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This issue of CDTL Brief features articles on Professional Development and Curriculum Design and its significance in higher education.

July 2009, Vol. 12 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
International Approaches to Aligning Learning-centred Curricula and Staff Development: Developing Scholarly Approaches to Curriculum and Pedagogical Practice in Higher Education*
 
Associate Professor Harry Hubball
Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy,
University of British Columbia, Canada
 

Introduction

There is growing recognition of the complexity of academic work and the need for scholarly approaches to curricula and pedagogical practices in higher education (Hubball & Gold, 2007). This article and available PowerPoint slides provide guiding principles and comprehensive strategies from critical lessons learned in diverse undergraduate and graduate degree programme contexts.

Context

Global, national and regional factors are fuelling profound curricula and pedagogical change on university campuses (Hubball & Gold, 2007). In an attempt to address these critical challenges, research-intensive universities in North America, Australia, West Indies, Asia, UK and Europe are developing learning-centred curricula that focus on explicit student learning outcomes, integrated and strategically sequenced learning experiences throughout key programme phases (including educational technologies), effective teaching and learning methods, authentic assessment practices, and scholarly approaches to curriculum and pedagogy (Hubball & Burt, 2006).

However, research suggests that implementing learning-centred curricula is a complex, multifaceted and iterative process. It is shaped by many factors (social, political, economic, organisational, cultural and individual) and involves people at various institutional levels (administrators, curriculum developmentcommittee personnel, instructors and learners) in complex settings (Hubball & Burt, 2007; Hubball & Gold, 2007). Not surprisingly, therefore, the localised development and implementation of learning-centred curricula poses significant pedagogical as well as administrative challenges for most institutions and academic units.

The following strategies are drawn from successful institutional and faculty-wide curricula development and implementation experiences at Universities in British Columbia, Ontario (Canada) and the West Indies.

Transitioning toward learning-centred curricula: Developing curricula learning communities

In many academic settings, undergraduate programme structures and innovative curriculum strategies are neither visible on faculty notice boards and busy departmental agendas; nor is it clear to many students or faculty members within these programmes how, if at all, individual courses and modules are integrated and progressively sequenced throughout multiyear programme learning experiences. Much less understood is how individual courses contribute to overall programme-level learning outcomes, if indeed this is explicitly stated (Hubball & Burt, 2004).

Research suggests that curriculum learning communities are at the heart of learningcentred educational practices in multidisciplinary settings. By engaging administrators, faculty members, colleagues in the field and students in opportunities for discourse around consensus building and curriculum visioning, a strong sense of ownership, shared responsibility and accountability for educational practices can be developed in undergraduate and graduate programmes. Curriculum learning communities, for example, are key for engaging academic units in scholarly approaches to curriculum and pedagogical practices in order to address critical issues such as:

• which literature sources and theoretical frameworks are appropriate to inform effective    discipline-specific curriculum and pedagogical practices?

• what are the indicators of success for a responsive, cutting-edge, exciting and dynamic    undergraduate programme?

• which research questions are important to enhance learning-centred curriculum    change?

Curriculum learning communities are also key for developing programme-level learning outcomes which are a central component of learning-centred curricula. Learning outcomes can occur at many different levels (e.g, professional accreditation, quality assessment reviews, institutional planning, programme development, individual course design and integrated course alignments) in the form of ‘top-down’ and/or ‘bottom-up’ processing, each of which (and various combinations) can have significant implications for implementing learning-centred educational practices (Hubbball & Gold, 2007).

