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Chapter 6
The case studies: curriculum decisions

Significant decisions

The interviewees were asked what they believed were their most successful or most vital decisions. Their answers ranged through all aspects of the curriculum process.

The comments on the data gathering stage pointed to its importance in the success of the curriculum process. "The occupational research governed the curriculum process; it meant we had a very clear picture of industry needs." "The occupational research was extremely thorough and saved time when we came to the actual writing." "Everything went well because we did our homework properly." "The industry, teacher, and student survey was vital to our decisions."

Two respondents referred to the importance of what was going on overseas. "We used an overseas document as a spring board; this gave us an idea of overseas trends." "It was important to send a teacher overseas; she was able to give us independent advice."

A warning about the limitations of occupational data when there is resistance from teachers, or elsewhere, was sounded by the curriculum developer concerned with the Photography course.

Any attempt to use curriculum research methods as a weapon with which to bludgeon teachers into change is foolhardy. Unless there is a very large budget for the research, the data will not be sufficient to argue a water tight case, even if done well.

There was evidence of satisfaction in a further comment where the industrial survey had supported recent TAFE directions in educational innovation.

An accidental spin off of the occupational data was that it identified certain personal characteristics needed on the job. When we introduced these to the course, student confidence levels increased to the point where we could decrease the time previously spent on basic skills and drills.

In the case of the Beauty Culture course, where the role of the curriculum development team was particularly unusual, they considered it very important that they were aware of that role.

We have a double educational role, one to the students and one to industry, but DEIR [the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations] were using us to clean up the industry. This puts TAFE in a difficult situation. We haven't bowed to industry; we've had to be pretty independent, and most of them were quite ignorant of what we were trying to do. I suppose many of the traditional apprenticeship areas might have started this way in the past.

There were a number of comments on the importance of the course structure. It seems that when at times one small element of course structure fell into place, the rest became much easier.

The most important thing was the realisation that the whole course fell into place around the concept of "installations" as distinct from "areas of study".

The most significant decision was to change the up front phase of the course from basic skill development to career related studies. The career related studies concept encourages teachers to involve students in experiencing terminal trade skills prior to making career decisions. Basic skills development is delayed until the second phase of the programme.

It proved highly successful going modular. It disciplines lecturers and students.

The use of an integrated, modular style of syllabus was our most important decision. The structure was sound and it allowed earlier productivity. The assessment concept was good too. Accuracy, soundness and workmanship, these could be portable criteria for other trade courses.

The concept of this kind of cross disciplinary, broad based pre-vocational course is a real break through. It's a brand new course for a completely new market in a whole new set of circumstances. It is cheaper also than pre-apprenticeship courses because it enables students to use what is there instead of buying new equipment.

We put "process skills" rather than "skills" at the centre of the curriculum. This was vital to the way the course developed.

The recognition of the philosophy of participation of Aborigines in Aboriginal education affected who worked on it, who helped, how it was done, etc. There was also the significant inclusion of counselling, peer group support, support systems, and gearing the course towards specific cognitive and affective cultural needs.

A number of the interviewees referred to the importance of the people involved in the curriculum development. It is interesting to compare these comments with those on personnel in the next section, where the wrong combinations of people were seen as a problem in the curriculum process.

The people in the advisory group were very important, a good mixture of industry and trade specialists, and of teaching and curriculum specialists. Industry can pull the wool over the eyes of a poor teacher, and we teachers can get too tightly wound up in our own little webs.

We had an excellent person from the TAFE curriculum department. It saved us going up too many blind alleys and the curriculum decision making structure itself was very good, a good mixture. We were a travelling team, meeting weekly in different colleges, inviting staff and making them feel part of it. We weren't too centralised.

Maintaining consistency in the task force membership is an important factor in developing a good working relationship, which enables a more efficient development of the curriculum.

The appointment of a coordinator in the three largest colleges was very important. They helped disseminate and implement the course.

Another team, consisting mainly of instructors, made an interesting decision about dividing up the teaching and curriculum development duties of its members.

We made sure our curriculum developers stayed in front of a class, so they wouldn't lose touch with the realities of practical teaching.

One respondent anticipated possible personality problems and set up a mechanism to protect teachers who were engaged in writing the instructional materials.

We didn't divulge who wrote which programmes because it can stifle positive feedback and create personality clashes.

The Trading Standards team had two groups of people to thank for their very survival. They referred first to the Heads of TAFE External Studies, who "recognised the special problems of off campus development" and were prepared to cooperate in a joint materials sharing exercise. Second, they acknowledged the "constructive and persistent attitude" of the team's industry representatives "who worked so hard and in their own time" to bring the course to fruition. Such high approval of "industry" people was rare among the case studies, but the National Standards Commission and the Australian Institute of Trading Standards can hardly be considered as "industry" in the usual sense.

The respondent for the Horticulture national curriculum project also spoke of the tremendous satisfaction which comes from successfully shared initiatives.

