often we are working in silos on our units with little consideration for how our piece fits into the whole puzzle – this is where the Programme Director role comes into play.
Whether you want to redesign your programme with the entire team, or start thinking about it on your own, consider the following questions:
- What is your programme’s ‘USP’ (unique selling point)?
- What is your programme’s mission statement?
- What are your intended programme outcomes?
- What type of graduates do you want to create?
- What skills and attributes do your students need?
Use our Programme Director helpsheet to start writing down the answers to these questions and to help see where there are gaps in your understanding of the programme. We have some additional resources that can help the curriculum element of the role:
- Unit and programme approval processes/ requirements – essential information for making changes to a unit.
- Education Strategy – when making any changes or amendments, it is vital they align to the University’s wider Strategy.
- Institutional Principles for Assessment and Feedback
- Unit Director Role Description
If you would like support with new pedagogies, funding to try something new on your programme, technologies or would like further training, get in touch with:
- Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT)
- Digital Education Office (DEO)
- Academic Staff Development (ASD)
The curriculum element of the Programme Director role is the space where you can exercise most creativity.
Once you have created the script for your play (your curriculum outline), you can begin to see what set design and stage props you need (the logistics). In any play, you have a series of acts that are laid out in a logical order, the various acts take the audience on a narrative journey through your story. The range of units that form your degree create this story for the student. If they are not in the right order, the story doesn’t make sense! Each act also will resonate with the rest of the story. You can do this in your programme by ensuring that unit ILOs reflect programme ILOs. A play feels lopsided if some acts are far longer than others. The same goes for units: question how you weight your unit credit points; set the structure of the programme so that it is balanced term to term and year to year.
Directors provide actors (teachers) with the motivation for their acting. For programme directors, you can provide this direction through determining the best teaching methods for learning delivery. Some plays invite audience participation; your play might support active learning and co-production with students and other stakeholders.
The range and frequency of your assessments can also be considered on a programme level so that students have a consistent learning experience.Props can include physical and digital resources. Anything from clickers in lectures to blended learning tools on BlackBoard can serve as a prop to enhance learning.
Logistics also include the legal and ethical side, for example quality assurance requirements, risk assessments, and accessibility. You can also think of logistics in terms of timescales and constraints whereby our creative ambitions should match what’s feasible to deliver.
Some logistical questions to ask yourself:
- What are the range of units for you programme and do they fit to the ILOs?
- Do programme and unit learning outcomes reflect QAA descriptors for your subject?
- What are your staffing and logistics constraints?Is there too much reliance on individuals to deliver core aspects of the programme? How can this risk be offset?
- How might new teaching approaches require specific learning spaces and technologies?
Further support is available on the following pages:
- QA Framework – the University’s Quality Assurance Framework Sharepoint site.
- QAA Subject Benchmark Statements
When researching for this toolkit, the thing that became clear very early on was how much people – and specifically relationships – were central to the success of being a Programme Director. The main actors on the stage are your teaching staff and unit directors. Actors and directors can clash on artistic direction, but it’s the job of the director to work through such issues. They should inspire confidence with their team and offer strong leadership.
Over-reliance on individuals to deliver core aspects on the programme puts the long term success of the programme at risk. Staff should be adequately supported in all aspects of programme delivery. This can include updated workload calculations, advocating for resources, and training to build competency and confidence in delivering the chosen teaching methods and programme content. In a redesign situation, consider how staff might be affected if their units are replaced.
Staff Development offer training on leadership and management. In a play, the crew behind the scenes may be hidden from the audience, but are fundamental to the success of the production. Your programme might rely on staff from outside your School, including the Digital Education Office, the International Office, the Library, etc. Consider including them in your process so that all aspects of your design are integrated.
You can think of ‘the people’ element of this role as split into two main groups – the audience, and the critics.
Some questions to consider around ‘the people’ element of the Director role:
- Who are your relevant stakeholders? Make a list and tick off where your responsibilities lie.
- When do you need to work with each stakeholder?
- What are your stakeholders’ expectations and interests?
- Can you invite stakeholders into the curriculum design process?
Every play has its critics and the best directors read every review and reflect on their play. Your critics might come in the form of NSS results, evaluations and external examiners‘ reports. Programme director can integrate mechanisms for continuous improvement and provide clarity about responsibilities and expectations for the programme.
- Education Action Plan (EAP) – local to each School, an EAP is a live, iterative document used to track actions and monitor progress of all aspects of the Quality Framework.
- University Quality Team – provides assurance to the University by scrutinising the quality and standards of education provision and student academic experience, contributing to and overseeing improvement via the Education Action Planning process .
- Annual review of programmes (APR) – must be carried out for all programmes in the University. SED, PGR, Centre Manager, Programme and Unit directors all take part in this process. Outcome is series of actions to go into EAP. Keep notes to back up decision making programme. Also allows teams to check that programme specs are up to date.
In our analogy, the audience are everyone else we have not mentioned already: potential employers, local and community organisations, University partners and stakeholders, parents, potential students, and so on. The people watching the production and taking it all in, hoping to enjoy and benefit from it.
Once your production is being played out, you listen to the audience to ensure they are receiving the play in the way you intended – are they happy? Are their expectations being met? Although on the periphery, keeping the audience happy is essential to the continuation and growth of your programme.