Curriculum decision making: discussion
It was clear from the interviews that the curriculum developers had a strong sense of professionalism in their decision making. They considered their decisions were appropriate and were able to justify their reasons for making them. This applies to those seconded from teaching as well as to full time curriculum developers.
Their explanations of curriculum decisions were invariably based on occupational, existing course and context data. They were all apparently reasonably familiar with the educational questions reviewed in chapters 2 and 3, and spoke of them in the context of their curriculum decisions as though they had been aware of them throughout the development process. The curriculum questions posed in chapter 3 were more or less addressed, possibly in different words and not so formally, and interviewees' responses indicated that such questions were fundamental to their decisions. The curriculum developers interviewed were, on the whole, "educated" in vocational curriculum issues and curriculum procedures, and steered their decision making processes through them with confidence. While this confidence may not have been constantly evident throughout the curriculum process, it certainly was in retrospect as the curriculum developers spoke about their projects.
What does this indicate then? Does it assume that a correct procedure does in fact exist for curriculum development? Do occupational and other data, subjected to informed curriculum questions, invariably determine that the correct curriculum will emerge? Would the same data and the same answers to the questions, produce the same curriculum again if the process were repeated? The case studies indicate that they wouldn't. Plumbing and secretarial curricula produced in different states contained similarities, but were different enough to indicate that other factors were at work besides informed curriculum knowledge and procedures. The differences between the sixteen projects were many, and each emerged with a flavour and personality of its own. This reflects the presence of other influences not mentioned, and possibly not recognised, by the respondents.
This chapter suggests some not so obvious trends and likely hidden influences on curriculum development in TAFE, and relates them to the case studies.
Negotiating and sharing
Negotiation strategies emerge as one of the most important aspects of vocational curriculum decision making. "Curriculum development is a political as well as an educational process," according to Noble (1985, p.127), reiterating the words of a number of the interviewees. Hard bargaining is often needed, formally and informally, and agreement "may entail compromises over course content and structure" (Noble, 1985, p.128). He writes of lobbying as a well established method of influencing involved groups, but warns that it must be employed with care.
Some external authorities and influential individuals may regard lobbying as an attempt to subvert legitimate decision making processes. Curriculum planners are probably better served by developing the art of gentle persuasion and building up good relationships over a period of time (pp. 128-9).
While the interview schedule did not ask specifically about negotiation strategies, many of the interviewees' answers implied their experience of hard bargaining, lobbying and gentle persuasion.
Noble also warns curriculum planners to be content with short to medium term reform, "a piecemeal approach rather than a single comprehensive attack" (p. 129). He refers to "incrementalism" as an important aspect of curriculum reform, and claims that "modest gain is preferable to none" (p. 129). A curriculum planner, he says, must be pragmatic and may have to be content with the production of a modified course proposal, rather than insist on its educational purity. This was the case with the Photography course, where the curriculum developer had to bow to the wishes of the teachers. Noble's advice coincides with the experience of a number of the interviewees, who indicated that they were aware of the political nature of their work, and were content to accept compromise as a valid and appropriate part of their decision making function.
The ability to anticipate objections would ensure greater success, Noble writes, and this implies good planning.
A desirable strategy may be to rely on incremental change to secure useful, but limited, reforms and to resort to planning to achieve more extensive changes (p.129).
The planning function exists in TAFE Authorities' procedural documents, staff development workshops and internal research (see chapters 1 to 3). This level of planning does help. It gives the curriculum developer the credibility and support of official and tangible procedure and direction and TAFE developers are happy with it on the whole. However their comments bear out Noble's contention that they do not wish to follow "a rigid sequence of steps", and that a plan "must be constantly subject to review and modified in the light of progress, surprises, new knowledge and fresh insights" (p.129).
Another factor influencing decision making arises from the very nature of vocational curriculum as a new and rapidly growing field of thought. Concepts do not form in a new field until they have been formulated in words and phrases which people recognise as true to their own experiences. Many of the present curriculum insights did not exist four or five years ago. The dynamic of development requires an interchange of ideas and experiences, of writing and criticism, of seminars and workshops, as it emerges as a field in its own right. Even then the concepts and principles continue to evolve. Meanwhile many good ideas remain half expressed, half tried. Some are tried and rejected several times before they are accepted into conceptual curriculum theory and become available to the practitioner. Curriculum decision makers have a responsibility to keep in touch with and to be aware of the work of their colleagues, to try novel and interesting approaches and to keep others informed.
