UBC Introduces New Academic Model to Aim for Future Success

UBC Introduces New Academic Model to Aim for Future Success

The replacement of our Student Information System (SIS) offers UBC a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve how we manage our curriculum, learning, and learner records.  Not only is this an opportunity to assess the information we currently hold and add new functionality: it is a chance to rethink how we can more accurately represent both the traditional and non-traditional ways in which all types of learners, faculty, and staff interact in the day-to-day delivery of education at UBC. From the early days of the SASI program, leadership recognized that in order to take best advantage of any new system, we would need to take a step back and closely examine the very foundations of what we do.  This led to the development of an Academic Model

What is an Academic Model?

The term “Academic Model” refers to a conceptual mapping of all of the curricula represented in UBC’s learning opportunities and the relationships between these opportunities and learners, faculty, staff and organizational units, over time.

As programs at UBC move towards delivering education in new ways, we must accommodate these innovations as well as the traditional direct-entry undergraduate programs with standard cycles and structures. For instance, the Model seeks to accommodate a future system that includes learners in continuing and executive education, and the possibility of a system that records participation in extra-curricular activities.  These aspects of learning go beyond UBC’s traditional definition of “students” so the Model employs the more inclusive term “learner”.

The Model recognizes that the diversity of our community of learners has increased and the underlying thinking behind our current systems and processes may no longer provide the flexibility needed to respond to the directions UBC wishes to take in the future. 


The Academic Model is system agnostic and its abstractions will provide a foundation for modeling curriculum and its relationships to people, organizational units, and time.

– Anonymous

Designing the Academic Model

Since 2014, a team of academics and administrative staff from both campuses have collaboratively undertaken the design of the Academic Model.  Their work has involved a close examination of the key entities, rules, and relationships involved in the design and delivery of UBC’s curricula.  

One of the key challenges met by the Academic Model team was the inconsistency of language and labels used throughout the University. A word used to describe something in one faculty may have a completely different meaning in another. To address this, the Academic Model proposes a new common vocabulary and structure for curriculum and learning. Local vocabularies and labels won’t need to change to adapt to the Model; rather, the Model offers a methodology through which to categorize similar entities. For instance, the model uses the generic term “pathway’’ to refer to the components of degree programs that are currently referred to with a variety of inconsistent terms such as “option”, “emphasis”, “concentration”, “specialization”, and “focus”.  The Model classifies pathways according to their attributes rather than their labels.

Ongoing feedback

Over 40 academic and administrative units across both campuses have been consulted on the design of the Academic Model. A comprehensive document outlining the principles and vision of the Academic Model will be shared early in 2016. 

Going forward

The Academic Model will support the technical considerations of system implementation such as how we are structuring data and migrating learner data into the new system. It will be used as a key input into decisions about business process innovation, and the ways in which users interact with the future system.