A New Way to Think about Program Review

In the Winter of 2021, I learned that I would be taking over responsibility for coordinating my university’s cyclical program review process. The university offers over 200 programs— from traditional academic programs to trades training, from certificates to graduate degrees, with three quarters of programming offered in person, synchronously and the remainder online, asynchronously. With such a large number of programs scheduled for review at least once every seven years, my first thought was “How will I manage to coordinate so many reviews at once?!

After exploring several different project management tools, I finally went back to my roots as an elementary school teacher.

When I viewed program review through the lens of a teacher in a classroom, all of the strategies proven successful for student learning became available to me as a new way to think about coordinating meaningful program reviews. 

What I also knew from being a teacher was that I could manage a class of 30 students. When I thought of the 30 programs as unique individuals, that realization inspired a cohort-based approach to program review using a personalized, yet cohesive structure of a “Program Review Course”.

Program Review: The planned and systematic evaluation of a department/program to determine whether “acceptable standards of education, scholarship, and infrastructure” (DQAB, 2023) are in place to support student success and continuous quality improvement. Program review involves a combination of self- and external peer- evaluation, and is normally undertaken once every five to seven years. It is a requirement of publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Canada, and is regarded as a best practice for ensuring academic quality (McGowan, 2019).

A Course for Facilitating Multiple Program Reviews

This Program Review Handbook describes how one university implemented a Program Review Course for conducting multiple reviews and how they leveraged the concept of academic program review learning communities (Hoare et al., 2022) as catalysts for program improvement. The 14-month course described in this Handbook provides a structured opportunity for faculty to participate in a Program Review Learning Community (PRLC), a community designed for researching, reflecting, evaluating, and inquiring about educational practices to improve student outcomes (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Hord, 1997; Stoll et al., 2006).  

Our hope is that by sharing the approach we developed others can support the creation of engaging quality assurance processes that are collaborative, collegial, and (dare we say… ) fun! 


Dickeson, R. (2009). Prioritizing academic programs and services: Reallocating resources to achieve strategic balance. (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. National Educational Service.

Degree Quality Assessment Board (DQAB). (2023). Degree program review: Criteria and guidelines. Ministry of Advance Education, Skills & Training, British Columbia.

Hoare, A. Dishke Hondzel, C., & Wagner, S. (2022). Forming an academic program review learning community: Description of a conceptual model. Quality Assurance in Education, Ahead-of-print,

Hord, S. (1997). Professional learning communities: Communities of continuous inquiry and improvement. Southwest Educational Developmental Laboratory.

McGowan, V. F. (2019). Not too small to be strategic: The state of academic program review guidelines and instrumentation in public institutions. Administrative Issues Journal, 9(1), 53-67. DOI: 10.5929/9.1.1

Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006) Professional learning communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 221 – 258.


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Program Review Handbook Copyright © by Alana Hoare; Catharine Dishke Hondzel; and Shannon Wagner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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