Sharing curriculum ideas and experiences occurs on formal and informal levels. The Plumbing developers from Victoria and New South Wales were brought into closer contact through the National Curriculum Project. The Spray Painting developer had visited Victoria to observe Automotive courses in operation there. The Beauty Culture Trade course did not begin until the developers had talked with people in Victoria and Tasmania. The Horticulture task force included representatives from all states and territories in Australia, as did Trading Standards, at least at its first meeting. With increasing experience and mobility, curriculum developers cannot avoid sharing and borrowing ideas. This is reflected in a lessening of hostility and an increase in confidence and cooperation, both individually and on the part of TAFE Authority curriculum branches.
Until now, national curriculum development has placed a heavy emphasis on the concept of "core curriculum", or those parts of TAFE courses identified as common and acceptable to all states and territories. There was scope for wide variation in the non-core sections, and local versions of national curricula were often quite different from each other. By mid 1985 there had been over 40 national projects, and fears and hostility had lessened through the accumulation of shared experience and success. Both Trading Standards and Horticulture represented this new type of national curriculum. State law components in Trading Standards and common plant varieties in Horticulture, for instance, were incorporated not in separate non-core sections, but catered for within the overall national curriculum. A new element of professional trust was observable from the satisfaction task force members expressed when a state based difficulty was overcome or an individual's problems solved.
National Core Curriculum projects, or NCCs, are now usually referred to officially as National Curriculum Projects, or NCPs. The original need to use the core curriculum concept to protect ownership and control is likely to become less significant from now on. Shared ideas and experience produce confidence. With this new confidence, the not done here syndrome should weaken. Trading Standards provides the classic example. The Heads of TAFE External Studies in two states gave their support to the cooperative development of off campus materials. This in itself was a major breakthrough, but it was strengthened by the appointment of course developers from both states with authority to negotiate directly with the curriculum team and produce results as quickly as possible. The results of their negotiations led to materials from four states being accepted by the course administrating body. The materials carry the logos of six organisations as a symbol of cooperative development, and became the first truly national TAFE course in Australia.
TAFE Authority based curriculum development also shows signs of increased exchange and sharing of curriculum ideas. Curriculum language, concepts and procedures are being exchanged and discussed. Developers from various states are at least communicating, and if not necessarily changing their ideas, they are enlarging them.
Methods of problem solving have been described by various writers in terms of reconstructing the problem, elimination by aspects, narrowing down of alternatives, persuasion by evidence and so on. Anderson (1985, Chapter 7) discusses this literature on personal decision making at some length and many of the factors he identifies can be seen in operation in curriculum decision making. Factors of personal decision making are important, but in the curriculum development process they are magnified by the number of people involved in the decisions. It is a process involving group dynamics as well as individuals. Although in most of the case studies, one person was responsible for the management of the curriculum process, none of the interviewees spoke with the authority of a single voice. TAFE Authorities, administrators, teachers, professional organisations, unions, managers, employees and students were involved in varying degrees.
Much of the literature on decision making is limited to controlled laboratory experiments as a process without a past or a future and ignoring the personal and contextual factors which shape competition for control and acceptance between and within groups (Anderson, 1985, Chapter 7). Curriculum decision making is a dynamic process, dependent on the personalities, values, emotions, aspirations and knowledge of the people involved in it. It involves social, intellectual and professional rules. It assumes effort towards shared understanding, cooperation, group consensus, give and take and polite behaviour. When these "rules" are broken, the curriculum developer sees it as a threat and a problem. Several of the case studies identified a dominating individual as a problem. Several others referred to "interference" from TAFE, teachers or industrial bodies, in each case from outside the decision making team, as creating problems for the curriculum process.
