Course 1, Week 1: Perspectives on Curriculum

I have been very eager to begin the online learning course, knowing there are many tasks to complete for the group project, portfolio and written assignment.

Course 1 is 1 week total focusing on defining ‘curriculum’ within a HE context. The course took us on a journey from views and experiences of curriculum, to definitions and finally tasks to move forward with.

Views and experiences of curriculum

We enter the course with a question on our opinion of curriculum. Curicculum for me has always been very regimented according to the National Curriculum and there is little space to embed my own HE teaching practice into an academic curriculum. However, if looking at curriculum from my own department, I can see more freedom and space to scaffold a students journey and the practices used to teach. From this weeks course, I definately have a better understanding of why currculum can be defined differently, depending on a person’s role i.e. student, lecturer, advisor, etc.

Knowing that perspectives would differ, the course leads us into two short videos on how Coventry Students and Staff view and experience the curriculum. I’ve taken a great summary of the videos, as well as some interesting comments, which summarise the videos well:

Defining curriculum

After considering experiences, we are introduced to the three-pronged definition of the curriculum from Fotheringham, Strickland, and Atichison (2012) :

  • Curriculum as a product: here, there is a disciplinary focus – the teacher develop, direct and deliver the content. The students are ‘subjective’. I see this as very much the gov approach to the national curriculum, where students are numbers and it’s the educator’s role to teach and ensure results. There is too much focus on regulating education here for league tables rather than student benefit.
  • Curriculum as a process: here, there is more inclusion of pedagogic approaches and the needs of students and teachers; ‘ the role of the teacher goes beyond content development and is likely to look into co-constructions of knowledge and experiences with students’. This is where I find practising teachers would feel the curriculum is placed – teachers are involved in teaching students according to best practice, with the freedom to diverge where it is deemed important for students personal, academic and professional development.
  • Curriculum as a vehicle: here, the curriculum is a driving force for different policies to improve the student experience. I feel this really can come into play in HE, where there are more freedom and flexibility to play a role in the student learning journey, even if this is again due to league tables. The curriculum as a vehicle allows us to take the lead of doing what is best for the subject and for the student long-term.

I presented my thoughts on how the definitions feel like stages within education on the FutureLearn platform.

The below presents an interesting breakdown of the curriculum on the role of teacher and student within education.

Designing a curriculum

When designing a curriculum, there will always be lots of different areas to account for, which may change depending on faculty, subject, HEI, research, employability, etc. Every course is designed specifically to meet the greater HEI objectives, as well as the course objectives. Often, it can feel like control is removed from the design process due to the competing factors that need to be considered. Jenkins (1998:1) refers to this pulling feeling using ta Ouija Board and the FutureLearn team present a great representation of this on the course:

In addition to the factors mentioned above, the OECD identifies ‘five trends that have implications for curricula regardless of discipline or level of study. These are:

  • Shifting global gravity
  • Public matters
  • Security in a risky world
  • Living longer, living better
  • Modern cultures’

All of the above factors instantly feel like constraints and it is easy to see why designing a curriculum can be so difficult, leading teams to fall back to routine methods within their subject paradigm. As highlighted in the course, the factors above can be reimagined as opportunities. With a growing concern for employability and the students overall personal development, the curriculum design process should take a holistic approach. By deliberately including the above considerations in course objectives (impactful skills development i.e. ability to adapt to change) and explicitly creating activities in response, there are opportunities to create a more engaging course.

This week, a number of group tasks were set. I’m personally still unsure about how my group will work on the project, knowing we work across different campus sites and have very different schedules. Currently, we have little progress due to marking deadlines, as well as enrolment. I hope the next f2f session on 15th May will be an opportunity to strategise how to move forward as a team with the project.

Academic Identity

Academic Identity was introduced on the course and was of real interest to me, due to my keen wish to pursue further study surrounding identity, reflection, relationships and community.

I believe that each and every person had facets to their identity, which are presented depending on situation and audience (fair influence here from Goffman and Giddens). In the same sense, the course presents:

Whitchurch (2008 cited in Billot 2010: 713) states that ‘the reality of academic roles and responsibilities is often more complex and multifaced than outlined in employment documentation’. Meanwhile, Clegg (2008: 329) argues that ‘academic identity is complex… it cannot be read off from descriptions of teaching, research or managerial roles’.

Our upbringing, our backgrounds, our experiences, our education and more will have a role to play in who we become and the way we see the world. Our roles as educators will also be impacted by these factors and will lead to different teaching styles and perspectives on curriculum development. My own investment in creating online learning means I have an interest in embedding online learning into the course of this module development assignment, for example.

In addition to the teaching role, we are reminded that our duties stretch beyond our roles as educators and/or researchers to include civic duties. Macfarlane (2007) refers to five communities this service relates to students; colleagues; institutions; disciples or professions; and the wider public.

I was excited to also see reference to Academic Citizenship and the wider duties eductors should hold:

When considering the extra roles of an educator, I always fear for their wellbeing. Without the correct training (this PGCert included) or support networks, the workload and overwhelming sense of responsibility can have a major impact on mental health. It is common knowledge in compulsory teaching that 1 in 5 teachers leave within five years of the role, with workload and wellbeing as major causes.

The end of the course created a conversation around challenging conventional roles in Higher Education, questioning our concept of leadership in academic identities. This was specifically interesting to me and colleagues who had experience difficulties in the workplace when taking leadership positions outside of the academic ‘lecturer’ / ‘researcher’ roles.

Formative assessment & Peer Review

To finish this course, we were asked to reflect on our current role and write ashort piece decribing: the role in a wider context; the biggest impact on course; values, competencies and experiences; areas we lead in.

This assignment was peer-assessed and completed assignments were automatically redistributed for all to engage in providing feedback.

End of the week

This week has been an interesting introduction into considerations for designing a course and working with a team with a variety of skills and expereinces from a range of subject area.

The greatest areas of interest, which I will continue studying independently were around academic identity and academic citizenship. These areas interest me personally, but are also important to HEIs CSR. It feel it would be beneficial for my professional development to continue researching these areas.

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