There has been an increased level of cooperation between states and territories, which has led to a sharing of teaching materials and has laid the foundation for a much more efficient use of TAFE resources. We have also developed a centralised data base for a horticulture learning resources index and curriculum documentation, accessible by all states and territories. Rotation of meetings in different states has ultimately resulted in increased individual teacher contact between states. We now have for the first time, national curriculum documentation at the basic vocational and trade level, in the four horticultural trades.

The Spray Painting curriculum developer mentioned that the procedure of starting with the third and final level of development was one of the most important decisions. He gave a number of reasons for this.

Having a small development team, if we had started at Stage 1 we would have been like dogs chasing their tails trying to produce the learning package to keep in front of the students. We avoided the risk of a student saying, "Where's the rest of my self-paced program?" The final year apprentices were mature and positive in their approach to the pilot and were constructive in their advice and criticism. They were going straight back into industry and were, at that level, capable of communicating with employers about the changes. They in turn will be possible employers themselves within a short period of time. Early programmes are never as good as they will be when the developers become more experienced. Thus when stage 1 students enter the new courses after 3 years of development, the whole programme will be well designed.

Difficulties and problems

Personal and interpersonal problems were identified on several different levels. There were incidents where the developer felt there was undue interference from senior teachers. The following comments indicate irregularities in the seniority of the curriculum developers in relation to some teachers and suggest the existence of power struggles as curriculum developers tried to establish their specialist expertise within the TAFE structure. The situation is complicated further in the case of teachers seconded as curriculum developers.

There were difficulties with senior teachers, who kept giving their own ideas on how the curriculum should be developed. The team had to tactfully side step many suggestions and directions that were not based on the results of the survey or on the facts. We had to take care that the project wouldn't be compromised. There was an extremely strong determination within the school to retain control of the course. It is always difficult to eliminate lecturers' favourite topics and methods. They hate it, even when the industrial data goes against the old ways.

One or two teachers dominated and they filtered out too much. Some were very biased, and most had been away from industry too long.

The most difficult thing for me was to be seconded out of a teaching situation and not given the authority of seniority in the curriculum task. Some of the seniors made it difficult for the development team, in spite of the backing of the department and of industry. This was the hardest thing in implementing change.

Teachers working on course development, writing and trialling, educed more sympathy, although there was evidence of some impatience by both teachers and curriculum developers when curriculum development principles were not easily assimilated.

It is difficult to get lecturers to differentiate between "nice to know" and "need to know".

We had to really stress this "process skills" concept in staff development. We were pioneering changes which teachers found very difficult, and they resisted.

It was very difficult getting teachers released for full time work on the curriculum, and for part time teachers engaged in course writing to be left alone and given their proper quota of writing time. That is always a problem of writing in your normal workplace.

There were difficulties in sharing the preparation of material between participants to get collective ownership and in the need to maintain internal consistency within documentation.

We were dependent on cultural judgements on the content and length of subjects like communications. Decisions were being made by non-Aboriginal people who hadn't any experience with the needs of Aboriginal students.

The problem was even more difficult in the case of Trading Standards where some of the material was written by individuals from industry. Even though they had the assistance of an instructional designer, the writers were not trained educators nor experienced in instructional writing.

One problem was the writers' lack of understanding of the time involved in producing curriculum material. Even when much work was done in their own time, the output lagged far behind the initial enthusiasm.

One developer expressed hurt concern at the attitude of teachers when he felt he had made every reasonable effort to involve them in the process.

The most disappointing thing was the change of views of some college staff from one of enthusiastic support for change during development to a position of condemnation at the implementation phase.

Some of the problems were seen to come from the TAFE system, and reflected difficulties over time and finance.

We were two people doing the work of three. Alongside all that occupational data, we also had decisions being handed down from executive level. Anti-discrimination and occupational health and safety had to be included by legislation. The course is far too big and will have to be cut down enormously ... but there are only certain parts we are allowed to cut ... real political constraints.

The people high up tend to balk at task analysis. It seems so expensive. They prefer to talk about "fast track" methods, but we can prove it is more cost effective in the long run.

People have been quoting outrageous figures as the cost of developing our self paced programmes. It will cost about $500,000, but this is for two complete trade courses. Incorporated in these costs are buildings, fixtures, AV soft and hardware, developmental materials, and wages for two study areas. Considering that this was a major overhaul of two study areas that hadn't had a curriculum change in ten years, I believe it will prove a lot cheaper than a traditional course to maintain. We don't need 16 sets of everything, for instance, now that it is complete.

Some financial problems came from outside TAFE. A case in point was the Community Development Certificate, which had to depend on money from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for the course to be run.

The biggest problem is the battle we are still having with the funding bodies which will affect the length, the quality and success of the course.

Problems and constraints imposed by TAFE funding and procedural directions were compounded in national curriculum developments because they were attempting to satisfy the needs of eight TAFE Authorities at one time. The respondent from the Horticulture team listed the following as the greatest difficulties in curriculum decision making.

