The problem for TAFE
A decade of rapid change
The past decade has seen great changes in curriculum development in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) in Australia. Ten years ago trained curriculum developers were still a rarity in the TAFE system, in spite of the recommendation in the Kangan report (1974) that curriculum design and development should become a top priority activity in the reform of Australia's technical training. By the late 1970s serious attempts had been made to make courses more relevant to what was expected in industry and more attention was paid to consulting industry representatives. Subject and course development, however, normally fell to senior teachers and administrators in the TAFE system, content specialists rather than curriculum specialists. Indeed, the first national core curriculum project, the Electrical Trade project, convened as long ago as 1975, followed this model (Parkinson & Broderick, 1988).
By the beginning of the 1980s NSW and Victoria had led the way in introducing a new professionalism to the field. Elements of occupational research, needs analysis, instructional design, curriculum and communications theory found their way into the processes of curriculum decision making. Experts came from the USA to run workshops and train curriculum workers. TAFE began to employ graduates from new degree courses in curriculum studies in Australia and overseas. TAFE Authorities set up curriculum development branches in each state and territory and posts were advertised for curriculum developers, educational technologists and instructional designers. The first half of the 1980s also saw the establishment of the TAFE National Centre for Research and Development in Adelaide, and the Curriculum Projects Steering Group (now the Australian Committee on TAFE Curriculum) began its important work setting up, funding and monitoring national and national core curriculum projects. By this time several of the big national occupational analysis projects had been launched.
As curriculum professionalism grew, so for a while did suspicion against teachers "dabbling in curriculum issues they don't understand". Teachers were contracted or seconded from colleges and expected to write courses without sufficient knowledge of what they were doing. There were seen to be too many "arm chair" developers, people who discovered they were "good at writing objectives", for instance, and did so without taking note of the broader contexts of course development. The number of trained and experienced curriculum developers was small during this period and there were wide variations between the philosophy, the process and even the language of curriculum practice in each state and territory. The Conference of TAFE Directors considered the situation important enough in the mid 1980s to fund a series of research projects into this new area of TAFE curriculum in the Australian context. These studies, carried out through the TAFE National Centre during 1984-6, were seen as a method of finding out what was going on in the different states and territories, of sharing these experiences and of "training" new curriculum practitioners in the field by making the research findings and reports available to them.
It was in this context that the first edition of this book was written. It was one of a series of TAFE curriculum studies looking at group process methods of data collection (Anderson and Jones, 1986: Jones and Anderson, 1986); curriculum decision making (McBeath, 1986); curriculum media and materials production (McBeath, 1985) and curriculum implementation (Kennedy, Patterson and Williamson, 1984 and 1986).
This book was intended to look at the question of making curriculum decisions, and in particular of translating occupational data into curriculum documentation. As it happened, the study took on a much broader perspective in response to the problems being experienced by curriculum developers throughout the country at that time.
The nature of TAFE curriculum practice continued to change and take on new perspectives as the late 1980s ushered in award restructuring and the concepts of multi-skilling and skills formation. The central message of curriculum decision making, however, remains as valid in 1991 as it was in 1986. More people are required to work in the area of curriculum revision and change than ever before and nowadays the greater majority of TAFE teachers can expect to be involved in some kind of curriculum work during their careers. The National Review of TAFE Teacher Preparation and Development (Hall et al, 1990) has identified curriculum development as amongst the important skills needed for the 1990s and all TAFE teacher trainees will be expected to have some basic training in this area. The case studies in this book, which were meant to give insights to curriculum managers and developers in the mid 1980s, remain as valuable in the 1990s for TAFE teachers, teacher trainees, or industry training officers, wanting to learn something about curriculum processes and problems and how other curriculum developers dealt with them.
From occupational analysis to curriculum decision making
Throughout Australia a significant amount of energy, finance and time is expended by TAFE Authorities, government organisations and industry groups in the analysis of various job and occupational areas. The purpose of these projects is to establish the needs of industry for the training of its recruits. Occupational analyses, on both state and national levels, have produced enormous quantities of data on the requirements of areas as diverse as tool making, beauty therapy and gardening. Such data are to be translated into educational objectives and new and revised subjects and courses built around them. The assumption is that when educationists can see clearly what the requirements of industry are, they will make more realistic decisions about the content, structure and accreditation of vocational courses and produce better trained workers.
