A A A

Details

  • Author(s): Dr Holly Smith, Dr Colleen McKenna, Dr Jenny Marie, Dr Rosalind Duhs, Dr Phyllis Creme, Dr Jane Hughes
  • Title: Designing the Curriculum
  • Subject: HE - Education
  • Keywords: UKOER, UKPSF, OMAC, CPD4HE, curriculum, curriculum design, curriculum development, literacies, key skills, values, learning technologies
  • Language(s): English
  • Material type(s): Text, Presentation
  • File format(s): ZIP, HTML, PDF, DOC, PPT
  • File size: Various
  • Publish Date: 31 October 2011
  • Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA

Downloads

Designing the Curriculum

Most of the CPD4HE materials are about designing the curriculum, whether it involves incorporating writing into a course, considering how technologies can support student learning, designing appropriate assessment, assessing key skills or reflecting on how your own values are manifest in your courses and your approach to teaching. 

This unit contains links to the CPD4HE materials on these topics in addition to an introduction, activities and an annotated bibliography, which focus on key questions relating to curriculum design and development in higher education. 

Resource Content

Additional CPD4HE resources on curriculum design and development

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.


Details

  • Author(s): Dr Holly Smith, Dr Colleen McKenna, Dr Jenny Marie, Dr Rosalind Duhs, Dr Phyllis Creme, Dr Jane Hughes
  • Title: Designing the Curriculum
  • Subject: HE - Education
  • Keywords: UKOER, UKPSF, OMAC, CPD4HE, curriculum, curriculum design, curriculum development, literacies, key skills, values, learning technologies
  • Language(s): English
  • Material type(s): Text, Presentation
  • File format(s): ZIP, HTML, PDF, DOC, PPT
  • File size: Various
  • Publish Date: 31 October 2011
  • Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA

Downloads

Details

  • Author(s): Dr Holly Smith, Dr Colleen McKenna, Dr Jenny Marie, Dr Rosalind Duhs, Dr Phyllis Creme, Dr Jane Hughes
  • Title: Designing the Curriculum
  • Subject: HE - Education
  • Keywords: UKOER, UKPSF, OMAC, CPD4HE, curriculum, curriculum design, curriculum development, literacies, key skills, values, learning technologies
  • Language(s): English
  • Material type(s): Text, Presentation
  • File format(s): ZIP, HTML, PDF, DOC, PPT
  • File size: Various
  • Publish Date: 31 October 2011
  • Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA

Downloads

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.

Activity - Plan an Ideal Course

Choose a topic or subject that you are very interested in and would like to teach. The subject maybe something from your discipline or it may be from outside your academic work. You may also choose who you will be teaching; your ideal students. Imagine you have no resource limits at all. What is important is that you are engaged in and committed to teaching this. Make notes towards planning a short course in this subject, considering some or all of the following:

  • What is important/interesting about the subject
  • What, essentially, you want to get across
  • Who are your students
  • What you hope the students will get out of it
  • What content the course will include
  • What would be appropriate ways of teaching it
  • What would be the fairest way to assess it

You might find it helpful to do the following with a colleague. Review your notes about the ideal course and consider what issues arose, and what factors you had to take into account.

The reality of our academic practice is not this 'ideal course', and we may have many more constraints. In what ways, and why, would this ideal course be different from a course you actually teach? Can you include any of the elements from your ideal course into a course you actually teach? What are the barriers to doing so?

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.


Activity - Manifesto for Higher Education

When planning a curriculum in HE you can't escape from the question of what the goals or purpose of the curriculum is, which is itself embedded in the bigger question of what the purpose of HE itself is. This is deeply contested territory, and authors in academia and in government have argued for different positions. One tradition is the vocational view of education which sees the function of universities as preparing people for work, particularly in the professions; it is not possible to practice law, medicine, engineering, architecture, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy or as a teacher without a higher education. The vocational arguments for higher education go beyond the requirements of particular professions however, and are often framed as preparing people for employment by training them in 'skills'. In contrast a liberal view of the purpose of education is concerned with developing the potential of citizens, with HE as the highest form of this, encouraging the flourishing of the next generation of artists, writers, scientists, who will contribute to the development of humanity. Within a vocational view the benefits of HE are in terms of human capital; a better trained workforce who will increase the United Kingdom's GDP. In the liberal view the benefits of HE are more fulfilled citizens engaged in expanding the sum of human knowledge and culture.

