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Whether we are developing new programs or courses or we are revising existing curriculum, the decisions we make can be informed and guided by applying concepts and principles of curriculum design.


General Concepts and Design Principles



There are several concepts that can guide the development and review of all types of curricula at both the program and course level.

Alignment and Coherence - all parts of the curriculum must be logically consistent with each other. There must be a "match" or a fit between parts.

Scope - the range or extent of "content" (whether information to be learned, skills to be acquired etc.) that will be included in a course or program. It must be sufficient to lead learners to achieve the program or course outcomes. However, there is a constant tension between breadth and depth when considering scope. In general, when deep learning is required, "lean" is best.

Sequence - is the ordering of learning experiences so that learners build on previous experiences and move to broader, deeper or more complex understandings and applications. Common ways of sequencing content within courses include simple to complex, wholes to parts (or part to wholes), prerequisite abilities, and chronological.

Continuity - refers to the vertical repetition of major curriculum elements in different courses over time (also known as vertical organization or articulation). It is important to identify the themes or skills that need to run through a program and to map how they will be addressed at each level.

Integration - refers to the horizontal relationship among major curriculum components at any given point in time (also known as horizontal organization). Integration fosters reinforcement of key learning and is needed to promote application of learning across course boundaries.

Gordon Cawelt (1990) of The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) offered these principles to guide course planning.

  1. Offer a balanced core of learning in each course.
  2. Adopt the belief that in-depth study of a limited number of important topics will have a more lasting effect than a course that tries to cover too many disconnected bits and pieces of information.
  3. Design course outcomes to focus on results, with multiple indicators (assessments) of performance.
  4. Design authentic assessments that will encourage originality, insightfulness, and problem-solving, along with master of important information.
  5. Design courses to encourage active involvement.
  6. Get students "doing" early in the course rather than studying all the principles and basics prior to performing.



Some Common Curriculum Frameworks



There are several different patterns frequently used to organize programs. Some of those more commonly found in college programs are listed here.

Subject or Discipline-Centered - the curriculum is organized around separate, specific subjects or disciplines. For example anatomy (subject) or life sciences (discipline)

Broad Fields - the curriculum is organized to cut across subject lines and to emphasize relationships between subjects. It usually if organized into a 3 to 5 fields. For example, fields for technical career learning, professional and personal growth, supporting sciences, etc.

Spiral - the curriculum is organized around key concepts/skills that are introduced and revisited for deeper understanding as the learner moves through the program of study

Inquiry or Problem-Based - the curriculum is organized around a set of problems or areas of inquiry.

Experiential - learners engage is a set of experiences and then are helped to process and draw meaning from them.

 

Outcome-Based Curriculum

 

All college programs leading to an Ontario College Credential are guided by standards that are expressed as learning outcomes. Students need to be able to "show what they know"—to demonstrate achievement of these learning outcomes. The curricula that we develop for these programs can be very different across different colleges but all must lead to the achievement of these program level learning outcomes. In this context, some of the concepts and principles linked to outcomes-based curriculum design can guide our work.

What is Outcomes-Based Education (OBE)?

The High Success Network (1992) defines Outcomes-Based Education as "...defining, organizing, focusing, and directing all aspects of a curriculum on the things we want all learners to demonstrate successfully when they complete the program".

Outcomes-based education is a student-centered, results oriented design premised on the belief that all individuals can learn. The strategy of OBE implies the following.

  • What students are to learn is clearly identified
  • Each student's progress is based on demonstrated achievement
  • Each student's learning needs are addressed through multiple instructional strategies and assessment tools
  • Each student is provided time and assistance to realize his/her potential.


- Boschee and Baron 1993

Some Key Concepts and Principles of Curriculum in an OBE Context

The focus is on results of learning. What learners are expected to learn is clearly identified, expressed as learning outcomes and known to all. Expectations are clear and public.

Curriculum and instruction maintains a clear focus on culminating outcomes—the performances learners must demonstrate to graduate. These are significant performances critical for success in life and work.

Design down (from the performances expected of graduates) and deliver up. Courses and learning experiences are focused and built to help learners achieve the learning outcomes.

Create learning opportunities to help different learners achieve learning outcomes. Learning experiences are activity-based and allow learners to apply and practise what they learn. There can be multiple paths to the achievement of the learning outcomes. OBE suggests that expanded opportunity and flexible paths promote success.

Assessment is standards-referenced and matches the learning outcomes. Learners show that they can perform the learning outcome. Learner progress and the earning of credit is based in a demonstration of the achievement of learning outcomes

This article provides an overview of Outcomes Based Education


Algonquin College has published a Lifesaver on Program Standards that identifies principles that move us towards a standards-based college curriculum. You will find them on page 2.

 

obe



The University of Guelph has published "A Guide to Developing and Assessing Learning Outcomes". This provides a clear description of how outcomes can be developed and used to frame curriculum decisions. It will be of particular interest to colleges offering degree level programs as it shows how the undergraduate degree level expectations (UDLE's) link to outcomes.

 

An Inquiry Approach to Curriculum Development



Those who adopt an inquiry approach to curriculum recognize that there is no single recipe for developing an effective curriculum. They realize that curricula are living, dynamic entities in constant flux. They use strategic questions and a variety of people and other data sources to collect information that will help them make curriculum decisions that are best for the learners, for the context and for the curriculum purpose. They investigate curriculum options then critically explore and assess their findings.

Here are examples of some questions that might be asked when developing or revising a program. These are simply examples—not a comprehensive list of questions to be asked.

  • Why is this program needed? What is the rationale for the program?
  • What are graduates of this program expected to know and to be able to do?
  • Are there standards or expectations from professional associations that need to be considered in this curriculum?
  • What credential is appropriate for this program?
  • How does this program relate to others in this college? Elsewhere?
  • Who are the learners likely to be attracted to this program?
  • What abilities will students entering the program need to be successful?
  • Who are the groups and individuals that should be consulted as we develop/revise this program?

 

Other Helpful Sites



Dee Fink is the author of several publications related to supporting "significant learning" and integrated curriculum design approaches. He has developed a Model of Integrated Course Design. This self-directed guide for designing courses for significant learning can be accessed from his web-site. A word of caution—the text is complete but some of the illustrations do not download well.

This site provides a short description of each step with some tips and tools that can be used when following the designing significant learning approach.

This article from Faculty Focus entitled Backward Design, Forward Progress, further explores curriculum design models associated with such educators as Dee Fink, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

These sites from the University of Guelph provide an introduction to Universal Instructional Design (UID) and review of the seven principles of Universal Instructional Design.  UID was originally developed to help develop instruction that would help learners with disabilities but is now recognized as a useful approach to support learning for all learners.

This website presents a scholarly view of curriculum concepts past and current.



 
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