The Program Review Handbook describes a step-by-step process for implementing a Program Review Course that provides quality assurance practitioners with a method for conducting multiple program reviews at once. In addition, the Program Review Course creates an environment for a professional learning community of faculty to research, reflect, explore, and learn (Hoare et al., 2022). The primary audience for this Handbook is faculty, staff, and administrators responsible for facilitating and participating in program review.

Program Review Course: A cohort-based course that encompasses eight program review modules. Course content is available in a learning management system and delivered through a variety of methods including self-guided and direct instruction (e.g., interactive workshops, one-on-one meetings, short info-sessions, independent writing). The 14-month Course is co-facilitated by quality assurance practitioners and educational developers (Hoare et al., 2024).

The Program Review Course is designed to be housed in an office of quality assurance and coordinated and maintained by a quality assurance practitioner. All aspects of the course are available through the university’s learning management system (e.g., Moodle, Blackboard).

During the 14-month course, faculty engage in a comprehensive review of their program and/or department. This team-based course is designed to evaluate program performance in relation to student success, curriculum content, program viability and impact, and contribution to the university’s mission and vision. Program performance is measured through a combination of self- and external peer- evaluation. Through evidence-based inquiry and analyses, findings are documented in a comprehensive report leading to an action plan and goals for program improvement over the next five to seven years. The focus of the program review course is continuous quality improvement―Helping good programs get even better!

Program Review Course Learning Outcomes

During the course and upon completion of the course, faculty members will:

  • maintain a collegial, team-based approach that is faculty-led;
  • consider diverse perspectives of students, alumni, community and industry members, staff, faculty, and administrators;
  • follow an evidence-based approach to improvement;
  • critically reflect upon educational practices to improve student outcomes;
  • collaborate effectively with quality assurance practitioners and educational developers to improve teaching and learning;
  • engage in open dialogue with external peer reviewers; and,
  • develop an Action Plan for program improvement that is multi-year and formative.

Course Modules and Timeline

The course consists of eight modules with many of the modules occurring concurrently as shown in the table below. Here we offer a suggested time-frame; however, this can be adapted to meet local needs.

Table 1.1
Module Time-frame
1. Orientation May
2. Program Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Map May – August
3. SOAR Analysis Activity May – August
4. Surveys May – October
5. Self-Study May – December
6. External Review August – March
7. Action Plan March – May
8. Response to Recommendations May – June

There is a great deal of flexibility built into the timing of the modules to allow for program review teams to choose a pace that best meets their needs. For example, we estimate that writing the Self-Study Report will take three to four months; however, we allow seven months for program review teams to complete Module 5 because we know faculty have many competing priorities, that collaborative efforts can be more time-consuming than individual, and there is value in providing opportunities and time for critical reflection and adequate space for dialogue.

Program Review Teams

The heart of the course is the notion of community and the belief that a learning culture is best achieved through “a communal rather than solitary happening” (Rosenholtz, 1989). However, research suggests that program reviews may not be meeting institutional needs due to processes that are authoritarian and non-collegial (Bowker, 2016; Turner et al., 2018). In a recent study of sociology faculty across North American higher education, Scheuer Senter et al. (2021), discovered that as many as one-third of program review self-study reports are written by a single individual.

To address this gap, the course includes processes for collaborative visioning and decision-making. Departments participating in the course establish a program review team that consists of three to five faculty members, including the program Chair. The central focus of this team-based approach is to build the leadership capacity, scholarly practice, and efficacy of the program review team members. 

Research further suggests that successful professional learning communities extend beyond program faculty to include staff and administration thereby creating a university-wide community (Stoll et al., 2006). The Program Review Course is designed to bring together an interdisciplinary cohort of approximately six to eight departments who are supported by quality assurance practitioners and educational developers. 

Interdisciplinary Program Review Cohort

The interdisciplinary cohort offers critical peer-to-peer learning and has the potential to illuminate interdisciplinary synergies. Approximately six to eight program review teams, representing distinct disciplines (e.g., history, biology, education, nursing) are enrolled in the course. Interdepartmental and cross-departmental connections are fostered through a distributed leadership model (Harris, 2014) that encourages faculty, staff, and administrators to collaborate on a shared goal.

This interdisciplinary cohort of program review teams engages all members as active participants in the program review orientation, information sessions, and workshops. The benefit of such an approach is the shared learning that results from collaboration and inquiry. For example, faculty members who have prior program review experience, regardless of their discipline, can share their knowledge with other members of the cohort. In addition, when a question is asked by one faculty member during a session, other members of the cohort can hear the response; and, when common opportunities or challenges arise, the cohort can collectively advocate for institutional support.

Quality Assurance Practitioners and Educational Developers

The primary role of quality assurance practitioners and educational developers in the Program Review Course is to facilitate, guide, and promote collaborative involvement, reflection, and inquiry. Kuh et al. (2015) argued that facilitating cross-level dialogue and reflection on what the collective picture of student learning might mean for students will minimize fragmentation of assessment efforts” (p. 210). Through facilitated dialogues, faculty have structured opportunities to reflect on the meaning of assessment information at the program, department, college, and university level.


Bowker, L. (2016). Language and quality assurance: A case study highlighting the effects of power, resistance, and countertactics in academic program reviews. Translation and Power: Countertactics, 29(2), 177-193. https://doi.org/10.7202/1051018ar 

Harris, A. (2014). Distributed leadership matters: Perspectives, practicalities, and potential. Corwin Press.

Hoare A., Dishke-Hondzel, C., Wagner, S., & Church, S. (2024). A course-based approach to conducting program review. Discover Education, 3(5), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s44217-023-00085-4

Hoare, A., Dishke Hondzel, C. & Wagner, S. (2022). Forming an academic program review learning community: description of a conceptual model. Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-01-2022-0023

Kuh, G. D., Ikenberry, S. O., Jankowski, N. A., Cain, T. R., Ewell, P. T., Hutchings, P., & Kinzie, J. (2015). Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. Jossey-Bass.

Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989). Teachers’ workplace: The social organization of schools. Longman.

Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Thomas, S., Wallace, M., Greenwood, A., & Hawkey, K. (2006). Professional learning communities: Source materials for school leaders and other leaders of professional learning. Innovation Unit, DfES, NCSL, and GTC.

Scheuer Senter, M., Ciabattari, T. & Amaya, N. V. (2020). Sociology departments and program review: Chair perspectives on process and outcomes. Teaching Sociology, 49(1), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X20970268

Turner, J., Christensen, A., Kackar-Cam, H., & Fulmer, S. M. (2018). The development of professional learning communities and their teacher leaders: An activity systems analysis. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 27(1), 49-88.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10508406.2017.1381962


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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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