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Issues of Teaching and Learning

Issues of Teaching and Learning
This article is a sub component of a large research article on issues of teaching and learning. The very first issue which is identified is the dire need to understand the meaning of curriculum and how a teacher should practice it. The article explores the concept of curriculum as experience, intention, hidden and inclusive. What is curriculum?

What does the term `curriculum' mean to you as a teacher? The literature shows that it means different things to different people, to different educational institutions and to different parts of educational institutions.

A general definition of curriculum is offered by Print (1993: 9):

...all the planned learning opportunities offered by the organisation to learners and the experiences learners encounter when the curriculum is implemented. This includes those activities that educators have devised for learners which are invariably represented in the form of a written document.

Print also describes the difference between `curriculum' and `syllabus', which are often confused: a syllabus forms part of the overall curriculum and tends to be a list of content areas which will be assessed.

At a broad level, curriculum is determined by the educational institution. Some universities include in their curriculum certain units that all first-year undergraduate students must complete. At the faculty or school level, learning opportunities, generally in the form of units, are planned for particular degrees. Departments and course controllers decide the content and scope of units. Finally, teachers plan learning activities for `contact hours', such as lectures, tutorials, laboratories and for project work and practical.

The most commonly held view of curriculum depicts it as subject matter or a body of content to be taught to students. Faculty and school handbooks often list topics to be covered in particular units. For example, a unit in mathematics might include `functions, derivatives, maxima and minima, differential equations, etc.' The focus is thus on imparting a certain body of knowledge to students. One of the problems with this approach is that if the curriculum is overcrowded with content, teaching sessions may focus primarily on `getting through the material' set down in the curriculum, rather than focusing on how to help the students learn the material.

A number of additional views of curriculum are described by Print, three of which are listed below; the examples provided are from the 1995 UWA faculty handbooks.

Curriculum as experience

This view of curriculum depicts it as a set of planned learning experiences encountered by students. In a higher education context, this approach might involve the planning of field trips, supervised work experience, industry visits and placements, and practica. In the classroom, it includes a wide range of activities, such as experiments, role plays, simulations, etc. An example of this view of curriculum can be found in the Department of General Practice's description of the faculty initiative for fifth-year students:

Students spend three weeks of their eight-week term in a rural area under the supervision of an appropriate specialist in the discipline of their choice... Students must be prepared to complete a log diary of their experience and to find a colleague who will do the same while remaining in Perth. This is to enable comparisons to be made on the quantity and quality of the experience.

Curriculum as intention

This approach to curriculum is characterised by predetermined aims, goals and objectives describing what students should learn. An illustration of this approach is provided in the description of the unit Australian Industrial Relations:

This unit aims to provide students with a basic introduction to the working of the Australian, and where appropriate, selected overseas industrial relations systems.

This approach to curriculum may also include statements of anticipated learning outcomes or behaviours. An example of a learning outcome is provided in the unit description for Oral Pathology and Oral Medicine:

On completion of this unit, the undergraduate should be capable of discussing the clinical presentations and progression of oral disease and to relate this to the underlying pathological processes in order to understand the biological basis for the management of such conditions.

Curriculum as a process of providing personal meaning to learners

This image of curriculum emphasises personal growth and self-actualisation through experiential learning. For example, one of the aims of the Social Work practicum is:

...development of the student's self-awareness and self-confidence as a professionally practising social worker.

Two other important concepts related to curriculum include:

The hidden curriculum. This refers to unplanned learning in which meanings are conveyed indirectly by the way language is used, the interactions that occur in the class room and assessment methods. The hidden curriculum can have negative outcomes where the indirect meanings conveyed are in conflict with explicit intentions. Some students when taking a strategic approach to their studies are quick to determine the hidden curriculum: for example anything that will be examined is likely to be seen as included in the curriculum; anything that is not to be examined is considered superfluous and unlikely to be learned.

Inclusive curriculum. An inclusive curriculum treats the knowledge and experience of women, racial groups and ethnic groups as being just as valid and relevant as the knowledge of dominant groups in mainstream academic discourse. An article on inclusive curriculum and its implications for teaching at UWA is included in the June volume of the Innovative Teaching Forum Newsletter.

Some issues teachers may wish to consider in relation to curriculum

What view of curriculum do I hold? What about my department, the faculty, the University? How is this reflected in the documents we produce describing the curriculum?

How is the curriculum expressed in terms of what is taught, how it is taught, when it is taught, how it is assessed and how it is evaluated? To what extent does the intended curriculum reflect what is actually taught and learned?

What might be positive and negative aspects of the `hidden curriculum' in the units I teach?

How inclusive is the curriculum which guides my teaching?

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