22 SES 02 D, Curriculum Reform and Improvement
The products of higher education institutions are twofold: new knowledge and knowledgeable graduates. For producing the skilled graduates the curriculum is the premier medium (Cloete et al., 2006). Though curriculum has been said to be the core of all educational institutions (Khan & Law, 2015), there seems to be an agreement among researchers that only in last decades curriculum issues have got a more central role, despite the huge growth and debate round higher education in general (Annala, Lindén & Mäkinen, 2016; Barnett & Coate, 2010; Hicks, 2007; Hurlimann, March & Robins, 2013).
University curriculum reflects the culture of the discipline and the principles it values, the pedagogical culture and learning paradigm (Annala, 2017). Pressures from different directions are driving for curriculum renewing: quality assurance and continuous improvement; responses to context changes; and growth and innovation (Principles and purpose of curriculum renewal process, 2013). Khan and Law (2015) emphasise the need for an integrative approach to develop curriculum including the aspects of institutional leadership, social trends, industry factors and the role of the government. In their comprehensive approach central components are all included and interconnected: graduate competencies, environmental variables, pedagogical strategies, and education leadership.
Curriculum developments can be minor, such as changes in courses, or large-scale reforms linked to the mission and vison of the institution (Khan & Law, 2015). They can be management-led by the institution as top-down changes, or they can be reforms generated by local bottom-up initiatives (Brown, 2013). Change process can also be non-linear and loaded with uncertainty (Walkington, 2002). At any rate, faculties, departments and similar units are the places where negotiations take place and actual decisions are made on how, for example, top-down directions are put into effect. The complicated process of renewing the curriculum has been described by the relationship between the agency of academic people and groups and the structure (Annala, 2017).
The present study was conducted at one Finnish multidisciplinary research university with 15 000 students,760 teaching and 900 research staff members from seven faculties. A university-wide curriculum reform work started in 2015 on the initiative of the university administration, and the new curricula are being implemented from the autumn 2017. According to the university strategy degree programs should respond to the challenges of the needs of the future and the society. By renewing the curricula the university aims to guarantee best possible competencies for the graduates to be active and constructive agents in the future society. To ensure that all new curricula are in line with the strategic aims of the university the rector of the university published general guidelines for the renewing work. The guidelines included, for example, following issues: comprehensive and multidisciplinary degree programs, development of working life skills, international and multicultural knowledge, and versatile teaching and evaluations methods. Additionally, one goal of the reform was to standardize curriculums in all seven faculties by introducing a common technical system for documenting the requirements of the degree programs. In order to support academic staff in faculties and units in the reform, curriculum seminars were organized and central concepts were clarified.
In the complex work of curriculum development we are interested in how academic staff – the executors of the curricula – perceive the reform initiated by university administration. Accordingly, the following research questions were set:
- How did the academic staff perceive the university guidelines in their curriculum work?
- How did the academic staff perceive the support given by university in their curriculum work?
- Were there any differences between the perceptions concerning the curriculum process among academic staff from different faculties?
Whole data of the study consist of the renewed curriculum documents, university staff’s responses to the online questionnaire, and the group interviews with teaching staff coordinating the curriculum renewal in their own departments. In the present study, we focus on the data collected by using a questionnaire. The questionnaire developed for the present study purposes included: 1) general background questions, 2) two groups of items (using a 5-point Likert-scale from 1 = fully disagree to 5 = fully agree) capturing a) the staff’s perceptions of how they succeeded in formulating the curricula in the light of change demands (including the guidelines of the university), and b) how they experienced the university-level support in the curriculum renewal, and 3) open questions related to previous themes. The questionnaire was sent to all teaching and research staff at the university. A total of 394 staff members filled in the questionnaire. The respondents represented all the seven faculties at the university: mathematics and natural sciences, education, information technologies, humanities, sport and health sciences, social sciences, and business school. The results of the exploratory factor analyses (EFA) and of the reliability analyses (Cronbach’s alphas varying from 0.67 to 0.81 for each factor) were utilised to compute five summary variables for the curriculum work under the guidelines of the university. These summary variables were named as Utilisation of feedback (5 items), Interactive pedagogy (4 items), Internationality of studies (3 items), Development of study methods (2 items), and Future skills (2 items). In the same way, two summary variables (Cronbach’s alphas were 0.84 and 0.82) for the university-level support were computed. These summary variables were named as General support (7 items) and Technical support (2 items). Staff’s ratings of the curricula work under the guidelines of the university as well as their ratings of the university-level support, were analysed using mean values of the aggregated scale. Statistical analysis involved also Pearson’s correlation analyses, one-way ANOVA analyses of variances, and group comparisons. Data-driven qualitative content analysis was conducted to analyse the respondents’ answers to open questions.