Curriculum development is a matter of control or ownership by both individuals and groups. Participants of a group develop a sense of ownership which justifies their control over the process and the final decisions. The control itself becomes a shared thing and individual members of the team are not permitted to hold too much at any one time. Individuals with contrasting ideas are permitted to present and discuss their points of view, but the group as a whole has to be convinced, or compromises found, so that the new idea becomes accepted, not always as the best idea, but as the best idea in the given circumstances. This may take time. There were a number of references in the case studies to long debates. In the case of the Horticulture assessment handbook, however, the seed was sown in the minds of team members early on, and grew slowly, virtually undiscussed, as the curriculum process continued. At other times the team came to a standstill on what to do about given problems, and allowed an individual or an outside "expert" to supply an answer which they happily accepted as their own. This happened in the Victorian Plumbing course when the team invited the systems analyst to help them structure the course design.
The larger the working group, the more complex the rules of control become, and the wider the acceptance of new issues has to be. If control or ownership becomes unbalanced, the group process is at risk and the curriculum developer is aware of a further problem area.
Anderson writes of valency, that is, the energy or active force at work in a decision making group, and cites Hoffman's (1979) model to describe "the degree of attractiveness or acceptability of an alternative which impels a group to adopt it as a decision". He suggests that the decision is not necessarily the right or the only one, but that
the alternative most likely to be chosen has the highest valency and these alternatives tend to be differentiated early in the discussion (Anderson 1985, Chapter 7).
A group reaching early consensus on valency, feels the process has been smooth and successful, and the decisions appear correct.
Related to this concept is the importance of shared beliefs. Anderson writes of "back and forth" movement between defining the problem and generating solutions (1985, Chapter 7). Through this movement, shared values are established. The Trading Standards team, for example, consisted of TAFE and industry representatives working closely together. Educational and industrial consensus was shared early and new concepts were soon accepted as given principles. TAFE concern about correct instructional design strategies is a case in point.
The Beauty Culture team solved its need for shared values in the opposite way. Industrial contacts were gradually eliminated and narrowed down to those with whom they felt they could work successfully, to the extent that one professional association was eventually excluded completely.
A number of researchers have explored the importance of steps or stages in decision making, although the findings don't necessarily agree. The analysis of the five stages of decision making by Janis and Mann (1977, p.172) is of interest to curriculum teams, as each participant, not merely the managing curriculum developer, must go through these stages.
|1. Appraising the challenge||Are the risks serious if I don't change?|
|2. Surveying alternatives||Is this (salient) alternative an acceptable means for dealing with the challenge?|
|3. Weighing alternatives||Which alternative is best?|
|4. Deliberating about commitment||Shall I implement the best alternative?|
|5. Adhering despite negative feedback||Are the risks serious if I don't change? |
Are the risks serious if I do change?
Janis and Mann (1977) issue a caution against jumping stages by drawing attention to the vulnerability of the decision maker to post-decisional conflict if this is done. Where control of a decision making situation is illusory, decision makers can make over-optimistic estimates of outcomes that are a matter of chance or luck (Janis & Mann, 1977, p.16).
Each participant joins a curriculum team with a set of knowledge and biases. It becomes obvious to a participant observer how readily knowledge is shared and developed, and prejudices tempered if the individuals are protected from threat or personal risk. This is particularly important in the early stages when the sense of valency and shared values are being established. The possession of interpersonal skills by curriculum managers is just as important as their organisational skills and curriculum knowledge.
Curriculum developers see themselves as collectors and sorters of ideas, as mediators between conflicting interest groups, as managers making responsible decisions by weighing the educational, economic and political pressures and possibilities and dealing with them as imaginatively and efficiently as possible. In this sense, they are psychologists, philosophers and sociologists; they are organisers, arbitrators and directors; and they are innovators, change agents and producers of new ideas. Such an array of roles poses enormous challenges for curriculum developers. Is it any wonder that they resort to claims that decisions are made on the basis of experience and professional judgement? It is easier than identifying the myriad tasks and responsibilities inherent in the job.
Professionalism, however, contains its own ideology, and like other ideologies, it embodies elements of "falsity" and "obscurity" which are beyond personal choice (Billig, 1976). Once this is grasped, it enables us to better understand some of the conflicts in curriculum development, and why decision makers feel they are making compromises rather than finding the best answers.
The ideology of curriculum professionals comes into conflict with that of teachers, industry, administration and professional associations, each with their own professional ideologies and each restricted by their own elements of falsity and obscurity. This can hinder them in finding one correct or best answer together. The Photography project offers the best example of this. Teacher professionalism was in direct conflict with curriculum and industrial professionalism, each sincerely believing that their way was right. False elements in the ideology of the teaching group allowed it to impose what it believed were "moral" answers over and above the empirical evidence of the industrial survey.
