Getting Industry Input on the Curriculum (Apparel, Merchandising, Design & Textiles)

On a cold day in January 2014, before classes had begun for spring semester, the faculty of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles (AMDT) assembled in a large classroom. Joining them were three guests, industry representatives who had flown in from Seattle for the day. The meeting’s objective was to share perspectives about what industry-readiness means for graduating students and to update AMDT’s student learning outcomes (SLOs). Maintaining industry relevance in the curriculum is critical to the success of AMDT students, yet faculty-industry collaboration takes considerable time and energy to organize and is most effective if approached thoughtfully because the two groups have overlapping, but sometimes different, areas of expertise—faculty have various kinds of experience with industry, while industry professionals are less likely to have ever taught a college class or contributed to developing a curriculum. 

Facilitated by the Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning, the meeting began with faculty in one group and industry representatives in another. On large sheets of butcher paper, the faculty group listed words and phrases describing the skills and abilities of a successful graduate, someone they would feel proud to graduate. At the same time, the industry group described a new employee about whom they could say “that was a good hire.” The two groups came together to compare notes and by the end of the day, they had drafted a set of statements describing what students should be able to know and do by the time they graduate. The conversations were rich and over time would lead to further collaboration. One faculty member appreciated “the synergy that developed and the brainstorming that was focused toward developing the SLOs–then how well we worked together toward that outcome.”

That was two years ago. Since then, faculty have continued to meet regularly—again sometimes involving industry representatives—to map their curriculum to the new SLOs (aligning SLOs with the core classes where those SLOs are taught). They have used the findings from these mapping discussions in combination with other assessment results to inform curriculum changes and to update their assessment measures in order to gauge student achievement of the new SLOs. Measures have included faculty and industry review of student projects in senior classes as well as focus groups of senior students, facilitated by ATL, in which students were asked about their learning experiences and the AMDT curriculum.

AMDT faculty constructing a curriculum map.
AMDT faculty constructing a curriculum map, aligning program learning outcomes with core courses

AMDT faculty meet regularly to discuss how to interpret assessment results and to determine what action items should follow. Recent results pointed to deficiencies in areas of industry knowledge and use of industry-relevant technology. They responded by making refinements to program flow and content, and the program offered faculty, staff, and graduate students training workshops in Excel and Adobe Illustrator. Faculty also implemented several strategies to increase the direct involvement of industry in the program, including bringing more speakers to classes (in-person and virtually) as well as creating industry-related projects within two special topics courses.

By getting industry input in their assessment activities, AMDT has strengthened their ties with industry while also making their curriculum more relevant and supportive of student success.  For assistance updating program student learning outcomes, conducting student focus groups, or for other help with program assessment contact an ATL assessment specialist.