[ Contents ] [ Home ]

Chapter 8
Conclusions and directions

Change in project aims

At the outset of this research, a number of discussions with curriculum researchers and developers focused on possible and desirable outcomes. What did the research expect to discover about the gaps in the curriculum process discussed in chapter 1? What could it offer as an alternative to "intuitive leaps" and "professional judgements"? Was it looking for a technique of decision making, whereby curriculum developers could be taught their job and be held accountable for their performance? Was it aiming to give them a procedure to increase their efficiency and confidence? Was it seeking the definitive model for curriculum decision making in TAFE? Was it going to produce algorithms or formulas to steer curriculum developers through questions such as appeared in the original project brief,

A further early question concerned the existence of patterns in various kinds of curriculum development. Were different procedures necessary for different kinds of courses? Were decisions different if the course content was established before the structure, or the structure before the content?

One of the earliest exercises in this research was to draw up a thirty two step procedural chart of curriculum decision making. This was distributed to TAFE curriculum practitioners to comment on, and to try to improve in the light of the curriculum development they were involved in. The comments and suggestions were so many and varied that it became evident that there were no patterns and that curriculum developers worked in many different ways. One highly experienced person, after struggling with the exercise for some time, summed up his attempt in these words.

A difficult task! I am clearly not satisfied with this. It still doesn't capture the real dynamic that causes decisions to be made. Pressures, priorities, energy levels, ability and readiness for change on the part of the lecturers, balance, precedents, etc. You never start with a blank sheet, and the factors can vary so much.

The gaps were obviously still there and the procedural exercise had not helped identify or close them.

In choosing case studies as part of the research methodology, the researcher and the advisory committee kept their options open on possible outcomes. It was necessary to find out what curriculum developers did, what they said about their decisions and what they thought were the ingredients of decision making. What were the major issues for them? Did they use formulas or algorithms to make decisions? Did they work in set procedural patterns? Did they want stricter guidelines or better techniques? Were they anxiously awaiting the ultimate vocational curriculum model to solve all their problems?

In this sense, the case studies guided the research and it shortly became obvious that the original brief had not identified the right questions. The answers would always be different, according to the circumstances, because the circumstances were always different. There were no answers which were always right. There were few patterns or trends. Curriculum developers were not looking for a formalised way of answering curriculum questions nor a restructured procedure.

TAFE procedural literature is adequate. Each curriculum branch has produced, and appears to be continuously revising, various handbooks, manuals and flow charts to help the curriculum developer through the requirements of that particular TAFE system. These inform the developer of the committees and boards which have to be reported to during the process. They ensure the curriculum is properly supported and funded. They guarantee the course will be accepted and accredited. They provide the checks and balances the developer needs to work successfully within the system. Workshops in the various curriculum branches are available to keep developers informed and up to date. When teachers are seconded to work in curriculum development, they are given training and guidance in the procedures laid down by their TAFE Authority. The procedural aspects of curriculum development can be assumed to be working reasonably well, as none of the interviewees referred to them as a problem.

The research therefore was directed to those aspects of decision making which were worrying curriculum developers most, the educational issues, the data collection and the hidden influences on the members of the team. The questions could then be redefined.


Knowledge of curriculum options is available within TAFE Authorities. TAFE literature on some of the major curriculum issues is outlined in chapters 1 to 3. Curriculum developers are expected to keep up to date with these and other related questions. Some curriculum developers engage in research. Curriculum workshops are held in the various curriculum branches to disseminate and discuss new developments. Seconded teachers are presumed to know the options relevant to their field of expertise and their knowledge is added to curriculum knowledge. Although confusion does exist in the literature and more serious study is necessary, on the whole, research and evaluation is taking place and thought is being given to TAFE curriculum processes in Australia.

However, biases and knowledge gaps are discernible from the case studies. While a number of curriculum decisions are predetermined by outside factors, such as industrial award agreements, there are others, we must suspect, which are made without proper assessment of the options available. The case studies brought to light considerable confusion on issues such as modules, self pacing and mastery learning. There existed a very uneven awareness of entry and exit issues, articulation and flexibility of testing. There was virtual neglect of distance education and open learning options and most forms of individualisation.

From this it can be concluded that curriculum developers, especially the less experienced ones, need a better grounding in curriculum issues and the curriculum options open to them.

The collection and use of relevant data is not a straightforward issue and is complicated especially by its newness as a field of activity in TAFE. The need for occupational needs surveys is now well enshrined in the philosophy and directives of TAFE curriculum branches, but the significance of such surveys and their manner of execution are not perceived in the same way by different TAFE Authorities or by individual developers.

All curriculum developers contacted discussed their experiences and their views on data collection, indicating that they believed it to be an important part of their work. This level of awareness, however, is relatively new in TAFE. Many who began in curriculum development, even as late as the 1980s, can clearly remember examples of "arm chair" development and "desk jobs". The process of systematic occupational analysis, coming initially from the United States, was difficult to learn and expensive to execute, and the number of experts in Australia remained low. Simpler methods like DACUM and the Search Conference technique were adopted as alternatives by some curriculum branches. Less formal methods were tried as developers applied common sense approaches to the theories of needs assessment.

Approaches are wide and varied and there are strong opinions for and against the various methods. This was evident from the case studies. Data were collected and never analysed; too much data were collected; "fast track" methods were criticised; detailed task analysis methods were both extolled and condemned. The comments mainly concerned occupational data, but later problems indicated gaps in the collection and assimilation of all data, occupational, course and context. Problems were identified arising from resistance from accreditation bodies, teachers, students, funding and resourcing bodies and so on. Some of these problems could have been avoided if all context data had been available in advance.