You may disagree with both the liberal and vocational views as sketched out here, or you may feel there are purposes of HE specific to your own discipline. Your task is set out what you think HE is for, what is it's purpose, who is it for, who benefits and in what ways? You will not be standing for election on the basis of your manifesto, so when writing your manifesto you can express your own views without consideration of their popularity.

Once you have completed your manifesto think about a particular curriculum, course or programme you teach. How are the purposes of education that you set out in your manifesto concretely and specifically reflected in your choices about syllabus, processes and participants in the real curriculum?

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.


Activity - How Inclusive is Your Course?

I hope that we are all confident that our academic practice does not include stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination on such grounds as ethnicity, gender, disability, age or sexuality. However, ensuring that we have a truly inclusive curriculum goes beyond avoiding discrimination. There is a simplistic notion that equality involves treating all learners equally, but people are not all the same; we are diverse and that diversity can be respectfully acknowledged, and incorporated into the curriculum to enrich it for all learners. This activity is designed to help you think about how you can positively promote diversity in every aspect of the curriculum.

Take a curriculum, programme or course that you know well as an example to work though in this activity. Using my definition of the curriculum as including syllabus, processes and participants consider how each of these can be inclusive.

1. The Syllabus

The syllabus, in the choice of topics, resources, examples or case studies, requires you to make choices about what is valued and what is excluded, and questions of representation come to the fore. There are profound disciplinary differences, in applied subjects, like engineering, business or nursing that make extensive use of examples or case studies it is easy to audit how culturally and internationally diverse these are. In pure subjects, like mathematics, it is generally considered that issues about inclusivity are less relevant to abstract material. However, pure abstract subjects do often use metaphor or analogy to aid conceptual understanding, and the diversity of these can be considered. How does your syllabus make use of diversity?

2. The Processes

The processes, the methods and activities can either be disempowering and didactic, or empowering to participants by valuing the experience that they bring to the course and enabling them to share it with their peers. Problem Based Learning, group work, project work, case study, enquiry methods, peer tutoring, self-assessment, peer-assessment all disrupt a didactic model of education. All require new skills of learners, developing their intercultural communication, maturity and ability to take responsibility for their own learning, planning and judgement. In your curriculum what opportunity do your students have to engage in such processes and share their ideas with co-learners and tutors?

3. The Participants

The participants in any programme may be more or less representative of the population of the UK in terms of ethnicity, gender, disability, age or sexuality. Most universities collect EO monitoring data on applications, admissions, retention and achievement so that this can be examined. However, university students in the UK today are drawn from an international constituency, which makes equality targets for representation from different communities based on UK census data of limited value. No HE programme in the UK is likely to be representative of a global population due to the profound inequalities in access to education globally, but you are very likely to have a classroom with participants from many nations. If your discipline is vocational it may be particularly important that your students' diversity represents that in the population. For example, a judiciary, or medical profession in which certain ethnic groups are very under-represented is more likely to systematically misunderstand the cultural practices of that ethnic group, leading to discrimination. How, representative are your students of the population they will be working with? What can you do to reach out to under-represented groups encourage their participation in your curriculum?

Having addressed how inclusive your curriculum is already see if you can make plans for one change in each area of the curriculum to make it more inclusive.

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.


Annotated Bibliography

Allan, J. (1996). Learning outcomes in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 21 (1), 93-108.

This article comprehensively describes the history of the debate around 'learning outcomes' over the last 50 years and highlights the reasons many academics feel uneasy about them.

Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005). Curriculum: a missing term. In R. Barnett & K. Coate Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.

