03 SES 08 A, Curriculum Design and Coherence Making
Curriculum design and development are critically important to the (broader) educational enterprise, in all subject matters at all levels. Around the world, substantial investments are made on the creation of curriculum programs and resources that must be effectively implemented across a diverse range of contexts and still function effectively. Unfortunately, there is limited research on how design and development practices are enacted in organizations that create curricular programs and resources intended for large scale (sometimes even international) implementation.
This study seeks to understand the characteristics of (potentially) successful design strategies and to ascertain both how designers actually tackle the task of curriculum development at scale and how that work can be facilitated by the organizations in which they work. Our view of scale aligns well with that of Coburn (2003), who distinguishes the following dimensions: (1) Depth of change; (2) Sustainability of innovation; (3) Spread of reform-related norms and pedagogical principles; and (4) Shift in ownership to the educators who sustain, spread, and deepen reform principles themselves.
Three essential and enduring aspects of curriculum development were articulated in the seminal work of Goodlad (1994), who described curriculum in terms of the substantive, technical-professional, and socio-political perspectives. For curriculum development practices to succeed, individual designers and the organizational routines supporting them must attend to each of these perspectives. Described below, this stance forms the theoretical framing for the present study.
The substantive perspective addresses the major components or 'commonplaces' of the curriculum itself such as goals, subject matter, learner activities, and resources for classroom use. To develop these aspects, designers need insights from various disciplines related to the subject matter content at hand, pedagogy, learner perspectives, teacher support needs for implementation, school leadership practices and so on. Organizations must support designers by ensuring that design teams have (access to) the various kinds of expertise required to envision, create, and refine high quality programs and materials for teaching and learning.
The technical professional perspective is concerned with methods of the development process itself. These evolve over phases, typically including: analysis, (re-)design and development, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring. Designers require sound understanding of these processes in order to shape them in ways that are optimal for informing their substantive goals. Organizations must support designers by cultivating norms and routines that stimulate designers to focus on substantive concerns and mitigate bureaucratic hurdles.
Finally, the socio-political perspective refers to the influences exercised by various stakeholders (pupils, parents, teachers, school leaders, policy makers, administrators, etc.). In early stages, designers must be able to anticipate the concerns of stakeholders, test those assumptions, and derive criteria for their designs accordingly. In later stages, designers must examine if and how (well) they have addressed stakeholder concerns. Throughout all phases of curriculum development, organizations must recognize that implementation is not an afterthought, but rather something that warrants consideration from the early stages. This includes stakeholder involvement. Robust organizations are able to recognize and help shape such involvement in ways that are beneficial to the work of the designers (e.g. by preparing the conditions necessary for successful implementation).
The overarching goal of the study was to understand: How do curriculum designers attend to the substantive, technical-professional, and socio-political perspectives of curriculum development? To achieve that goal, three main research questions (RQs) were posed:
- RQ1: What are key indicators of curriculum development practices when designing for use at scale?
- RQ2: How are the key indicators of curriculum development manifested in the work of curriculum developers?
- RQ3: Are there patterns in how key practices of curriculum developers are manifested?
To answer the three research questions, multiple data sources were employed but the proposed paper focuses on results from two key data sources: literature review and a survey. The literature review synthesized insights from: curriculum theory, curriculum models and principles, and empirical research on curriculum practices. The synthesis resulted in a unified framework for effective curriculum development. The framework is valuable in its own right, and also served as the basis for developing the survey, which is why it is described here. The framework resulting from the literature review consisted of 13 essential elements of curriculum design at scale. The elements are categorized into four areas based on Goodlad’s (1994) three perspectives and a fourth area referring to quality. Each area corresponded to a core question: What is being made? (substantive), How is it being made? (technical professional), Why is this important for whom? (socio-political). Interpretations of quality (“When is it good (enough)?”) were also explored. The elements represented actions curriculum designers attend to during the curriculum development process, such as how they ‘Measure aspects of quality’ or ‘Collaborate with fellow designers’. Based on this framework, the survey was sent to 561 designers. In total, 83 responses were received, yielding a response rate of 15%. The survey itself was separated into two parts. The first part asked general questions about the participant’s experience and area of focus in curriculum development. The second part asked the participants about their development routines and practices based on one of their recently completed projects. All questions contained closed answer options, but several also allowed open input (e.g. “if other, please explain _____). Further, hierarchical cluster analysis was performed to detect co-occurring answer patterns across respondents, using Ward’s method of minimized variance.
The respondents indicated that they explicitly attended to most of the areas of quality and tended to use expert or practitioner appraisal over learner outcomes. The majority of designers checked the alignment between the components of the curriculum in a formal way and had access to most types of expertise with the exception of assessment expertise, which was only available to slightly more than half of designers. About two-thirds of designers reported that they work on a design team while one-third claimed to work mostly alone with access to additional expertise. Conceptual explanations for teachers were most explicitly addressed in the routines of designers who reported being influenced primarily by practitioners/schools and/or research findings. Further, the cluster analysis revealed two main groups of respondents. There were also 26 respondents who did not belong to either cluster). The first cluster (n=17) could be characterised as the casual singleton. Respondents in this cluster did not indicate using formal methods for key practices, and work either fully alone or alone but with access to additional expertise. The second cluster (n=40) might be characterizes as the systematic teammate. Respondents in this cluster indicated the use of formal or specific methods most of the time, and work in teams. Around the world, large sums of time, money, and energy are invested in curriculum development each year in the hope of yielding productive outcomes for educational practice. To a great extent, the degree to which these benefits are realized can be powerfully mediated by the designers who create them. Thus, strengthening and broadening the impact of curriculum development on educational practice inherently requires attending to the needs of curriculum designers. These findings will contribute to continued research into how to support robust and successful curriculum development practices at scale.
Coburn, C. (2003). Rethinking scale: Moving beyond numbers to deep and lasting change. Educational Researcher, 32(6), 3-12. Goodlad, J. (1994). Curriculum as a field of study. In T. Husén & T. Postlethwaite (Eds.),The international encyclopedia of education (pp. 1262-1267). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.