An occupational analysis allows a course designer to identify the skills and abilities which need to be developed in the course of training. Course content developed on the basis of an occupational analysis will be based on objective information rather than subjective judgements.
Nowadays the language is harsher than that of the mid 1980s but the principle is the same. For TAFE to effectively and efficiently respond to the restructuring needs of industry, writes Groenhout (1990), TAFE
will need to become increasingly involved in the industrial process. Industry is very much aware of its general training needs but often has some difficulty in specifying its training requirements. It is here that TAFE can and should respond and assist in the development of the training requirements reflected in the new awards.
In the mid 1980s the reasons given to justify occupational analysis were more educational and as much concerned with teacher and student needs as with the needs of industry. Curricula designed around the findings of occupational and task analysis would reassure employers that the skills and knowledge of trainees corresponded to those they required for successful employees. Vocational education programmes would have a definable relationship with specific jobs, or groups of jobs. Outmoded tasks and techniques would be eliminated from training. Time would not be wasted learning about materials no longer used in industry. The use of modern equipment and technological developments would be identified and incorporated into appropriate training programmes. Students would be reassured that they would not become locked into dead end jobs while shortages existed for trained personnel elsewhere. State and industry funding and support would be more readily available when educational need coincided with employment need. Colleges would have less justification in neglecting areas which were difficult or expensive to teach. Instructors would be more easily convinced that the procedures in which they excelled when they did their training were not necessarily pertinent to present day courses.
In the 1990s we are told that if TAFE training cannot respond to industry needs, TAFE as an institution and indeed Australia's entire economic future, will be at risk. "The requirements of the 1990s," write Bone and Guthrie (1990)
mean a quantum leap in terms of TAFE's attention to curriculum content, program design, award flexibility, modes of delivery and demonstrated student competence. Curriculum development and its associated processes will be the foundation on which this service will be built (p.2).
In these times of award restructuring in Australia, it is more important than ever that vocational education be responsive to the employment market. The starting point for curriculum decision making for vocational and technical education lies in the use of successful methods of occupational data collection and analysis. This is how TAFE assesses employment need.
There are dangers and shortcomings in basing vocational curriculum innovation entirely on the needs of industry, as we shall see later, but as data collection and analysis methods are developed and improved, few would argue that they are not essential to curriculum developers in their work. It is in line with the main thrust of curriculum theory during the past four decades that the first step in course development should always be an assessment of need (Tyler, 1949). Occupational analysis is seen as the approach best suited to assessing the needs of industry and to providing part of the data on which to develop industrial training programmes. Given the occupational data, a curriculum developer, or development team, is expected to translate them into plans for an educational programme.
Differences between TAFE and schools curriculum
Since Schwab, in 1969, called for the development of a practical and eclectic set of principles to guide curriculum deliberation and decision making, much has been written about the curriculum design stage. This is the stage of decision making where the followers of the different philosophical schools of thought frequently part company. This is the stage where adherents of each model have something to say about the ideal way of making decisions. The 1970s, according to Pratt (1980), was a decade of vigorous practice and debate. "Whatever the deficiencies of curriculum design by the end of the 1970s", he wrote, "they were not due to lack of effort". More people, he stated, poured more energy into the theory and practice of curriculum than ever before (p.37).
Most of this curriculum effort, however, pertains to schools based curriculum. During the last forty years it was the needs of schools which spawned the discipline of curriculum and it was in reference to primary and secondary education that its major issues were first identified. The TAFE task force on Procedures and Practices in Curriculum Development in NSW summed up the problem as follows.
A ... problem for TAFE is that much of the curriculum literature available refers to the curriculum process in the classroom, and is derived from experiences in education at the primary and secondary school levels (Anderson et al, 1982, p.15).
