Implementing the Degree Qualifications Profile Framework at the American Public University System

Jennifer Helm, Vice President of Institutional Research and Assessment, American Public University System

The American Public University System (APUS) is composed of two institutions, American Military University and American Public University, with instruction delivered online.  We currently have more than 100,000 adult learners studying in 50 states and more than 100 countries. Our mission is to provide a quality higher education with emphasis on educating the nation’s military and public service communities by offering respected, relevant, accessible and affordable, student-focused programs which prepare them for service and leadership in a diverse, global society.

Strategies, tools, processes, and resources were developed to adopt the DQP framework across all associates, bachelors and masters programs. The implementation of the DQP framework at APUS was used to strengthen the overall university and discipline level curriculum; ensure that curriculum is current and relevant with industry standards; assist in the focus on interdisciplinary studies; enhance readiness to implement general education (core learning) revisions; provide transparency to the student by establishing expectations of the student life cycle; assist students with taking responsibility and ownership of their own learning; and ensure that students are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need for success in work, citizenship, global participation, and life.

Dialogue and Planning

In the beginning of 2012, a DQP leadership team was formed that consisted of selected Provost Council members to engage stakeholders in the process.  As the group formed, they began to discuss the DQP areas of learning as an organizing framework as well as additional institution specific goals that might be relevant to the mission of the university and needs of students.  As a discussion ensued on how the framework related to our strategic priorities, the team examined the impact that DQP implementation would have on students, faculty, and staff.  After gaining an understanding of those implications, they brainstormed on strategies that could be used to implement the DQP framework at APUS.

In the fall of 2012, Paul Gaston, Trustees Professor and former provost of Kent State University, joined a group of approximately 75 Deans, Program and Faculty Directors to introduce the DQP framework and engage in a dialogue/planning session.  As one of the authors of the DQP, Dr. Gaston provided insights into the usefulness of the framework as a common language for describing specific expectations for student learning at different levels.  He emphasized that an important assumption underlying the DQP is the importance of intentionality in measuring student learning and academic quality.

Paul Gaston  – How DQP Can Serve Students and Institutions

Questions and themes began to emerge from the dialogue and feedback in the session, and were discussed later in the day.

APUS DQP Dialogue and Planning

From Dialogue to Action

As the DQP leadership team assimilated the dialogue and feedback from the large planning session, they recognized that there would be value in learning how other institutions are implementing the DQP.  Each DQP leadership team member conducted research on various schools which culminated in a full day session where team members discussed how other schools implemented the DQP framework at their institutions (e.g., processes, tools, strategies, resources, timelines, etc.).  The following schools were reviewed:  Brandman University, Fresno State University, Hawaii Pacific University, Marshall University, Occidental College, Patten University, Point Loma Nazarene University, University of Hawaii Maui, University of Laverne, and West Coast University.  Gaining an understanding of specific and concrete examples on how other schools implemented the framework served as an impetus for great discussion on how APUS could implement the DQP framework.  By the end of 2012, a clear implementation plan emerged with an accompanying timeline of action.  Assets and resources were developed for stakeholders to begin implementation, including formal presentations at meetings, and materials that were developed for our Faculty Connect website.

APUS Director’s Meeting – Adopting/Adapting the DQP

APUS Guidebook for DQP Mapping

APUS Faculty Connect Website

Mapping the DQP Framework to Programs 

In the beginning of 2013, the same group of 75 Deans and Directors were brought together again for working sessions to begin integration of the DQP areas of learning into their respective programs.  Program Directors devoted two days of working time in a collaborative environment to begin the mapping/alignment process.  They accomplished several specific tasks during the workshop, including the familiarization and customization of DQP worksheets for alignment, early stages of alignment of program and course objectives to DQP areas of learning, identification of appropriate assessments, and development of an action plan for moving forward.

APUS Dean and Director Meeting – DQP Framework

DQP Review Meetings

The next step was to discuss the work conducted for each of the programs.  More than 45 DQP review meetings were scheduled in which program and academic leadership walked through the program maps.  The discussion focused on how it was determined that program level objectives align or do not align with a particular DQP learning area (i.e., process steps, faculty engagement).  Other questions included: What gaps in the courses/curriculum were discovered during the process?  What were the findings?  What was learned during the process?   The documents provided for the Transportation and Logistics Management review are shown below as an example.

APUS DQP Degree Mapping

APUS DQP 2013 Report

Preliminary Findings

In June 2013, Program Directors and Deans came together again to debrief their experience of preliminary analysis and gap identification.    The following trends and themes were identified across programs:

  • The process of identifying gaps in the programs is serving as a tool/framework for a deep dive analysis of the curriculum and providing a roadmap for future program development.
  • The overall curriculum is being enhanced to address the civic skill area of learning which encourages students to take an active role in the community (work, service, co-curricular activities) and examines civic issues encountered and insights gained.
  • The overall curriculum is being enhanced to address the broad integrative skills area which encourages instructional methods to expand beyond the discipline or field of study to ensure an inter-disciplinary approach for students.
  • Instructions on assignments and syllabi are being clarified by instructors to increase student understanding of expectations.
  • Program objectives are being modified and enhanced to ensure they align with core course learning objectives and assignments.
  • Course assignments are being revised and enhanced to ensure the assessment methods accommodate various learning styles to enhance the student learning experience.
  • Programs are continuing to recognize the need to communicate in multiple media formats in providing students with enhanced options for responding to forums and creating assignments.
  • The process is providing a means for faculty to gain a holistic picture on how their courses fit into the overall progression and sequencing of curriculum.
  • The process is providing a solid framework for the progression and sequencing of courses through the AA, BA, and MA levels from the student perspective.

Adoption of New Institutional Learning Outcomes

As a result of this process, the decision was made to replace our existing APUS institutional learning outcomes with the five areas of learning as defined in the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) framework, plus the additional learning area of digital information literacy that is unique to our mission. These definitions were adopted and approved by the Academic Leadership Curriculum Committee in March and by the Executive Team in May 2013.  This proposal was affirmed by the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees at the American Public University System in July 2013.

Next Steps

As of fall 2013, Program Directors are continuing to work with their course leads and faculty on the identification of curricular revisions, enhancements, and gaps.  Additional DQP review meetings are taking place where revisions and enhancements are being prepared for Q4 Curriculum Committee meetings.  Decisions on program changes to fill gaps will be recommended by year end 2013 for implementation in 2014.  The DQP is also being integrated into our general education (core learning) program, program review process, and student learning assessment reports.  Additionally, we are in the process of communicating the new institutional learning outcomes to our stakeholders.