A majority of curriculum developers also see their role as professional in the sense of being managerial and creative. There is a genuine concern among some that their talents and skills should not be diluted or their experience reduced to a check list of tasks performed on the job. There is a fear that any attempt to produce set flow charts or models of decision making would represent the reduction of the creative aspects of their work and would encourage less experienced people to restrict their approach to the rigid controls of a closed system process. In such a recent and rapidly growing field, every encouragement must be given to the practising curriculum developer to think creatively, with initiative and imagination, about all aspects of the development process. A recommended procedure or model would place a straitjacket on the developer which would inhibit the discovery of new issues and directions. It would dampen enthusiasm and encourage laziness. All the important creative decisions are left out of models, but curriculum developers know they make them all the time.
On the other hand are the adherents of closed systems approaches. In Victoria, and to a lesser extent in the ACT, the Instructional Systems model is endorsed by TAFE Authorities, and it was the preferred system used by several of the case study developers in other states. The model is based on systems theory and is closed in the sense that it lays down a procedure for asking curriculum questions and finding solutions, by examining the inter-relationship between the variables involved and anticipating the long range consequences of the manipulations of those variables (TAFE Vic, 1980, p.14). By working systematically through the steps and phases of the model, it is ensured that the right questions have been asked and that the curriculum is carefully planned. It ensures the relevance, objectivity and quality control of the entire curriculum. It is a systematic way of doing things and less experienced curriculum developers can train themselves in their craft as they practise using the model.
Role conflict is evident, however, in increasing polarisation between the followers of the open and closed systems models. It is an issue on which many developers have much to say, and although compromises were observed in the case studies, it is doubtful whether a middle way will emerge in the near future. One feels at times that preferred systems have become like religions, with converts to and opponents against them speaking loudly and long of their new insights, wisdom and faith!
In this conflict lies an anomaly. One of the central tasks of curriculum development is to analyse and describe the behaviour, skills and attitudes required for training students for an occupation. Systems analysts use their own procedures for the training of curriculum developers, but the adherents of open systems refuse, or are unable, to consider "training" in this sense. They point to the rigidity of the systems model and make much of stories like that of the leaking tap, mentioned in chapter 5, to prove that the model does not gain in perfection what it loses in creativity and imagination. In resisting a closed systems approach they make it very difficult to analyse the training needs of their own occupation, except that it must be based on creative, forward looking experience. Like anthropologists in the past who were advised to focus their research on cultures outside their own, must curriculum developers analyse and develop training for other peoples' occupations and not their own? It is possible that the interplay of human, economic, political and administrative factors is just too variable, too fluid, to be encapsulated in a model to suit all needs? One developer told the writer, categorically,
There can be no such thing as a curriculum model. Each situation presents a new set of circumstances and a new set of questions.
Sociologists have pointed to role conflict in areas of creative and cultural production. For example, Elliot (1977, p.147) in a study of BBC producers, pointed out that on the one hand, are the "demands of art", against the pressures of commerce, politics and career on the other. There is an implicit understanding among vocational curriculum developers that problem solving and decision making is an art form, that is, professional judgement balanced creatively between the demands of educational integrity and industrial pressures. The curriculum developer spurns the connotations of "training officer" in the same way as the fine artist dismisses the advertising designer as one who has sold out to the lesser ideals of commercialism. There is a similar rejection of the image of the developer as a "creative artist". Such people are seen as too romantic and Bohemian for the serious domain of curriculum development, and at best should be firmly relegated to the graphics or audio visual department!
Like Elliot's BBC producers, curriculum developers see themselves as walking the tightrope "between professional or craft standards and commercial judgement, between self regulation and close bureaucratic control" (Elliot, 1977, p.148).
Closely related is the concept of the role of "expert". "We are the experts," one curriculum officer told the researcher. "We are in this job because we know what to do." The danger in this, according to Elliot (1977, p.152), is that being an expert suggests a claim to leadership, which he feels can too easily become "a claim to know better than the client what his needs are." Curriculum developers do have a claim to leadership, and do sometimes claim to know better than industry what its needs are. Leadership claims prompt them to judge heuristically in struggles between employers and employees, between student needs and industry needs. The Beauty Culture decision to work with a small part of the industry is a good example. There is a fine line, however, between responsible leadership espousing heuristic procedures and one that is authoritarian and dogmatic.
