September 2019
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REFLECTIONS ON A 5-YEAR JOURNEY TO A QUALITY PROGRAM

Ilene Winokur, Kelle Hutchinson, and Heba ElHadary, Gulf University for Science and Technology, Kuwait


Ilene Winokur


     Kelle Hutchinson


Heba ElHadary

Program review and curriculum modifications that lead to major transformations are often difficult and sometimes met with resistance by faculty. This case study in a small private university in Kuwait follows the timeline of such a change. The director of the program, Ilene Winokur worked with the curriculum and accreditation coordinators and the faculty to ensure the decisions were based on current research and data from a variety of assessments and tools.

Case Study

Students in the English Foundation Unit (EFU) program are placed in their English courses based on placement test results. Courses taught at the undergraduate level are mainly taught in English, so the intensive English program prepares these matriculated students for academic English in those courses. Each course is one semester: 15 weeks, 20 hours per week. Courses are integrated skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing) at two proficiency levels: preintermediate and intermediate.

Students at the pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are required to take one or two semesters of foundation English. EFU instructors and undergraduate faculty were mostly in agreement that the foundation level curriculum being taught from 2010 until 2014 was not fully preparing the students for undergraduate courses. It assumed prior skills and knowledge that the majority of the students entering our program did not have. As a result, students entered Academic English and Freshman English courses along with their general education courses at a disadvantage to students placing directly into those courses.

The director, curriculum and accreditation coordinators created a plan for researching, discussing, and implementing curriculum changes that aligned more closely with the skills and knowledge needed to ensure student success in foundation classes and beyond. The EFU mission statement reads, “The mission of the English Foundation Unit (EFU) is to provide quality language instruction to non-native English speakers with an emphasis on the language skills necessary for academic success.”

In an effort to look for gaps in student learning, the EFU team and director focused on curriculum components and skill areas to guide instruction. In addition, a major program review was initiated because the department was in the 10-year CEA (Commission on English Language Program Accreditation) self-study review process.

Program Review Process

Faculty worked with the two coordinators on small committees to review the latest research and discover best practices for reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, listening, speaking components, and writing/grammar. The faculty shared their findings with colleagues which led to decisions to revise components of the curriculum, assessments, student learning outcomes (SLOs), and instructional methods. Corresponding changes were made to the department’s Operations Manual and implications for the CEA reaccreditation process were also considered.

Once changes were made to the curriculum, we needed tools and assessments to check if/how the changes helped or hindered learning. Gathering the data is a vital component of the change process because various stakeholders, including faculty, administration, upper management, and accrediting agencies need to see the validity of the program’s quality. The process for finding the right tools (assessments and other measures) evolved over the first 2 years of changes. The internal and external measures used currently include placement test results, pre- and posttests, department-created assessments of each skill area, student survey results, and data from the university’s Institutional Effectiveness Department.

To validate the efficacy of the program and ensure high-quality results, a variety of tools were used that include internal and external as well as qualitative and quantitative measures. Areas that were closely analyzed were level to level progression and whether student proficiency was adequate for undergraduate study at the university.

Initial analysis of the data uncovered several skill areas that still needed attention, such as listening and grammar. A new textbook was chosen to enhance the development of listening and additional resources for grammar instruction were selected. Training for instructors and teaching assistants was implemented. SLOs for listening improved according to data analysis after implementing the new textbook and additional resources, and we are waiting for results specific to grammar and writing to find out if the changes had a positive effect on SLOs for grammar. Faculty feedback and teacher observations were important quantitative tools to assess the learning objectives and instructional activities, as well as the validity of assessments.

Data analysis is used to facilitate the team’s discussion and highlight areas still needing attention. The review cycle is ongoing, so minor changes to curriculum are reviewed at the end of each semester during a meeting with the curriculum coordinator. If any changes are recommended, timing of implementation and necessary resources are prepared prior to the change. Training is provided to instructors if there is a change in the textbook or instructional activities.

Program Review Template

The program review template (Table 1) aligns SLOs to tools such as assessments and surveys. The review process is explained in the EFU’s Operations Manual, which everyone in the department has access to.

Table 1. Program Review Tools

Role of Accreditation

The process of CEA reaccreditation required a comprehensive self-study and a thorough program review supported by data analysis and effort by the EFU team to embrace the necessary changes to the curriculum. These changes support SLOs which are aligned to the EFU mission and the goals of the university. This process provided a forum for interaction among all sectors of the university, including the undergraduate and EFU faculty, director and EFU coordinators, Institutional Effectiveness Department, and upper management. These discussions led to a better understanding by all stakeholders of the important role EFU plays within the university.

Conclusion

Program review is a valuable process that was vital to ensure our foundation English program was of high quality. Data analysis continues to show that the changes we made to the curriculum, assessments, and instructional activities improved SLOs aligned with the EFU’s mission and goals to prepare students as they strive to complete their undergraduate courses and attain a degree.


Dr. Ilene Winokur has lived in Kuwait for 35 years and recently retired as the director of the Foundation Program Unit (Math and English) at Gulf University for Science and Technology. She taught and was an administrator at the early childhood and elementary levels, in addition to teaching and administration at the college level in private institutions in Kuwait for 25 years. Ilene has more than 20 years of experience in teaching, mentoring, and administration.
 

Kelle Hutchinson has been an instructor in the English Foundation Unit (EFU) for more than 5 years and served as the EFU accreditation coordinator at Gulf University for Science and Technology since 2014. She will begin her role as the program director beginning in September 2019. Traveling and working in Asia, Europe, and the USA has allowed Kelle to maximize her expertise in ESL, reading comprehension, and student services.

Heba ElHadary is a dedicated English as a foreign/second language instructor with more than 20 years’ experience in Canada, Dubai, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. She is currently the reading and writing coordinator and instructor in the Foundation Program Unit at Gulf University for Science and Technology.

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