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Curriculum: A Proposed Definitional Framework

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Curricula and Pathways

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Lynette Frances Johns-Boast Australian National University Orcid 16x16

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Lynette Johns-Boast is a Lecturer in software engineering at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Engineering and Computer Science. Her research interests include curriculum design and development, experiential and cooperative learning, personality and successful teams in software engineering, open educational resources (OER) and learning object repositories (LOR), engineering education including the transfer of learning between the university and the workplace, and women in engineering. Prior to joining the ANU in 2005, she had 20 years’ experience in the information technology industry in Australia and the United Kingdom, including establishing a very successful small business which provides bespoke software and consultancy services to the Australian Federal Government in Canberra. Lynette holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Modern European Languages from the ANU, a Graduate Diploma in Information Systems from the University of Canberra and has just completed a PhD in engineering education from the ANU. In 2012 Lynette received the Australian Council of Engineering Deans National Award for Engineering Education (High Commendation) and in 2007 she received the “WICked Woman of the Year” award from the Canberra Women in Information and Communication (WIC) for her contribution to developing, encouraging and mentoring young women in industry and at university.

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Gerry Corrigan Australian National University

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Gerry Corrigan has a PhD in Education from the University of Sydney, Australia. Gerry worked initially in science education including teaching physics and biology in high schools and college and for the last 11 years has been an academic at the Australian National University Medical School, including stints as Associate Dean (Medical Education) and Head of the Medical Education Unit.

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Despite being one of the most important artifacts produced by higher education institutions, the curriculum is one of the least studied. This work-in-progress paper presents a proposed definitional framework for curriculum which if viable, should facilitate a common understanding of the elements, or component parts, from which a curriculum is constructed, and provide heuristic support to faculty as they design, develop, implement and maintain quality curricula. Furthermore, it is likely that a commonly understood and accepted definitional framework for curriculum will lead to meaningful discussion of and wise decisions about curriculum.

Higher education is in the middle of rapid and disruptive change. To remain relevant, the design and development of engineering and computer science curricula must change. Instead of being based on long-held tradition, intuition and personal experience both as students and teachers, higher education curricula must be designed to meet the needs of students, industry, employers, and society. Furthermore, they must be more flexible and adaptive in a dynamic environment where change is the one constant. Innovations must be grounded in sound pedagogical practice and confirmed learning theories and, once implemented, assessed to ensure they meet projected objectives.

Our proposed definitional framework emerged from one aspect of a small study whose aim was to understand the factors influencing how engineering, software engineering, computer science, and information systems faculty perceive the curriculum and how they use it on a day-to-day basis. Data was collected from 22 faculty at three Australian universities using a mixture of one to one and small focus group interviews. Qualitative analysis was conducted using Charmaz’ approach to grounded theory. The data upon which the proposed definitional framework is based was collected in response to the following questions. What do the academics perceive to be (a) the elements of a curriculum, (b) the relationships between those elements, and (c) the nature and importance of those relationships?

Analysis of the data suggests that curriculum is comprised of three main concepts. These are: a) as an abstract notion – the set of theoretical elements and relationships between those elements; b) as a process – the lifecycle of a curriculum; and c) as an artifact – the output of curriculum as process: the written, intended, planned, the official curriculum. These three concepts of curriculum can be seen as sub-systems of a curricular system.

Our proposed definitional framework represents the abstract notion of a curriculum. Further development and validation of the proposed definitional framework is required, after which supplementary research may lead to the development of visualizations of the relationships between the curricular elements leading to the development of a tool, or tools that can be used by faculty and institutions alike to assist with the design, development, maintenance, and accreditation of curricula. Such a tool might also assist students to frame their learning through the provision of context for that learning.

Johns-Boast, L. F., & Corrigan, G. (2016, June), Curriculum: A Proposed Definitional Framework Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26628

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