"Professional", "expert" and "craftsman" are labels with positive values. Elliot (1977) claims that their meanings include "skill and competence in the performance of routine work" (p.149) and "a mastery of technique" (p.153). Such definitions should be seen alongside the creative and imaginative aspects of curriculum developers' work. As professionals they are required to work on both the technical and creative levels. This may create role conflict, especially among the less experienced or those in the early stages of their projects. The sixteen people interviewed appeared, at least superficially, to have had little difficulty working at the two levels as required. Some were obviously more imaginative or more technically thorough than others, but on the whole, and without necessarily being able to put it into words, they appeared to meet both the technical and the creative requirements of their work without any lasting conflict.
A further conflict, highlighted by a curriculum developer, exists in the increasing inclusion of a values component in new curricula. A great number of TAFE teachers were educated in the values and ethics of trade unionism. When teachers are appointed from industry, their values may alter to some degree in line with a changed sense of security or new image of themselves. The policy making levels of TAFE on the other hand, tend to represent the professional and managerial classes. Industrial values are also relevant, both those of employers and employees. If all these groups are represented in defining the values for formal inclusion in new courses, whose values are eventually selected? This question indeed was uppermost in the Community Development for Aborigines and Islanders course development, because of the added dimension of cultural values needing to be included.
Curriculum developers typically claim that they choose what is best for the student, and the case studies indicate that discussions along these lines did take place. Curriculum developers, however, are also influenced by their own values and conflict may occur. Students could be subjected to a mismatch or distortion of the values they need to be taught. Alternatively, amid the diversity of values represented in the TAFE institution, they could end up with the best of both worlds.
These are but a few examples of possible role conflict. There are doubtless many more, but the point has been made. Acquiring the ability to adapt to the dilemmas of role conflict may be a definable requirement of the role of the curriculum decision maker.
Weighing and balancing: making judgements
The correlation between occupational data and the content of the sixteen curricula was far from consistent. Only the Fitting and Machining team used an algorithm to select tasks for inclusion in the new course. It was based on the importance and frequency of the tasks performed in the work place. The Horticulture team had access to similar information, with more than 250 pages of computer analysis of the job tasks of four trades. However, while the survey task list was referred to frequently, the analysis of importance and frequency was not completed and not used in making decisions in the Horticulture courses.
Most of the curriculum developers interviewed certainly knew about formal analysis methods, and the computer capacity to handle them exists in all curriculum branches, but fifteen of the sixteen curriculum developers interviewed chose not to make their decisions this way. They justified this in different ways. Such methods were too time consuming; too mechanical; they detracted from the more important human factors in decision making; the response rate was always too low; the results were only as good as the original questionnaire used. Even these excuses were in retrospect. At the time of decision making, developers probably didn't attempt to justify their choices at all.
The interviewee who complained that there was too much data, concluded that a concise two page questionnaire would have produced enough occupational data for the needs of the team. In the case studies where occupational data were available, it was read and noted by the developer or the team, and merely referred to when necessary in the context of all other data. In the case of teachers working in curriculum development, the common belief was that apart from "a few surprises", they already knew about and accepted the information presented in the occupational survey. They claimed to have had no problem assimilating the "few surprises" into the decision making process.
No matter how detailed and extensive the occupational data collection, curriculum developers tend to make decisions as much on the strength of other, contextual data, and on their knowledge and experience of dealing with such data. Occupational data were sometimes rejected or added with no further comment or justification. "Some data will only produce red herrings," said one interviewee, retrospectively justifying a decision. In other cases, such as the Fashion course, the curriculum developer went outside the locally produced occupational data and acquired further information which her experience suggested would be needed.
This reiterates one of the originally stated problems. How do curriculum developers make decisions about what data to use and what to reject for inclusion in the syllabus? On what basis does the curriculum developer choose to select and reject parts of the occupational data? What is it in their experience that enables them to make such decisions? What right have they to make these decisions? Obviously we are looking at a much broader model of decision making than a one to one correlation with the findings of the occupational survey.
