Scope of this project
In the broadest possible terms, the curriculum development process consists of four, not necessarily linear, stages: needs assessment; design and development; dissemination and implementation; and course evaluation.
This project was limited to what could be regarded as the first part of the second stage, the decision making stage of design and development.
The first stage, data collection and analysis, or needs assessment, was researched by Anderson and Jones as a TAFE National Centre commissioned project on data gathering by group process methods and research workshops. The researchers described the various occupational analysis procedures used by TAFE Authorities, and discussed the issues involved in producing reliable and valid data on which to base curriculum decisions. At the same time, implementation issues in TAFE curriculum were being explored by Kennedy, Patterson and Williamson in Western Australia. Another related area, curriculum resources and materials production, was investigated in two TAFE National Centre projects (Kenworthy and Schilling, 1984; McBeath, 1985). While materials design issues, in the sense of teaching and learning options, rightly fall within the scope of curriculum design and development, these two projects obviated the usefulness of including those issues in this book.
Other projects being researched at the same time, therefore, defined the starting and stopping points of the issues to be covered in this research. They also justified the narrow context in which the questions of translating data into curriculum were viewed.
The issues were confined to those relevant to TAFE vocational training courses, such as pre-vocational, apprenticeship and certificate courses at various levels. They did not include curriculum development issues affecting personal enrichment, access, further education or leisure courses, nor did they touch on TAFE curriculum consultancy projects for industry. The former are not normally developed formally by curriculum developers and probably call more on general principles of adult education than on occupational data collection. The latter are still in need of further research, although they presumably use the same basic principles of curriculum design and development.
A number of curriculum issues were identified in chapters 2 and 3 and their importance justified by reference to the current literature. The literature, however, includes little discussion of these issues from the point of view of curriculum decision making, nor, to any great extent, of the factors which will influence the way the issues are adapted to and incorporated in the structure and content of new curriculum projects.
It has been suggested that decisions on curriculum appear to be based on intuition or professional judgement. If this is so, how can we ensure that this intuition is trustworthy? How can professional judgement be developed? What are the ingredients? How can new curriculum developers begin before they have developed the intuition and professional judgement that, it is claimed, come from experience? In an area where procedures in most TAFE Authorities are clearly and tightly defined, and the educational issues are at least partly documented, is it possible that a whole series of questions has not yet been dealt with? Is it possible that some very important questions have not yet been asked, let alone answered, in the area of TAFE curriculum development? The object of this research was to find out.
It was necessary first to establish whether the key educational questions, or similar ones, were being satisfactorily addressed and answered. Can it be assumed that curriculum developers know what options are open to them? Are they familiar with current thought and development in the field of TAFE curriculum in Australia? Are they educated in TAFE curriculum issues?
Second, the research needed to discover what factors consciously and subconsciously influence decision making. This was to prove more difficult. People can answer questions about conscious influences, but the subconscious ones can only be estimated or partly guessed at. One of the reasons why TAFE curriculum literature hasn't dealt adequately with the problem of decision making is, without doubt, the number of important influences lying beneath the surface which can't be readily observed.
Third, the research set out to discover whether, at a time of increasing economic accountability, informed intuition and professional judgement could remain the basis of decision making, or whether guidelines or considerations could be established to make the process more efficient and effective. This was to be attempted on the basis of the findings of the two previous questions.
Experienced curriculum developers were asked what issues they considered, on what data they based their decisions, and how they justified these decisions. They were also asked about the decisions themselves and, in particular, which were the most difficult, the most significant, the most successful and least successful and whether they would do things differently if they were to tackle the problem again. It was hoped to extrapolate from this information, guidelines or principles to assist curriculum developers in their decision making function. It was not envisaged that a procedural model or a check list of procedures would be developed, as procedure is already well catered for in the literature available to TAFE Authorities. Rather it was hoped that a set of principles could be identified which might free curriculum developers from the restriction of narrow procedural paths and set answers, and give them a broad and informed context in which they could make decisions realistically and with confidence.
