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December 29, 2010 Vol. 3, Issue 12


The Academy’s collaborative approach to course design and development ensures that its curriculum meets the needs of NASA’s practitioners while aligning with the agency’s strategy, governance model, and policies.

In early November 2010, 15 NASA stakeholders—including representatives from six different centers and multiple NASA Headquarters offices—gathered at Kennedy Space Center to evaluate a redesign of the Academy’s Project Management and Systems Engineering (PM & SE) course, a fundamental part of its core curriculum. This meeting was just one aspect of the extensive collaborative effort that the Academy undertakes in course development and curriculum revision.

The Academy’s approach to curriculum development and revision employs a rigorous and well-defined process. For an integral core curriculum course such as PM & SE, the process is further formalized to embed stakeholder involvement—from requirements gathering to vendor selection to course content development. “Due to the unique nature of NASA’s technical workforce and projects, it is critically important to deeply involve a diverse set of NASA stakeholders,” said Moses Adoko, the Academy’s systems engineering curriculum manager leading the PM & SE redesign effort.

Recommendations for new courses or course revisions come from a variety of sources. The redesign of the PM & SE Course, for example, was prompted by systems engineering stakeholders, including the Systems Engineering Working Group, and confirmed by the project management stakeholder community. Other input includes the Academy’s annual data call for training requirements from the centers, NASA’s State of the Agency Report, feedback from formal Academy surveys of NASA stakeholder communities, and ongoing identification of emerging and evolving needs from key stakeholder groups, including NASA’s mission directorates, center training offices, practitioners and mission support offices. Changes in policy—both internal and external—create unique and time-sensitive challenges for the Academy to keep up with key policy revisions and updates. “One of the Academy’s biggest challenges is keeping the course curriculum current in a constantly changing landscape,” said Donna Wilson, Academy curriculum integration manager. Ongoing communication with the stakeholder community is a key factor in meeting this challenge.

Four-Phased Approach to Curriculum Development

Once the need for a new course or course redesign is identified, the Academy curriculum team conducts a four-phased approach to curriculum development and revision.

Four-Phased Approach to Curriculum Development: Phase 1 - Collection, Analysis and Documentation of Requirements; Phase 2 - Review of Course Outline, Structure, Content Areas and Duration; Phase 3 - Dry-run Review; Phase 4 - Pilot Offering

Above: The Academy approach to course development
involves extensive stakeholder input over four phases.


Phase 1 involves the identification and assembling of a diverse team of stakeholders, from whom detailed course requirements can be collected and compiled. Instructional learning objectives—the capabilities a participant should have upon completion of a course—are then derived and translated into a Statement of Work. The Academy team develops a course outline and description, and makes a recommendation for course delivery and format, including the integration of e-learning and simulation tools. Course objectives are then mapped to the Academy’s joint project management/systems engineering competency model to ensure that they align with the defined competencies.

Phase 2 focuses on vendor identification, selection and content development. The Academy first looks internally to identify potential NASA subject matter experts (SMEs) who possess the skills, experience and availability to conduct professional training. If existing NASA resources are not available, a request for proposal is marketed externally to a vetted group of professional training vendors from industry and academia. Key stakeholders are once again engaged in the process to review proposals, map vendor capabilities against the SOW, and to make a final vendor selection recommendation. Once a contract is awarded, the Academy curriculum team collaborates closely with the selected provider to develop the course structure, content, duration, and logistical requirements. Adoko and other Academy curriculum team members work with vendors to incorporate NASA-specific case studies, current and relevant lessons learned, and knowledge sharing practices into a given course. “Infusing NASA philosophy and culture into course content is essential to developing an effective, relevant curriculum,” said Adoko.

For an integral course such as PM & SE, Phase 2 includes a kick-off meeting where both the vendor and the NASA stakeholders are present. This provides a unique opportunity for stakeholders to clearly articulate course requirements to the vendor and for vendors to clarify critical course development details and policy questions. “The Academy’s approach to learning opportunities is to ensure that course instruction goes beyond simply teaching policy. This two-way interaction between stakeholders and the selected vendor ensures that NASA’s needs and requirements are met,” said Wilson.

Phase 3 entails a dry-run workshop, which is essentially a condensed version of a course. In the case of PM & SE, a two-day sample of the nine-day course will be conducted. The objective is to provide the stakeholders with a flavor and sense of the course content so that they can determine and assess the vendor’s ability to meet NASA’s specific course requirements. As part of the process, stakeholders provide feedback on content areas, and the Academy curriculum team ensures the vendor is on track in all aspects of the course development.

Phase 4 begins upon completion of the dry run. The vendor incorporates feedback and works closely with the curriculum team to develop a full-length pilot offering of the course to a targeted class of participants, which can include subject matter experts and stakeholder representatives. The pilot provides an in-depth opportunity for the review team to analyze the course offering and for the vendor to integrate final feedback and recommendations before the course is formally added to the curriculum.

The Academy’s extensive outreach to and involvement of the stakeholder community requires a high level of coordination and planning, with the length of time to develop or revise a single course lasting as long as four months, depending on the course subject matter. “Coordinating stakeholder involvement can be a daunting task,” says Adoko. “But if it helps the Academy to have a state-of-the-art professional curriculum, it is all worthwhile.”

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