Being proactive in curriculum planning

     
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Early career lecturers may find it difficult to take a proactive approach to the curriculum in their subject area, particularly if they have inherited modules, find themselves co-teaching on group modules, or have encountered opposition from colleagues to any changes they propose. They may also be unaware of how to go about implementing changes, and what the institutional mechanisms and timeframes for doing so may be.

Curriculum design

Curriculum design covers a wide range of areas, from creating individual modules to planning and implementing new degree programmes. These are clearly tasks of different orders of magnitude. Creating new degree programmes will require intensive pedagogical and financial planning (you will need to make a business case for it, for instance), and will necessitate a great deal of paperwork. New modules will also need to go through institutional hoops to ensure that they also meet a business case and that they conform to quality assurance procedures.

The big picture: Institutional values

This is why the place to start with your curriculum plans may not be the seemingly obvious – i.e. with the nuts and bolts of your teaching – but instead with the bigger picture. What is your institution’s guidance on curriculum development as a whole? What are the values that your institution places at the heart of any curriculum design? Good places to start include your institution’s quality manual, your student services division or equivalent, which often provide guidance on process, and your departmental or school Director of Teaching. Your DoT should be able to provide you with a steer on any on-going, subject-specific issues: e.g. such as the sort of teaching your institution or department favours, preferred assessment models, and even live concerns about staffing patterns. There may be little point in proposing single-instructor modules, for instance, when everyone else is teaching in teams; similarly, your ideas about assessment need to conform to some degree at least with current assessment models. Change can come, but only when it takes into account current practice.

The bigger picture: QAA

It’s also important to be conversant with the current requirements of the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) regarding quality assurance procedures and subject benchmarking. These should be disseminated through relevant institutional outlets (see above), but there is no harm in going straight to the horse’s mouth at www.qaa.ac.uk for further information, particularly their subject benchmark statements, which are available for all subject areas.

Build your case from the ground

At the same time as you develop your proposal make sure that you engage with your colleagues on the ground. Talk in detail with as many of them as possible about how you see the curriculum developing, and what your contribution to it might be. Consider getting together with colleagues to propose team-taught modules to pool your expertise. If your proposals include making significant structural changes (new forms of assessment, for instance, or changes to staff-student contact hours that are out of line in either direction with other modules) it may be a good idea to spend some time making a convincing case to your colleagues on the ground, since they are the ones who will have to support it (through shared assessment, group teaching, and even in their word of mouth discussions to personal tutees).

Start small

It can often be a good idea to test your ideas through making small adjustments to existing modules, or by getting together with other. It may take some time for you to become completely familiar with the teaching environment, so try being responsive to student feedback on current modules in the first instance, making alterations to reading lists or adjusting the week-by-week order of play. This will give you a good feel for how you might go about making larger changes later on.

Be patient

Above all, be patient. Making curriculum changes even on the level of the single module needs to happen on firm foundations. Be observant, seek good counsel, and inform yourself of the wider institutional and benchmarking context. Building fingertips knowledge of the wider picture in this way will make it much easier for you to build a robust case to put to your institutional gatekeepers.

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