At the total sample level, the rather high mean scores for increasing interactive pedagogy (M = 3.86), utilising various teaching methods (M = 3.72), and generating future skills (M = 3.82) indicate the staff’s perceived success in renewing the curriculums. Instead, the mean scores under three (e.g., developing internationality of studies, M = 2.81) reflect the staff’s negatively coloured view to the topic. In terms of university-level support in the curriculum reform, the staff perceived the general support as slightly positive (M = 3.17); whereas they felt the technical support as rather low (M = 2.31). Responses to the open question revealed that there were lot of dissatisfaction among the university staff with the technical system and its implementation in the curriculum work. Furthermore, the staff’s perceptions of the curriculum work differed statistically significantly in different faculties. The differences were found in Utilisation of feedback (p<0.01), Interactive pedagogy (p<0.001), Development of study methods (p<0.01); Future skills (p<0.05); and in some separate items regarding the reduction of study options (p<.001); broad-based Bachelor’s degree programs (p<.001); and including working life representatives outside the university (p<.05). Representatives of Humanities (M = 3.72; SDT = 0.64) evaluated that they had utilised feedback more than the staff from the faculties of Education (M = 2.97; SDT = 0.67), Sports and health sciences (M = 3.01; SDT = 1.01), and Mathematics and sciences (M = 3.10; SDT = 0.80).
Annala, J. (2017). Yliopiston opettajien toimijuus opetussuunnitelmatyön muuttuvilla kentillä. In V. Korhonen, J. Annala & P. Kulju (Eds) Kehittämisen palat, yhteisöjen salat: näkökulmia koulutukseen ja kasvatukseen. Kasvatustieteiden tiedekunta. Tampere University Press, 17–33. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN: 978-952-03-0500-0 Annala, J., Lindén, J. & Mäkinen, M. (2016). Curriculum in higher education research. In J. H. Case & J. Huisman (Eds) Researching higher education – International perspectives on theory, policy and practice. London: Routledge & SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education), 171–189. Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2010). Engaging the curriculum in higher education. Berkshire, GBR: McGraw-Hill Education. Brown, S. (2013). Change management in higher education: an empirical approach. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education, July 4–6, Crete, Creece, 89–98. Cloete, N., Maassen, P., Fehnel, R., Moja, T., Gibbon, T. & Perold H. (2006). Curriculum and research: Introduction. In: N. Cloete, P. Maassen, R. Fehnel, T. Moja, T. Gibbon, H. Perold (Eds) Transformation in Higher Education. Higher Education Dynamics, vol 10. Springer, Dordrecht, 175–177. Hicks, O. (2007). Curriculum in higher education in Australia - hello? Enhancing Higher Education, Theory and Scholarship. In: Proceedings of the 30th HERDSA Annual Conference: Adelaide. Hurlimann, A., March, A., and Robins, J. (2013). University curriculum development – stuck in a process and how to break free. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 35 (6), 639–651. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1651834508?accountid=11774 Khan, M. A. and Law, L. S. (2014). An integrative approach to curriculum development in higher education in the USA: A theoretical framework. International Education Studies, 8 (3): 66–76. https:/ /search.proquest.com/docview/1697487989?accountid=11774. Principles and Purpose of the Curriculum Renewal Process. Pedagogical possibilities website. University of Adelaide. (2013). https://www.adelaide.edu.au/professions/pedagogical-possibilities/change/curriculum/overview/principles-purpose/ Walkington, J. (2002). A process for curriculum change in engineering education. European Journal of Engineering Education 27 (2), 133–148. DOI · 10.1080/03043790210129603
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