While TAFE curriculum developers benefit from reading about schools based curriculum concepts and experiences of the 1970s and 80s, from Australia, the UK and the USA, the problems and solutions of schools based curriculum are sometimes difficult to transfer into practice in vocational education. The answers it has found to questions regarding student needs, sequencing, escalation, delivery methods, student assessment and course evaluation are not necessarily relevant to vocational education for adults. Developers in schools can make assumptions which cannot be made in TAFE. They are not required to ask similar questions about the duration of a course, staffing needs, attendance patterns, funding and accreditation, nor to approach such matters with the same degree of choice as TAFE developers have. In fact, schools based developers typically are warned to stay within the parameters of accepted school practice and not attempt to vary the timetable, grade level or the number of school days in a semester or year.
In the TAFE context these factors are open to change and are valid decision making points. TAFE developers do not have to work within school type organisational constraints. There are different constraints in vocational curriculum, but normally there is more structural flexibility than would ever be found in schools. Indeed, TAFE policy in most states and territories nowadays insists on maximum flexibility in terms of timetables, location and methods of delivery.
The NSW Task Force (Anderson et al, 1982) pointed out that the schools based curriculum view contained in much of the literature does not "distinguish between curriculum and instruction, between the planning of the outcomes of curriculum and execution of the plan". They emphasise that implicit in much of the schools based literature is the assumption that "a teacher or a group of teachers are responsible for all the steps in the process", whereas TAFE teachers have only "varying degrees of input into the components involved" (p.15).
These words from the Tertiary Education Commission refer equally well to teachers as curriculum developers and to teachers as classroom planners.
There are relevant differences between students and teachers in TAFE and students and teachers in schools ... There is considerable evidence that the teaching/learning process for mature TAFE students shares as many differences with the teaching/learning process for school children as it does similarities ... TAFE institutions present to their teachers attitudinal and motivational challenges quite different from those faced by teachers of adolescents in secondary schools (cited in Kennedy, 1985, p.56).
It is possible that, in schools, the very meaning of the curriculum process is different from that used in vocational education. There is probably no final answer to the old debate about process and product, but vocational training has tended to be far more concerned with the product than schools, and especially so when the training programme is based on occupational data. There are indications that this may be changing as we enter the 1990s and we shall discuss this later. Schools on the other hand have been committed to the importance of process as part of their philosophy.
Vocational curriculum in the literature
While there is an abundance of literature on vocational curriculum, much of it is from the United States and the bulk of it deals specifically with occupational analysis. There is a paucity of work on the process of translating occupational, and other, data into curriculum and on the philosophy of developing training curricula. There has not been a published literature on vocational curriculum equivalent to that on the schools. Much schools based development concentrates on pragmatic and common sense decision making, much of it with roots in interpretive and responsive methodologies. Curriculum as technology, on the other hand, has been the most favoured approach in TAFE (Blachford, 1986). This has been reflected in the objectives approach favoured by most TAFE Authorities and manuals and handbooks based on the Instructional Systems Model (TAFE Vic, 1980a), with which TAFE curriculum developers in most states and territories are familiar.
The Instructional System Model is based upon systems theory. It is a system for organising the curriculum development process. Its adherents claim it is an open system, whereby vocational curriculum development processes feeding into the system are processed to produce curriculum outputs such as new courses, new modules, and new instructional materials (TAFE Vic, 1980a, p.15). The concept of the instructional systems model, it is argued by its supporters, "is not a collection of techniques for developing a curriculum". It must not be seen "as a lock/step process", nor involve the "establishment of narrow, industry specific courses", but rather it should deal with "the identification and detailing of possible variables in a given situation" (p.14).
There is an abundance of procedural models related to the Instructional Systems Model or based on the United States Armed Forces system of course development. The object of such linear, or technological, models in the majority of examples is to translate occupational data into lists of performance objectives. From there, it is expected that the developer will be able to make all further decisions to produce a training programme.
Given this level of content identification, the [Terminal Performance Objectives] and associated task data now became the basis for accomplishing the subsequent stages of curriculum development and instructional preparation, including the sequencing and designing of learning experiences (Ammerman and Essex, 1977, p.51).