As well as re-introducing Barnett's ‘critical person’ model, the first chapter "Curriculum: a missing term" argues for re-consideration of ‘curriculum’ in higher education. Barnett and Coate argue that the ‘curriculum’ is the ‘missing term’ in HE but that there are a range of ‘tacit’ understandings of its meanings. Some of these are; curriculum

• as ‘special’ – belonging and exclusive to the academy • to do with the ‘culture’ of the discipline or of HE generally • to do with social ‘reproduction’ (the hidden curriculum) • to do with ‘transformation’ (empowerment, value added, see also Paulo Freire) • as market driven (the curriculum for employability) • concerned with developing the responsible citizen, ‘self’ oriented Barnett and Coate propose a curriculum for ‘engaging the student’ and for ‘becoming’.

Barnett, R., Parry, G. & Coate, K. (2001). Conceptualising Curriculum Change. Teaching in Higher Education, 6 (4), 435-449.

This paper sets out a model of the curriculum based on three domains: knowledge, action and self, and examines the balance and relationship between these domains in different disciplines. Drawing on Lyotard's concept of performativity, the paper explores curriculum change in five subject areas.

http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic.html

John Biggs is famous for his ideas about the constructively aligned curriculum, and has published many scholarly articles and books. However, he also has a open access website where he sets out his ideas about students' approaches to learning, constructive alignment and the SOLO taxonomy.

Hussey, T., & Smith, P. (2002). The trouble with learning outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 3 (3), 220-233.

A refreshing change to many guides on how to write learning outcomes this discursive paper takes issue with the learning outcomes approach. Situating the discussion in the context of increasing managerialism within HE they argue that that 'learning outcomes' have been appropriated and distorted by the new managerialism. Briefly tracing the history of 'learning outcomes' the authors note their current ubiquity and raise the issue that they must be extremely precisely written in order to audit, monitor and manage learner's performance in this way. Yet precise statements of behaviour that can be objectively assessed are not relevant in HE; knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities are more relevant. The authors argue that all 'learning outcomes' are only interpretable in the light of experience of that discipline, that level, that subject material. They go on to suggest that unanticipated learning outcomes are most fruitful, and teachers need to seize opportunities as they arise.

Kelly, A. V. (1999). The Curriculum: theory and practice. 6th Ed. London: Sage.

This book was first written in 1977, now in its 6th edition, it is a respected, critical text which considers what form the curriculum should take for genuine education in a democratic society. Although this book is written from the perspective of school education, the first chapter "The curriculum and the study of the curriculum" offers a concise, comprehensive account of the meanings of the ‘curriculum’, which is relevant to HE and particularly useful on issues of policy and context.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. 2nd Ed. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

In the second edition of a best-selling textbook originally published in 1992 as a comprehensive introduction to theory and practice for new academics. Ramsden sets out a student centred approach to: organising courses; selecting teaching methods; assessing student learning and evaluating the effectivenesss of teaching. Chapter 8 'The goals and structure of a course' is full of clearly written and soundly argued advice for anyone (re)developing a curriculum in HE. It concludes with a number of case studies of courses designed to improve student learning in different disciplines.

Silva Code Source «Feature - Display content inside box in a Silva Document.»

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.


Curriculum - Introduction

Any discussion of curriculum first requires a definition, and I take a very broad definition of curriculum as encompassing everything that makes up the educational experience on a course or programme. I believe that this has three main elements; the syllabus (the choice of topics, resources, examples or case studies); the processes (the teaching methods and learning activities); and the participants (the students and tutors on the programme). Much has been written about curriculum, but the overview in this introduction is to set the context for the activities and annotated reading list that follow.

The post-war development and of behavioural science, and the belief that there were technical solutions to every human problem, gave rise to ‘rational curriculum planning’ or ‘instructional design’. In the behaviourist paradigm, educationalists only need to specify sufficiently clearly and explicitly what learners will be able to do, to make assessment truly objective, and thus the specification of ‘learning objectives’ became very important. So for Tyler (1949) curriculum can be defined as:

  • learning objectives
  • content
  • methods
  • evaluation

Whereas curricula and courses are often described in terms of aims, or general statements of educational intent, learning objectives are more specific and concrete statements of what students are expected to learn. The term learning objectives has been largely superseded by the term 'learning outcomes' or what a learner can do as a result of learning. The difference between 'learning objectives' as pre-formulated goals and 'learning outcomes' as what one ends up with, at the end of some form of engagement is important as it does imply the possibility of unintended 'learning outcomes'. 

