Curriculum-Product or Process

September
2007
Wheeler North, Curriculum Committee Chair

I would like to take this opportunity to refresh some of the ideals I learned about curriculum and what it is supposed to be, while also reviewing why what ought be an evolving and continually improving process ends up being a product that can be packaged, stamped and shipped as needed.

In reviewing several internet resources the word "curriculum" seems to stem from the idea of running a course or race course. The many definitions all seem to reflect a requirement for a related logical set of experiences to occur within those things that are bestowed as curriculum. From this and what little I gleamed in that long ago "teacher" program I would take a stab at it thusly:


Curriculum is the definition of a set of experiences and activities that are logically related and they occur in an appropriate manner that will likely cause most students to achieve the desired learning results.


Of course with that definition one wonders "What do we need all these Curriculum Committees for?" Hmmm, in addition to enhanced rigor through peer review, from stage left there are these little things called Education Code and Regulation that, along with Accreditation processes, set standards around this definition. It seems that taxpayers (we included) want a little more specificity around rigor if they are to bear this burden for their citizens. Therefore some approval structure must exist.

Oddly though, the paradox becomes, how do we, as subject matter experts in only our one area, trying to create rules to uphold standards of rigor and credibility, do so when we have no idea what form these experiences will take for another given subject area? Like Columbus, while we may have some rules for how to make charts, we have no clue as to what that chart ought to look like until some parts of the journey have been completed.

So it is fair to say that curriculum development ought to have some experimental journeys as a legitimate aspect of creating a quality product. Much like the chart, if Columbus didn't go find out where America was, it would have been tough to begin drawing it into the chart. And each successive journey did much to refine those earlier drawings.

For me the juxtaposition between the development and approval processes is a balancing act, that should, whenever possible, be local faculty decision making, hopefully at the program level. So as such, much of the approval processes we all utilize are really about ensuring that some of the basic ingredients exist within any course we attempt to offer. And those ingredients are there to ensure both rigor and reasonable structure.

Using our above definition, Curriculum, as a product, should be a set of defining documents that describe what the entering and exiting student should be capable of; they should describe the related areas to be experienced within the course, and the intended results or outcomes of having experienced these activities. This product should also included the parameters of structure such as time on task, in study, and doing research, books, materials, available services, etc.

If the curriculum of a course or a program fits within a larger context, the documents should also describe this relationship or integration within the whole.

At the same time, curriculum should not be so rigidly defined that different individuals teaching the course might not be able to adapt and get the same results given a different classroom, or differing lab equipment, or differing time structures, or different textbooks or even differing modalities such as online teaching versus face-to-face.


In some ways curriculum should be a narrative map of where the student should go, but this map should be inclusive and reflective of many differing potential pathways between the beginning and end of the journey.


Curriculum should be so written that it is also a journey for the faculty facilitating this effort. It should be inspirational to some degree, particularly since it is likely this could be the one and only chart that many of our new part time faculty will ever get prior to taking their students upon such waters.

Sadly, in many ways our need for bureaucratic processes often does much to throw "inspirational" out of the proverbial curriculum box. Nonetheless, curriculum well written is something that any subject matter expert will get and will get excited about as she or he facilitates her or his students educational journey.

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