The obvious conclusion is that at least some curriculum developers require more guidance and more confidence in the art of choosing which data are needed to make more effective decisions.

It is in the area of interaction of hidden personal, group and intergroup influences, however, that the bulk of the energy appears to be expended. This is the area which is least researched and discussed in its relation to curriculum development. The concepts have not yet been formulated, or even fully articulated.

Curriculum developers know these forces exist. They talk about them a lot, but as individually occurring problems, frustrations or battles of will. Many would see them as things which have gone wrong in the curriculum process, rather than as part of the process. The interviewees described their emotions and their states of mind in response to these forces and they were frequently negative. Tiredness, frustration, lack of understanding, difficulty, jealousy and hostility were words occurring throughout the interviews. On the other hand, there was also the joy, triumph and satisfaction of decisions well fought and won.

The high emotional response of the curriculum developers to their work is a factor which this research did not anticipate, and it was not easy to report it within the structure of the case study chapters. Chapter 7 grew out of the parts of the interviews which could not be reported under the interview headings.

It is not easy to summarise the variety of fluid, complex and emotional situations with which curriculum development deals. It must cope with rapidly increasing mobility and knowledge on all fronts, with economic and technological fluctuation and change, and with an array of related psychological and sociological pressures, fears and expectations. These are the factors which worry curriculum developers.

Types of forces and influences are recognisable and lists of related factors could no doubt be drawn up from listening to curriculum developers. However none of these lists would coincide with other lists. There would be no constancy. It is their fluidity and unexpectedness that makes them so difficult to tie down. This surely is the area of curriculum expertise which practitioners choose to call "intuition" and "professional judgement", as there are not, as yet, many other words to describe it.

The conclusion to be drawn here is that there is very little guidance available to help curriculum developers anticipate or deal with the hidden forces of the curriculum process, and further research is needed in this area.

Towards a solution

Curriculum developers need help in three major areas, general curriculum issues, data collection and the "hidden" influences on the development process. However, given the dynamic nature of curriculum development and the uniqueness of each curriculum situation, it would be a serious mistake to advocate certain things a developer must know or do. Rather there should be a set of principles or guidelines with which developers are familiar and within which they can search for appropriate answers to suit each different situation.

In the same way as a researcher develops a new and different proposal for each new project, curriculum developers should define the questions anew for each curriculum, read the relevant literature and choose suitable methods to collect their data. The methods cannot be predetermined, but should flow on from the questions.

The keynote of curriculum decision making lies in adaptability and flexibility. It is with this in mind that the reader should study the guidelines set out in the rest of this chapter. Flexibility and adaptability, however, are themselves only relative. Even during the life of this research project, there was a growth in the importance of cost and time as the major constraints on curriculum decision making. With these parameters over riding all other considerations, there is an even greater need for curriculum development to be flexible and for the developer to be adaptable. It also means that developers are likely to become more publicly accountable for their decisions. Accountability, in the sense of the guidelines set out in the following sections, means that developers can indicate that they fully understand the options available and can explain and justify their choices. The following sections have been compiled from the issues discussed in this book and have been structured under three headings to reflect the conclusions reached in this chapter.

Curriculum options

This section consists of a series of questions based mainly on the issues discussed in the first three chapters of this book. Curriculum developers should be well versed in the changing educational debates surrounding these issues. Each question should be examined in the context of a further set of subquestions, such as

These subquestions could then be applied to each of the following questions on curriculum process.

Curriculum data

The underlying principle of data collection is that curriculum developers should have the right amount of relevant information to answer the questions which will come up in the development process. It must be collected speedily and cost effectively. These questions provide a guide to the sort of data you will be seeking.

1. Do you have sufficient occupational data to indicate

2. Do you have data on the expected student group?

3. Do you have data on previous or similar courses?

4. Do you have data on the constraints of

Hidden curriculum influences

Hidden curriculum influences are the most complex and most neglected part of the curriculum decision making process. The following questions are in the form of a check list of ideas, insights and techniques which curriculum developers have experienced in their work. They are offered here more to encourage further research and discussion than as a panacea for all the problems of curriculum development. They are set out in the order in which they occur in the discussion in chapter 7.

1. Are you familiar with various negotiating strategies and expectations you might need in curriculum development?

2. Are you conscious of the factors of sharing which could be significant in improving curriculum development?

3. Are you comfortable with group processes and the interpersonal skills which might influence the curriculum outcomes?

4. Are you able to adapt to the dilemmas of role conflict?

5. Are you able to weigh and balance the factors threatening to influence your decisions?

Curriculum Decision Making in TAFE [ Contents ]
HTML author: Clare McBeath [ c.mcbeath@bigpond.com ]
This URL last corrected 3 June 2009: http://www.clare-mcbeath.id.au/cdmt/cdmtch8.html
Previous URL 27 Oct 2006 to 4 June 2009: http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/atkinson-mcbeath/clare/cdmt/cdmtch8.html
Previous URL 19 Aug 2002 to 16 May 2006: http://education.curtin.edu.au/pubs/cdmt/cdmtch8.htm
Previous URL from 8 Mar 1997 to 19 Aug 2002: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/trdev-aus/pubs/cdmt/cdmtch8.htm
© Clare McBeath, Faculty of Education, Curtin University of Technology