Bloom (1956) argued that there were cognitive (knowing), affective (feeling) and psychomotor (doing) domains for learning outcomes and developed a hierarchy for learning outcomes in the cognitive domain:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

John Biggs draws on Bloom in developing his theory of constructive alignment and SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) taxonomy. Biggs argues that a well-designed curriculum aligns learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment so that what is assessed is exactly the stated learning outcomes, no more and no less. Biggs SOLO taxonomy classifies the assessment of student achievement according to a cognitive hierarchy in a similar way to Bloom.

Having some kind of systematic approach to planning educational experiences appears an uncontroversial good idea, but it can fail to acknowledge just how much learning is unplanned. A focus solely on the successful performance of skills by learners leads to an extremely narrow view of the curriculum, leaving aside values. Hussey & Smith (2002) provide an extended critique of this approach arguing that the claimed objectivity of learning outcomes is illusory as they take no account of the context in terms of the level of difficulty, the discipline or quality of performance.

In the social context of the 1960s and 1970s progressive educationalists began raising serious criticisms about the curriculum in compulsory state education. Authors such as Ivan Illich and Paul Willis questioned the role of education in reproducing social inequalities. From this Marxist critique a number of important ideas about curriculum were developed that challenged mainstream educational practices:

  • hidden curriculum
  • the planned curriculum and the received curriculum
  • formal and informal curriculum

Although these concepts were developed in relation to compulsory state education, I believe that they are no less important in HE. For example, in a lab class a demonstrator tells students that they have got the 'wrong' results and need to try again. Here there is a 'received curriculum' which is at odds with the 'planned curriculum' of the scientific method of hypothesis testing.

Similarly, when completing assessed coursework students generally understand that collaboration will be treated as plagiarism; there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ that co-operation is discouraged and only your solo efforts can count for assessment.

While a great deal has been written about curriculum there is less specific to higher education. Ronald Barnett is something of an exception to this, and has developed a model of the HE curriculum as an educational project forming identities. Barnett, Parry & Coate (2001) set out a model of the curriculum based on three domains: knowledge, action and self, and examines the balance and relationship between these domains in different disciplines.

It must be noted that in recent decades a form of 'rational curriculum planning' using ‘learning outcomes’ to define curricula has been adopted so completely by successive UK governments that it has become hegemonic within higher education institutions. The Dearing Report in 1997 set out a requirement for programme specification, and four domains for learning outcomes:

  1. Knowledge and understanding;
  2. Key skills (e.g. communication, numeracy, IT, learning to learn);
  3. Cognitive skills (e.g. ability in critical analysis;
  4. Subject-specific skills (e.g. laboratory skills, clinical skills)

Since when there has been virtually no official discussion of alternative approaches in UK HE. Through the Quality Assurance Agency Benchmark Statements in every discipline 'learning outcomes' have become embedded in validation and quality assurance processes of every HEI. Ramsden (2003), himself an advocate of the value of using aims and learning objectives to help academics focus on student learning, sets out three frequent problems with aims and objectives to be avoided:

  1. Restating syllabus topics as aims/learning objectives failing to engage with what the student should be able to do.
  2. Overly general aims/learning objectives as he argues that general aims (eg becoming more critical) only make sense in the context of specific disciplinary content.
  3. Aims/learning objectives restricted to that which can be behaviourally specifically measureable rather than what is important.

Given that ‘learning outcomes’ are unavoidable at present in UK HE Ramsden provides a constructive and practical way of using them to think about student learning. However, in approaching the activities here we should not forget other insights about curriculum provided by alternative approaches.

Bloom, B. (Ed) (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook 1 cognitive domain. London: Longman.

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

All other references are in the annotated bibliography

Licence

Creative Commons Licence
Designing the Curriculum by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.



Contact us: cpd4he@ucl.ac.uk

Bookmark and Share
CPD4HE Banner Small