Enhancing the student educational experience through school-based curriculum improvement leaders
Cummings, R., Roberts, S. and Schibeci, R. (2008) Enhancing the student educational experience through school-based curriculum improvement leaders. Murdoch University. Teaching and Learning Centre & Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, W.A.
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Over recent years, Australian universities have experimented with different ways to establish sustainable, discipline-based learning and teaching curriculum change to provide high quality educational environments. Effective curriculum improvements contribute to the longer-term aim of enhancing the student learning experience and strengthening student learning outcomes in ways that more effectively address their diverse and changing needs. There have been reported successes from research and practice suggesting the benefits of a distributed layered model of professional development in higher education that distributes leadership and responsibility to Schools (Uys & Campbell, 2005). Critical to the effectiveness of such leadership is identifying and implementing the most relevant educational development initiatives that can build the capacity of leaders of teaching and learning so that they can work with their colleagues in conceptualising, leading and effecting sustainable curriculum change aligned with School and University educational goals, strategic directions and priorities. This project was designed to explore this issue to further develop the evidence base for this practice.
Enhancing the Student Educational Experience through School-based Curriculum Improvement Leaders has been a two-year collaborative project located at Murdoch University, funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) through a Leadership for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Grant. The Curriculum Improvement Leadership project (herewith known as CILP) has adopted an inquiry-based qualitative approach to curriculum leadership reform to discern the feasibility of curriculum improvements through School-based non-positional leaders for effecting sustainable long-term curriculum change.
In particular, the three main aims of the project were:
1. to build the capacity of curriculum improvement leaders through professional development to enable them work with their colleagues in effecting sustainable curriculum change aligned with university and School educational goals, strategic directions and priorities;
2. for curriculum leaders to enact School-based projects that build upon existing initiatives with a view to developing scalable models that account for the disciplinary context;
3. in the longer-term, to enhance students’ educational experiences in ways that more effectively address their diverse and changing needs, supported by a strong focus on the dissemination of best practice in a cascading model of professional development. The project was professionally managed by staff located in Murdoch University’s Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC) who collaborated with academics, referred to as Curriculum Improvement Leaders (CILs) from nine Schools at Murdoch. A Project Group of Murdoch staff oversaw the project and a Reference Group comprising learning and teaching experts from Queensland University of Technology; the University of Wollongong; the University of Newcastle, and the University of Western Australia provided specialist advice. Appendix 1 lists Project Team members, Curriculum Improvement Leaders and Advisory Groups.
The project comprised four stages:
• planning and needs analysis;
• capacity-building (professional) development;
• application of the curriculum improvement projects by the CILs; and
• evaluation and dissemination.
An internal ongoing evaluation process was adopted in the project to gather data about the CILs’ experiences and perceptions of their capacity to effect curriculum change. In addition, an external evaluation was undertaken which focused on formative feedback on stages 1 and 2, and summative feedback of the project as a whole. Finally, a meta-evaluation was undertaken by Emeritus Professor Lesley Parker as part of a review of all leadership projects funded by ALTC in 2006-7.
The present report draws information from all these monitoring and evaluative activities and focuses on describing the project and explaining its operation, including issues and outcomes. The external evaluation is reported as an Appendix.
The primary aim of the project was to explore the CILs’ experiences of curriculum improvement and their developing/emergent identities as curriculum improvement leaders as they attempted to implement sustainable curriculum change in their Schools. The project had three distinct intended outcomes, each of which is discussed in detail in the report. In summary, the project made some progress in identifying how the capacity of informal leaders might be developed across different Schools within a university. In particular, the external evaluator found that the program of professional development provided for CILs was successful in establishing the CoP which in turn provided a secure environment in which the CILs could develop their leadership and curriculum improvement skills and discuss both common and unique issues in a safe environment. Once the School-based projects started in earnest, several of the CILs were engaged in conceptualising, planning and sharing their School-based projects among their peers, which coalesced into a supportive CoP at the School level. This CoP promoted stability and helped, in part, to counteract the instability arising from the institutional context. For some CILs, however, the impact of the institutional re-structuring occurring during the critical development and implementation stages proved debilitating.
The second aim, which was to enable the CILs to enact School-based projects that build upon existing initiatives with a view to developing scalable models that account for the disciplinary context was implemented during the third project stage. This entailed the application of the School-based ‘mini’ projects in the second semester of 2007. Many of CILs implemented the School-based curriculum improvement projects and produced reports. They had continued to work on their projects in the participating Schools and there was qualitative information that they had gained knowledge, skills and confidence to lead curriculum change in their School. Interviews were held with each of the CILs to ascertain their progress toward this aim and to identify problems experienced.
The third aim of the project was to develop longer-term strategies to enhance students’ experiences in ways that more effectively address their diverse and changing needs, supported by a strong focus on the dissemination of best practice in a cascading model of professional development. This aim was the least successful as there was a major restructure of the University administration and academic groupings during 2007 which disrupted the project’s planned processes at a time when the projects were being established by the CILs. This significant organisational change resulted in the project leader (DVC/A) and School Deans dedicating time to these matters and, as a result, reducing their support of CILs in implementing curriculum change in their School. In a number of the reports participants cited their colleagues’ demoralisation, and their own dispirited state of mind brought on by the organisational changes as persistent inhibiting factors. Within this change environment, the CILs found it difficult if not impossible to arrange buy-out of their time as planned and funded in the project. Thus, inadequate time for the CILS to spend on their projects due to the insufficient time-release from units of teaching was another challenge reported.
The degree to which the work and achievements of the project can be considered scalable and sustainable is yet to be seen. It will be in the continuing engagement of the community of practice that the work of the project will live on beyond the time of ALTC-provided external support. There are already good indications that this is already happening with a number of CILs participating in a further ALTC project, the TLC based Promoting Excellence initiative, leading Teaching and Learning Committees and participating in other curriculum based activities.
|Murdoch Affiliation:||Teaching and Learning Centre|
|Series Name:||A report for the Australian Learning and Teaching Council|
|Publisher:||Murdoch University. Teaching and Learning Centre & Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education|
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