Staff development implications and learning-centred curricula

Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect systematic and scholarly approaches to curricula and pedagogical change in the absence of critical institutional and faculty-wide support and incentives that help to predispose, enable and reinforce the value of learning-centred educational practices on research-intensive university campuses. Research suggests that context-specific, integrated and stage-specific curriculum and pedagogical support frameworks enhance the development and implementation of learning-centred curricula in multidisciplinary settings (Hubball & Burt, 2007; Hubball, Mighty, Britnell & Gold, 2007). Effective institutional and faculty support strategies include:

• institutional staff development programmes for curriculum leaders that focus on the    scholarship of curriculum and pedagogical practices in higher education;

• attention to curricula and pedagogical contributions through tenure and promotion    processes;

• initiation of curriculum grants, curriculum leadership and innovative course design    awards;

• providing on-site curricula and pedagogical expertise to support and assist units and    faculty members with transitions toward learning-centred curricula; and,

• institutional conferences that celebrate research on, for and about academic    programmes (Hubball & Burt, 2007; Hubball, Mighty, Britnell & Gold, 2007).

An eight-month faculty leadership programme, focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), for example, was initiated in 1998 at the University of British Columbia, Canada to enhance learning-centred curricula in multidisciplinary settings (Hubball & Burt, 2006). Graduates of this SoTL leadership programme include over 200 faculty members from a wide range of institutions (Canadian and international universities), disciplines and academic ranks, including national and institutional teaching award winners, curriculum leaders, senior as well as new faculty members in various undergraduate programme settings. This programme has positively impacted curriculum and pedagogical leadership; assisted the implementation of learning-centred curricula; fostered institutional, national and international SoTL collaborations; enhanced teaching development and diverse student learning experiences; and, enhanced the dissemination of SoTL research at local, national and international academic conferences and peerreviewed publications.

Applications for the next mixed-mode (distance) Faculty leadership programme are now being taken for the September 2009-April 2010 cohort (US$1500 for international faculty members). We welcome 1–2 faculty applications from NUS faculty members for the next SoTL Leadership Programme.

Conclusion

Research suggests that there are no quickfix solutions to successfully developing and implementing learning-centred curricula. It is a labour intensive, time consuming, communitydriven and stage-specific process that requires adequate scholarly attention, leadership, expertise and institutional and Faculty-wide support. Linking learning-centred curricula with properly aligned teaching development plans within institutions is, therefore, critical for successful implementation (Hubball & Burt, 2006; Hubball & Gold, 2007). Valuable lessons can be learnt from research and best practices in order to prevent significant challenges and setbacks toward developing and implementing a learning-centred curriculum in undergraduate and graduate programs. The author intends to revisit NUS in February 2010 to engage faculty in a follow-up seminar in this dynamic field of research and practice.

References

Hubball, H.T. & Gold, N. (2007). The Scholarship of Curriculum Practice and Undergraduate Program Reform: Theory-Practice Integration. In P. Wolfe & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Curriculum Evolution in Higher Education: Faculty-Driven Processes & Practices, New Directions for Teaching and Learning (the “Journal”), pp. 5–14. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Hubball, H.T.; Mighty, J.; Britnell, J. & Gold, N. (2007). Learning-centred Undergraduate Curricula in Programme, Institutional and Provincial Contexts. In P. Wolfe & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Curriculum Evolution in Higher Education: Faculty-Driven Processes & Practices, New Directions for Teaching and Learning (the “Journal”), pp. 93–106. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Hubball, H.T. & Burt, H. (2007). Learning Outcomes and Program-level Evaluation in a 4-Year Undergraduate Pharmacy Curriculum. American Journal for Pharmaceutical Education, 71(5), Article 90, 1–8.

Hubball, H.T. & Burt, H.D. (2006). Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Theory Practice Integration in Faculty Certificate Programs. Innovative Higher Education, 30(5), 327–344.

Hubball, H.T. & Burt, H.D (2004). An Integrated Approach to Developing and Implementing Learning-Centred Curricula. International Journal for Academic Development, 9(1), 51–65.


* This article follows from a NUS seminar presentation at CDTL on 20 February 2009 about institutional and faculty-wide curricula change experiences and research collaborations at Universities in British Columbia, Ontario (Canada) and the West Indies.

 
 
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