Systemic Resolution in Curriculum Design

There is a certain amount of pride that I have with our current curriculum development process in that it is very systemic to reduce conflicting information and formatting across courses as well as addressing academic rigor necessary for a top quality degree programme. However, there are several levels of system resolutions available for curriculum design, including the facilitator level. We have started developing communities of practice to represent each expertise area so that while faculty cannot physically change the curriculum without advising the online design team, they have strong ownership in the content level of the course that designers cannot manage simply because they are not expert at these levels of subject matter. Already we have seen great recommendations to improve curriculum that has resulted in major changes for four courses, including one course that has an entirely different resource now. I am most anxious to see how this plays out over a period of time across student evaluations as not so ironically, students and faculty noted issues in the same things; a clear signal that a system needed to be put into place to address these problems. Wonderfully, the faculty communities are finding more than problems, but also ways to improve the course in ways that students would not be able to identify, even if told, but have an improved learning experience as a result.

A personal example is an orientation course that I teach that is required for all bachelor level students starting their degree with us regardless of the major. There came a point where reading academic papers was a complete chore because it was annoying to denote the identical problems in a high percentage of the papers. The problems all encompassed APA formatting. Hating the 15-19 papers to grade each week with the continual APA issues wreaking havoc on my feedback experience (nobody wants to pick apart APA formatting) caused me to ask some really stupid questions. These questions involved the “obvious” solution with somewhat pathetic justifications. “Well, adult learners really are focused on experiential and the research doesn’t need to be THAT strong, does it? Maybe I should kill a couple papers in the course.” (Note, as the designer and writer for this course, there is a slight conflict with the checks and balances.) However, every time I returned to the structure of the course, I knew it was solid and the intended learning outcomes (ILO) or objectives were necessary. I then considered switching just a couple papers to simple responses, but in my effort to hack and slash; my mouse hand was again held paralyzed as I knew that simpler assessment would not cover the research details necessary to really address the ILO. Group work? Definitely not! There was already enough of that in the course and I strongly believe to only use it for very outcome specific purposes, and cheating my way out of picking apart APA formatting by quartering the number of papers isn’t one of those purposes. The bottom line was that the papers were needed.

Returning back to the problem across several different offerings, I never could figure out why it was such a difficulty for students to grasp these nuances because, after all, there is a whole section of the course covering these. All they have to is …. read. Yeah, just found the problem.

Going back to my APA quiz that is required but re-takable as many times as a student wants to drive the information in their head, I realized how simplistic the questions where, and really a waste of their time. I wrote down all the major issues that I experienced across the last two years with APA formatting in the research papers and popped them into the quiz. I happily report to you an incredibly strong increase in paper writing quality, as well as very insightful questions to ensure they got it right. Awareness through engagement. I’m sad that it took me two years, and thrilled that I finally remembered to address the real problem and not to bandage the hemorrhage.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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