The differing curriculum requirements and practices in each state and territory made it difficult. The members had little appreciation of the situation in other states. Also, there was an understandable wariness of some states to commit themselves to a curriculum project which could have staffing, equipment and facilities implications.

The selection of course content caused problems for some developers. "It was very difficult to give on the job experience without having an on the job component; we had to devise group projects." "We had to run a trade level programme when no other state was. We had no choice. This was a severe restraint." Two further content selection issues were pursued in more detail.

The selection of content areas was strictly on economic grounds, numbers of unemployed youth, underemployed teachers, industrial futures and so on. This was a difficult constraint.

The most difficult thing was to leave things out, to be hard headed about the things of the past which just weren't part of the job any more.

Suggested improvements

The interviewees were asked to suggest ways they could have improved their curriculum process if they'd had the opportunity to do it again. Only one respondent had the confidence to claim, "Basically it's a good course and I don't see how else we could have gone about it."

On the topic of the occupational data collection, three comments suggest a need for faster, more efficient methods of assessing the needs of industry.

The survey could have been better. We had masses of data and got a lot of flack from staff who believed that they knew what industry needed more than industry did. There are better ways of doing it nowadays.

I would never call for public submissions again! We really did far too much work.

Never use a task inventory approach if skills in the artistic realm are important to a course. Task lists are hopeless in describing artistic skills.

Some commented that the project organisation could have improved.

We lacked support services. There was too much idealism and we tended to ignore the administration of the project as a whole.

We could have improved the publicity, or the "marketing" of the project in its initial stages.

The national project teams were particularly aware of the need for good organisation because of the compounding of difficulties across distances and different organisational bodies. These comments indicate the different needs of the two teams.

We needed more frequent telephone contact between meetings to check progress and understanding of what was required for the forthcoming meeting. (Horticulture)

We should have held meetings on rotation in all the different states to ensure observation by TAFE staff and industry representatives, as well as giving task force representatives a picture of the prevailing situation in the different states. (Horticulture)

Post initial meetings should have been held in Victoria where current and proposed course implementation are effected. (Trading Standards)

The Trading Standards team realised that their problems stemmed from a misunderstanding by the Curriculum Projects Steering Group of their original intention. "The original proposal should have made it quite clear that the course had to be produced in off campus mode." The respondent also commented that "The heads of external studies should have been formally involved at the outset."

Comments on the staff development of curriculum team members and the teachers who were to implement the course occurred in more than half the interviews. A number of important issues is evident in the following quotations.

We should have had curriculum training first so we didn't start so slowly. A consultant was brought in later and it helped no end.

Teachers involved in curriculum development are simply not well enough prepared for the task.

I would take more care in future about which teachers were involved in the curriculum process, and perhaps use more industry people.

I would stick rigidly to the technique but we should train the teachers to use it, because they know the subject.

We should have involved teachers earlier in the programme. We needed to let them know why the changes were taking place. One to two months with 30 teachers is not enough. There were still 200 left to convince. We could have taken five years. I would have liked more contact with lecturers. Although they piloted each module for us, new teachers got out of step.

I would have liked the authority to monitor the pilot programme.

The colleges were all at different stages. We should have allowed more flexibility and more choice. We could have been more sensitive to local needs.

Teachers needed more time. It was all too fast.

The course should have been thoroughly monitored and evaluated.

More in service training of teachers in the early stages would have made the task of implementation easier for all.

We needed further meetings with colleges prior to implementation. This could have assisted a smoother introduction and a more receptive climate in the colleges.

The need to pay more attention to teaching strategies, was mentioned specifically in three of the curriculum interviews.

We should have spent more time on assessment techniques.

We perhaps could look at self pacing, individualised computer programs, etc. We could have used some Keller Plan or similar techniques.

I would have liked more Aboriginal involvement in the course, more travel to colleges, informal talks, more large group sessions. We could have been more conscious of Aboriginality, but funding and distance constrained us.

Most of the developers had been involved in pilot programmes and implementation issues. These were often used as formative evaluation, as part of the curriculum development process, and gave important insights into the successes and shortcomings of the project. Here are some of the comments.

In the best of all possible worlds, the implementation requirements for a course should be assessed early, and preferably be approved in principle prior to final syllabus development. The biggest brake on innovation is, I believe, the reluctance of syllabus writers to trust the system to release the resources needed for good educational provision. This is a major structural limiter on the provision of good education by TAFE.

There are real problems expected in trying to implement the mastery concept in over 100 colleges. There will have to be massive staff development.

The course has too broad an entry level. There will be too many students in the middle level.

Implementation problems included equipment not arriving in time. The delays upset the start of the course.

We made a mistake by running the pilot in a small country college with students on block release. It was too successful; they were all too keen; we didn't learn enough from it

Curriculum Decision Making in TAFE [ Contents ]
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