With August rearing it's (equally) energizing and exhausting head, my department begins the challenging endeavor of transitioning from a Residential Curriculum to a departmental curriculum approach (CA)...possibly building a blueprint for a divisional curriculum in the future.
Our department just completed a Self-Study which will support us in creating a new strategic plan to guide us for the next several years. This strategic plan will outline our priorities and unit goals
which will ultimately impact our current curriculum. This means that a curricular review, Essential Element #9 of the 10 Essential Elements (EE) of a Curricular Approach, (Kerr, Tweedy, Edwards, & Kimmel, 2017) is in order.
While presenting my review ideas, a colleague brought up an interesting point:
Our staff have been facilitators of our curriculum, but never the architects of it.
This point stuck with me. I've been charged with leading this review, and I think this is an extraordinary opportunity to re-engage our staff and foster intentional learning experiences around reviewing, revising, creating, and assessing our curriculum and it's educational strategies.
While I'm working to design a more comprehensive (almost course-like) onboarding to prepare my peers to review our curriculum, I was asked to try and simply summarize a skill or content area necessary to learn for a curricular approach. It was no easy task... so here is where I landed:
It's imperative to have an understanding of how learners learn. Explore classroom techniques, learning styles, multiple intelligence, differentiated instruction, and universal design. If your learning outcomes are the desired end result for students... where is the starting point? Learn how to sequence learning (EE #7). Considering how students learn and developing a clear "path of learning" will show up in your educational strategies and your lesson plans/facilitation guides.
A curriculum should be grounded in educational research and developmental theory (EE #3). You'll have to know how and where to look for those. Take a look at Learning Reconsidered, curriculum theory, or my personal favorite: Transition Theory (Chickering & Schlossberg, 1995). The need to do research doesn't stop there though, you'll have to do an "archeological dig" to best align your CA to your institution's mission, vision, and values (EE #1 & 2).
When I arrived at my institution, this was referred to as "the scary A-word" because it seemed so difficult to execute effectively. When preparing for a CA, the important assessment to remember is that you must move away from only assessing satisfaction. If we are properly creating a curriculum using "backwards-by-design"... you've already designated the end learning students should gain (EE #4)... which means you know exactly what you're trying to prove! Learn to craft direct and indirect assessment measures (EE #10). I highly recommend learning about Classroom Assessment Techniques... they work in so many different settings.
A CA requires crafting big departmental philosophies down to the really small moments of specific learning. This is the creating of outcomes, timelines, developing new educational strategies, drafting facilitation guides, and implementing assessment plans. You have to be able to pull all of the developmental, administrative, and logistical pieces together into one comprehensive approach.
This doesn't get talked about enough. Developing training for how to onboard all curricular stakeholders is an essential piece of making a CA work. Stakeholders need to know how all the big and small pieces fit together, and where, when, and how they fit into it all. Creating training that deeply explores your curriculum and your strategies will promote understanding and buy-in.
Are you thinking about different types of learning and learners? What are the ways different cultures learn best? Consider how your curriculum caters to all students and not just the ones that show up. Research techniques for engaging marginalized groups and ensure that they are part of your practices. Research Universal Design for Learning. Inclusive practices must be infused within all layers of your curriculum and must be more than just one of your learning outcomes to create the appearance of inclusion.
Examine what content areas, topics, skills, and information are going to be relevant for facilitating learning in your curriculum. If you're not an expert in a particular area you'll need support from your campus partners (EE #8.) It's a great way for you to network with other professionals and its a smart personal practice of not having to always be the person doing all of the work. Beyond that, a CA requires buy-in, and participation from staff at all levels... so the ability to collaborate is essential!
Planning outcomes, developing strategies, and creating assessments are all useful and productive things! ...but none of it really matters if you can't effectively deliver the desired learning (EE #5.) This requires thinking inside and outside the box. Exploring facilitation techniques, classroom management techniques and engagement strategies will help to make learning and development interesting for students. Covid-19 has forced so many of our strategies to be virtual now, and I see those methods sticking around long-term too. This is how we move away from offering tired traditional programs in our lobbies and lounges and move towards an understanding that significant learning is happening using other delivery methods.
When all is said and done, there really is no one skill or area to master in order to be able to implement a curricular approach... what it really requires is P.R.A.C.T.I.C.E.
Have a safe & productive August!
Kerr, K. G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K. E., & Kimmel, D. (2017, March-April). Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom. About Campus, 22(1), 22-31. doi:10.1002/abc.21279