Curriculum decision makers, like researchers, writers and administrators, constantly hold reservations and make judgements about the information available to them. They do this by weighing and balancing the information against itself and against other accumulated knowledge. An experienced curriculum developer claimed that the different sources of data cannot be given equal weight in the decision making process. Some sources of data are not trusted as much as others; some are regarded as less important. Each source is seen within the context of the experience and philosophy which inspires it. Some are seen in opposition to the experience and philosophy of the curriculum developer or of TAFE itself - the profit motive of commerce and industry; job maintenance concerns among teachers; inexperience on the part of students; militancy in some unions; personal ambition on the part of some TAFE administrators; band wagoning or zealotry by individuals. These are the pressure groups and power blocs sometimes found in curriculum development, and decision makers must pick their way carefully among them, recognising the biases, and weighing their importance to the decisions to be made. The following comments were collected from both formal and informal discussions with curriculum developers and point to various forms of bias they may bring to their work.
Management doesn't want apprentices to know too much outside the set task. They might become a threat to their own jobs.
Teachers are not likely to be in the vanguard of innovation. They don't like changing their notes and time tables.
Students only know what they want, not what they need.
The administration people kept making impossible demands.
The older tradesmen kept telling us that the students needed more maths, just because they had to do lots of maths when they were training.
The curriculum people kept adding more to the syllabus when it could not be justified at all.
One respondent referred to the hidden agenda of curriculum development, and the responsibility of the developer to recognise these and weigh them carefully in the process of making decisions.
The hidden agenda are the real agenda. This problem is substantially reduced if good consultancy approaches are used, in a helpful sense, not as a policeman.
The hidden agenda, or those curriculum aims and constraints not committed to paper, emanate from individuals who dominate discussions for their own ends, as well as industrial, union or teacher groups. Sometimes their influence is visible and openly recognisable, but at others it is subtle and insidious. If the curriculum decision makers don't identify it and act accordingly, they may be left feeling confused and unhappy about how decisions occurred.
One respondent claimed, "We decided what to include in consultation with all the pressure groups". It is virtually impossible to please all pressure groups, and this respondent obviously meant that they "listened" to all the pressure groups and then made judgements which helped them decide what to include in the syllabus. Another emphasised the consultancy aspect of decision making, implying that her own personal beliefs should not be allowed to dominate any more than those of other groups.
I am a creature of political pressures. What I believe about vocational education really counts for very little. That is the reality of it.
The reality of curriculum decision making means balancing all the known data and making judgements on them. Making judgements requires many skills besides recognising bias and hidden pressures. If 90% of industry personnel indicate that they don't want X in the syllabus, and the state industrial training body declares that it does, there is a judgement to be made. If the 5% of industry which identifies Y as a particularly important trend, represents the most progressive companies in the country, then the developer must look again at the answers suggested by the other 95%. If research reveals that Z is the most significant trend in vocational training in the United States or in Europe, the fact that it is not practised in Australia should prompt further thought. These types of questions can exist on every level and at every stage of the process, each situation slightly different from the rest, and none of them necessarily able to be solved by reference to other decisions made elsewhere. This suggests another important factor which arises from the case studies. Curriculum development is assuming a proactive role in anticipating trends and changes. In the past, vocational curriculum development has tended to respond reactively to the needs and demands of industry. This has changed because of the need to keep up to date with rapidly changing technology. Changing technology causes job and skill requirements to alter far too quickly for curriculum development to continue to rely on reactive processes. Writing in 1982, Clover and Goode suggest that
the alternative way is for vocational education to become more proactive and involved with the transfer of new technology from research and development laboratories to practical use in business and industry. This would imply a new role for TAFE (p.17).
There was already evidence of this new role by the time this research was conducted. The Fashion Design and Production curriculum is the most obvious example in the case studies, but most of the others were influenced to a greater or lesser degree by proactive principles.
Technological change, however, is not the only factor necessitating proactive processes. General education and life skills components were included in most of the newer curricula on similar grounds. Occupational Health and Safety was specifically mentioned as part of all the New South Wales case studies. Assertiveness and other life skills components were written into the Community Development Certificate and the various secretarial courses. More and more often curriculum branches are now including such components, in line with TAFE's new role of anticipating changing needs and taking the lead in these times of educational and technological change