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Supporting Curriculum Design at Task, Module and Programme Level

The PiP team, in collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Ulster and the Open University, created a symposium for the 2009 ALT-C conference in Manchester (www.alt.ac.uk/altc2009). The symposium was an opportunity to gain valuable feedback from delegates on the curriculum design aspects of our projects.  Each project created a poster describing challenges associated with curriculum design and posing questions for delegates.  Delegates were asked to annotate each poster, adding questions or comments, prior to a discussion with the project team.  

Delegates also agreed that the representation of good learning design at different levels is intensely complex and can be hard for academic practitioners to implement in isolation.  However, the focus of disciplinary experts is still seen as a key component in effective curriculum design.

The following table represents the original text of the poster table, together with the annotations created by ALT-C delegates (in italics):








·          Academic staff

·          Students

·          Educational Developers


Is stakeholder engagement pro-active, nominal, evaluated?


What about external stakeholders like industry, corporate, society?





As left, plus...


·          Course leader(s)

·          Head of Department

·          Quality Officers

·          University Management

·          Registry, IT Services, Estates, Library and other services



·          Academic staff

·          Students

·          Course leader(s)

·          Head of Department

·          Quality Officers

·          Programme Co-ordinators

·          Faculty Administrators

·          University Management

·          Registry, IT Services, Estates, Library and other services


Accreditation/representation of professional bodies.


External stakeholders.



·          Design principles (e.g. Principles of Assessment and Feedback)

·          Learning design patterns

·          Case studies and exemplars

·          Published research

·          Descriptions of design processes

·          Learning design tools


What representations are useful to students?


Are the patterns of practice different from the patterns of rationalisation?


Validation documents, final teaching materials, products on paper or digital formats, study guides, schedules.


Should representations include those of “conversations had” which offer an insight into rationale behind curriculum design choices? 


Which tasks are: essential optional, desirable?



·          Module description forms for quality assurance

·          Student handbooks

·          Disciplinary case studies and exemplars

·          Published research

·          Descriptions of design processes

·          Learning design tools


Are the learning models representing e-learning components of the design, how it will be embedded, what tools will be used..?


Module team meetings, minutes and documentation.




·          Programme specification forms

·          Subject benchmarking statements

·          Prospectus


What is the “definitive” course/programme descriptor?  At what point do you start to ask questions about approaches to delivery? 


Technology requirements, e.g. computers specs, internet.






·          Resources for staff and students (websites, leaflets)

·          Workshops

·          Consultancy

·          Rewards for good teaching practice/design activities?


Can students co-create tasks? Can next generation users edit existing task sequences?


As left, plus...


·          Departmental and faculty review processes

·          Student feedback (questionnaires, staff/student committees, consultations, focus groups)

·          External benchmarking


As left, plus...


·          Faculty reviews

·          National Student Survey

·          Institutional surveys




·          Disciplinary differences

·          Task design is a complex process and hard to represent and share

·          Different pedagogies inform task design (or no pedagogical thinking)

·          Design approaches often tacit

·          Design is dynamic not static

·          Design is different from implementation


How do you overcome academic staff resistance to such initiatives?  What about senior management buy-in?


How might you seek to represent the “messiness” of unintended outcomes – and tackle faculty unwillingness towards rigidity?  



·          Module description forms have limited information about implementation processes. 

·          Different people can be responsible for design and delivery

·          Difficult to create a coherent pattern of tasks across a module

·          Quality of information shared across different stakeholder groups

·          Lack of information about crucial processes (e.g. feedback opportunities)

·          Duplication of information documentation




·          Teachers tend to focus on their own modules in isolation

·          Articulating programme-wide considerations like student progression is complex – are the same methods used every year? 

·          Programme level learning outcomes might not inform module level outcomes

·          More coherent programme planning might be a constraint on student choice


Learning as lego.  Some HEIs would like to do this.  But barriers include: funding distribution, incompatible assessment practices, timetable.


Have you looked at any specific curriculum design models?

We plan to further refine this table and to use it as the basis of future analysis.  Your comments are very welcome. 

The PiP project poster described types of representations of curriculum designs at task, module and programme level available to stakeholders in universities and different forms of support for curriculum design commonly encountered.  The poster asks whether current representations help

to create good curriculum design or whether other forms might be more useful. 

Delegates annotated the poster with comments, questions and "missing" elements in the table and these annotations are detailed below.  During discussions with the project team, delegates also made the following comments:

  • That the table represents and "idealised" view and that the reality in most institutions is that case studies, learning design patterns or design tools are rarely encountered.  It might be better to have a "now" and "future" column to indicate desired trajectory of improvement
  • This means that other representations, especially those mandated by course approval/quality assurance become more important, but these rarely ask the "right" questions


posted on 22 September 2009 by

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