A thorough analysis ... provides invaluable data. In addition to definition of objectives, the procedure clarifies learning priorities, instructional time estimates, and needed supplies, and provides guidance for the design of instructional methodology and evaluation (Pratt, 1980, p.171).
A model of curriculum development is a schematic representation of the step by step procedure somebody has used to develop a subject or course. There are many different models, and most basic curriculum text books will give several to choose from. For a while in the 1970s in particular it seemed a new model emerged with every new project as practitioners tried to better define their methods of analysis or recommend a new procedure. Typical of the model which is referred to most often in TAFE curriculum is probably the TAFE Victoria model referred to above. It is included here because of its popularity and not because of any intrinsic value it has over any other approach (see Figure 1).
However, in spite of lip service given to the Instructional Systems Model and the behavioural objectives approach throughout the past decade, there always has been a part of the literature of vocational education in favour of more imagination and flexibility, as distinct from such restrictive approaches. A number of writers and researchers claim that curriculum decision making can never be contained in a flow chart or check list, but is dependent on the quality of deliberation and interpersonal communication. Decker Walker (1971; 1975) wrote up some case studies on the development of various curriculum projects he observed in progress and proved that decision makers did not keep to any regular linear order of tasks. The process of deliberation, he believed, could take the decision making team down a whole number of unexpected paths and end up with better quality decisions than could be produced by the structured objectives model.
The argument in favour of a more deliberative approach is that curriculum developers might miss important implications in the data if they interpret it too literally. A competent typist, for instance, needs to have wider skills than being able to type so many words per minute. A good training course must include some learning about how that typist will cope effectively with new situations on the job. These "hidden" competencies are much harder to deal with using the objectives model.
Field (1990) compared task skills with the visible part of an iceberg floating in murky waters. It is easy to gather data and write learning objectives for task skills that are routine and predictable; involve a sequence of steps; have a definite start and finish; and produce a tangible outcome. It is much harder to discover data on, or to write learning objectives for, task management skills, work environment skills, workplace learning skills and interpersonal skills, all of which he says are hidden "under the surface" like the submerged part of an iceberg (p.30).
Figure 1. A systems model in linear format
(TAFE Vic, 1980b)
It is for the sake of dealing with problems such as these, that many curriculum writers advocate making curriculum decisions based on pragmatism, exploring the implications and deliberating on the outcomes. Only through such methods will curriculum developers be able to write curricula that are more flexible and imaginative than just a list of performance objectives and to introduce appropriate cognitive processes and critical dialogue into TAFE training courses.
Confusion in the literature
As in any new area of study, the technical language of curriculum has exploded into a vast cacophony of words and sounds. Education, instruction, training ...; goals, aims and objectives ...; jobs, duties, tasks and skills ...; competencies, attitudes, knowledge and behaviour ...; major duties, operative tasks, specific operation, area of competence, abilities ...; performance objectives, behavioural objectives, terminal objectives, specific objectives, enabling objectives ...; curriculum, curriculum document, curriculum content, syllabus, structured outcomes ... and so on.
Curriculum developers are by now familiar with much of the language, and in most cases would understand and accept the meaning of the words in context. It is when a developer tries to choose the best word in his or her own context that confusion occurs. Consistency is difficult to attain unless the developer chooses to follow one model and ignore the others.
Curriculum vocabulary is transferred across models apparently with difficulty. Does a competency include knowledge and behaviour? Can a behavioural objective include attitudes and knowledge - or "knowledges" as we frequently find it in the literature? What is the difference between mastery and achievement? When should enabling objectives be tested? There are two sets of implications in the word "content". "Competency" can be used as a standard of performance or as a complex group of tasks and skills which become the basis of performance based instruction. The concepts of norm referencing and criterion referencing lead to endless debates over marks and mastery. The term "mastery learning" is used both as a general term and in a very specific context. And there are those ubiquitous plurals - syllabuses or syllabi, curriculums or curricula, not to mention the inexplicable rarity of the adjective "curricular".