An advisory committee was established in the early stages of this project. Its members consisted of people involved in curriculum research and development in TAFE in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Their role was to read and comment on the draft document at various stages and help stimulate the flow and structuring of new ideas. They met once at the TAFE National Centre for Research and Development, to discuss the content and structure and research methodology, and to add their perspectives to the issues which were evolving. It was decided at this meeting that the project should tap three sources of curriculum expertise in Australia - TAFE curriculum literature, practising curriculum developers and selected curriculum projects as case studies.
A network of contact people, all currently engaged in practical curriculum development, was established during the first three months of the project. The role of these curriculum developers was of a less formal nature, consisting mainly of discussing various issues as they arose and providing examples from their day to day experiences when required.
Close contact was also kept with those researchers working on other TAFE National Centre commissioned projects researching occupational data collection, resources development and curriculum implementation. A symposium was organised at which these TAFE curriculum researchers met and presented papers on their research under the title "TAFE curriculum issues", at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference in Perth in 1984.
The case study method was intended to explore in more depth what was going on in TAFE curriculum development across Australia. The case studies were selected to range across a number of different kinds of curriculum projects, representing pre-vocational, trade and certificate level courses. They included courses in traditional areas, old and new, and completely new courses. They were investigated by open ended interviews with the curriculum developers who managed the curriculum decision making, or with a key person in the curriculum team.
The researcher was a member of the task forces of two national curriculum projects during the time of the investigation, and it was decided to include these as case studies also, and to study them by participant observation methods.
The two methods of investigation produced significantly different kinds of results. The interviews produced descriptions of curriculum decisions in retrospect, biased by the interviewees' memories of the processes and the final decisions made. In the case of the older projects, responses were further distorted by implementation and any rewriting which had occurred since. This was not necessarily a disadvantage, highlighting as it did the fact that curriculum development is a dynamic on-going process of change, as well as the fact that dissemination, implementation and formative evaluation are integral parts of the process, although this project does not deal with them. Another factor of the interview approach was that the respondents' recall of the influences on the decision making process was often blunted by the decisions themselves, except for the more dramatic or difficult events leading up to them. For a project of this size, this was also of some advantage in that it ensured that a certain amount of editing had already occurred in the minds of the respondents, and only the most significant events were described. The older the project, (the earliest began in 1976) the more serious this editing had become, and the hoped for gains lost some of their effect.
Participant observation methods produced almost the opposite effect. The researcher was in both cases a working member of the group and was seen by the other participants more in the role of curriculum developer than as an observer or researcher. Hence she was involved in the many levels of interpersonal exchanges, large and small, and aware of the constant rise and fall of pressures and emotional levels, as well as the more important factors leading to the major decisions. Within that context, the decisions tended to become less important than the process, and from that point of view gave a set of insights which filled in the gaps left from the interviews. However, the researcher also was relying on memory after the event in collating the case study material, as no formal recording instrument was used during the meetings.
An open ended interview schedule was developed with the aim of exploring the perspectives of the curriculum developers on the selected project. By giving little more than working headings, the questions aimed to avoid putting preconceived answers into their minds. The schedule was printed and sent to interviewees in advance, giving them time to think about the issues. Among those who had prepared for the interview, there was a tendency for greater digression and jumping from one part of the schedule to another. This produced valuable spontaneous information, but the lack of structure made the responses much harder to analyse.
The interview schedule was developed along the lines of the issues discussed in chapter 3, and is included here as Appendix B.
The sample of case studies was chosen on a number of factors. The researcher combined the interviewing timetable with interstate visits related to other TAFE National Centre business, which influenced the selection of states visited. These were Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. The selection of projects in these states was made with the advice and assistance of each state's representative on the Australian Committee on TAFE Curriculum (then the Curriculum Projects Steering Group). Projects were chosen partly because they had been interesting, important or challenging, partly on the basis of who would be available for interview at the time, and partly to ensure that a balance of different kinds of curricula would be achieved.
One interview was conducted by telephone and thirteen by face to face discussion, in most cases in the respondents' work places. All were tape recorded to ensure accuracy and as the analysis didn't take place until a year later, this proved a wise decision. Each interview lasted between one and one and a half hours. The interview tapes were analysed by interpretative methods, and a draft of the case study chapters sent to the interviewees for comment on accuracy, possible misinterpretation and omissions. Their comments were noted and assimilated into the final project.
Members of the advisory committee did not meet again, but continued to read and comment on the draft into its final stages.