There is little consensus in the literature, and the confusion is compounded when developers from Australia's eight TAFE Authorities meet together to attempt curriculum projects on a national scale. Field (1990) wrote, when trying to come to grips with the terminology of skill formation,
Terms like "skill", "competency" and "job" are used in different ways by different people, and this has led to a lot of confusion. The term "skill" is particularly problematic. If a group of trainers or TAFE teachers were asked to write down the meaning of the term "skill", many would probably come up with statements such as:
- the ability to produce something;
- work that involves hands-on behaviour;
- something you need (along with knowledge) to do a job (p.23).
There appears to be a further lack of consensus on the meaning of the word curriculum and the role of the curriculum developer. Many published accounts of curriculum projects, especially those coming from the United States, are described as "process manuals", but make no further claim beyond the achievement of "a curriculum outline". One might question the usefulness of an "outline" to busy instructors. However it is the nebulous use of the word curriculum which is at issue. Forgione and Kopp (1979, p.v) describe a vocational curriculum development project as "acquiring, organising and describing information on ... occupational areas", and then "matching available curriculum materials with" it. Haworth (1980) complains
More often than not the syllabus outcome of the programmes developed is a list of behavioural objectives structured in an order considered appropriate to facilitate training and to supposedly lead to "employability in the world of work" (p.9).
Ammerman and Essex refer to curriculum as "a structured series of intended learning outcomes" (1977, p.43), and indeed they end up with little more than a list of structured behavioural objectives.
Gullion (1973, p.22) argued that curriculum development as such must be separated from programme design and instructional planning and that separate expertise is needed at each stage. She sees it as "the teacher's responsibility", for instance, "to plan learning experiences, to select appropriate ... content ... and to select materials" (p.28). In a significant number of writings, curriculum developers consciously isolate themselves from the issues of professional educationists, with the clear expectation that the educationist will pick up where they leave off. Others contend that the curriculum expert and the teacher must work together on every stage of development. Shahid Khan (1983) advocated, "For each course the curriculum developer should provide assistance to the teachers in regard to how to teach the course". Many teachers, however, would feel that this is going too far.
Bone and Guthrie (1990) continue the debate, asking at which point the process of curriculum development can be regarded as finished. It would be simple to say that the curriculum is finished when the programme has been accredited, they say, or after it has been "scrutinised and has been found acceptable" (p.15). However they go on to say that it is impossible to distinguish clearly between the various stages. "Implementation issues need to be considered during the design and development stages" and, conversely, curriculum design decisions certainly influence implementation.
For the purpose of this book, I would like to define curriculum as a process not a product. Curriculum can be regarded as the process of individuals or groups making decisions about the selection and organisation of educational aims, objectives, content, instructional strategies, evaluation procedures and learning materials. The curriculum process consists of making decisions. All curriculum documents and curriculum materials are the products of this decision making process.
If there are confusions in the terminology and with the role of the curriculum developer in the development process, there is even more of a plethora of conflicting ideas about procedure. It is not practicable here, nor particularly useful, to attempt to compare the many recommended versions of vocational curriculum development procedure. In real life the model adopted often depends on the nature of the occupational data collected, where the developers begin and in what order they decide to proceed. In other words, curriculum developers usually make up their own procedures to suit each different task. Some begin, (and some end) with a statement of objectives, while others begin by determining the programme structure before they define objectives. Some decide on "content" and call it "objectives", while others sequence the content into learning units before writing the objectives. Some specify the learning process before identifying topics or outcomes. Most vocational curriculum ends up with objectives of some kind, because that is what is specified by the TAFE Authority, the state accreditation body and by the national registration guidelines (ACTA until 1989). How these objectives were derived and how thoroughly they are written is far from consistent across the country.
The structure and procedure of curriculum development will vary also according to the type of course which is being developed. There will be different kinds of needs analyses required for course development for apprenticeships, post trade or special short courses for industry and those in the New Opportunities for Women (NOW), Traineeship, or Aboriginal Access programmes. People in the para professional or middle level certificate courses do not need the task level analysis required in putting together a trade or operative training level programme. Gough (1981) suggests one reason for the different kind of course development process usually followed in the Certificate, Associate Diploma and Diploma level courses in TAFE.
Middle-level certificate courses are clearly vocational, in the sense that they are designed to lead directly to employment, and they usually purport to equip students with the skills and competencies they will need in their employment, yet ... these courses have generally been taught using a subject-centred curriculum. The subjects of the curriculum are often derived as much from the traditional disciplines as from the skills of the vocation (p.83).
Although many writers stress the importance of procedural structure, very few appear to have recognised the inherent problem - that of trying to define the procedure. The Oregon State Department of Education (1977) stated, "There is no official, standardised procedure for curriculum development" and claims it should be seen rather as "common sense by design" (p.25).
Sequencing of curriculum elements will be looked at in more detail in chapter 3, but a few examples here will indicate the lack of clear direction that was coming out of the literature in earlier times. Ammerman and Essex were referring to the sequence of learning outcomes when they wrote
... the problem of ordering or structuring remains an important challenge for the future. There needs to be a means for indicating any necessary or preferable groupings. This structuring should be one that promotes ... learning ... It may not be the same as task groupings found in the work setting, such as intended by the duty categories suggested for the occupational survey listings of tasks (1977, p.43).
Writing in the schools based context, but on a matter familiar to the vocational curriculum developer, Posner and Strike (1976) identified content structure as a generally unknown area.
The question of how content should be sequenced and ordered has been the subject of educational debate for at least the past 10 years ... However, no satisfactory answer has been developed, and no adequate prescription is expected in the near future (p.665).
Gaps in the curriculum process
Strong claims have been made for the importance of occupational survey and analysis methods as a basis for curriculum development. Their greatest value obviously lies in the contact they provide between the training institution and industry, and their up to date description of occupations and jobs. They may also include an analysis of job tasks and skills and empirical data on the importance of tasks and how frequently they are practised. From this, the relevance and significance of each task should become clear. Pratt (1980) claims that these data, correctly analysed, enable the developer to define objectives, clarify learning priorities and estimate instructional time and supplies needed. They should also "provide guidance for the design of instructional methodology and evaluation" (p.171). This might be an exaggerated claim, but even further claims are made by others.
The utilization of the Task Analysis Process in the curriculum planning process produces a clear concise description of the educational program, its occupational relationships, objectives, the scope and sequence of its courses, course content and prerequisite and requisite requirements. (Ripley and Arredondo, n.d., p.2).
Others direct what should be done with the information, without indicating the link between such decisions and the data.
Once an analysis of the job has been undertaken, student performance objectives should be prepared after tasks which do not require training have been eliminated and tasks which cannot be taught entirely in the training environment have been modified (TAFE Vic, 1980, p.38).
It appears that many writers believe that the analysis of occupational data is enough to point the way to making sound decisions about educationally valid vocational courses. The NSW team (Anderson et al, 1982) sums up the problem inherent in this assumption.
... data gathered for determining what it is to be learned, will not necessarily and directly support decisions about planning instruction ... When, in various linear models, sequences of activities are described, the inference is that once the training objectives are established, all other decisions can be derived in a logical progression (p.19).
A very thorough and detailed document on curriculum development procedures used by TAFE in one state is a typical example of the assumptions often made. The initial curriculum proposal requires a "discussion" of the central questions; the Curriculum Committee must provide "interactive advice" on them to the manager of the working party; the working party must "analyse", "clarify", "develop", "devise" and "prepare" statements on them; the Curriculum Committee, the endorsing college, the Academic Review Panel and the Accreditation Panel must approve them; but not one of these bodies has the benefit of a clear set of guidelines on which to base its decision making. All decisions presumably emanate from the "professional judgement" of the members of the various committees and panels.
An occasional article highlights the very obvious gaps by attempting to bridge them subjectively. "Importance is a relative, value judgement which must be made by the curriculum writer," state Ripley and Arredondo (p.13). "There is no way ... to completely remove professional judgement from the curriculum identification process," add Ammerman and Essex (1977, p.33). "There is really no recipe for bringing about successful change, past some well tried methods that seem to have worked in other situations" (Kennedy, 1985, p.55). The implication is that either enormous intuitive leaps are being made by curriculum developers - professional judgements based on knowledge and experience rather than conclusions based empirically on the data - or else some very important questions are not being dealt with in an otherwise tightly defined procedure.