Curriculum Design Guide


The purpose of this guide is to help programme teams plan and review their programmes. The guide provides practical support within a framework of principles of curriculum design. It is designed to help programme leaders identify key issues to discuss with
their teams; areas that require thought and resolution before students start the programme.

Principle 1 the curriculum is holistic and coherent

During the early stages of reviewing and redesigning the curriculum the team should discuss broad questions about the purpose of the programme.

Why does the team want to redesign the programme?
What kind of student is the team hoping to develop?
Questions that could be used in discussion with the programme team:
1- What are the most important intellectual /professional /creative/ technical processes that a student will undertake on this programme?
2- What are the skills, techniques, behaviours, professional practices that a student will develop?
3- What distinguishes this programme of study in this University?
4- On what does the academic content concentrate?
5- What are the important values that inform this programme?
6- How is the curriculum organised to ensure the above?
7- How does the team view the process of learning vis-a-vis the content of learning?
8- Does the team have a particular approach to the curriculum, why and how?
9- Does the programme have a strategic approach to the development of WoW within the curriculum and provide opportunities to help students work towards WoW verification?
10-Is employability a core aim?
11-How does this programme of study relate to professional practice?
12-Is this programme more than a collection of modules? How?
13-What makes the level at which the programme is to be delivered appropriate?
14-Does the programme match the benchmark statement?

The Foundation Degree qualification benchmark is not specific to any particular discipline but sets out a generic framework for Foundation Degrees that serves as a reference point for use in programme design, delivery and review. Benchmark statements are also available for a range of Masters level subjects.
It may be useful to get together a group of students, recent graduates, employers or placement hosts who could discuss a similar set of questions.
A lot of activity, therefore, has to take place before a programme team can begin to complete a programme specification.

A programme specification
includes a concise description of the intended outcomes of learning from a programme, and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated.
A programme specification should identify potential stopping-off points and give the intended learning outcomes of the programme in terms of:
1- the knowledge and understanding that a student will be expected to have upon completion;
2- cognitive skills, such as an understanding of methodologies or ability in critical analysis;
3- subject specific skills, such as laboratory skills;
4- transferable / personal development / practical skills: communication, numeracy, the use of information technology and learning how to learn.

In modular schemes the module is regarded as a discrete entity and a key building block in mixing and matching modules to provide programmes and choice
to students. Programme teams are required to provide only core modules at level 1 and to run option modules only where they meet minimum student
numbers. From 2011 undergraduate programmes will be expected to operate 24 credit year long modules which could help programme teams develop clarity in programme and level outcomes. This may help staff look at the curriculum as a whole, at the programme level, rather than as a collection of individual modules. The team should start from an overview of the programme and consider how the programme as a whole develops in terms of all aspects of teaching and learning - delivery,
assessment, progression, development, coherence across and between modules, the impact of the teaching environment, etc. This does not mean that
the team has to start again if the programme has been developed from a collection of modules but it would be useful to discuss with staff and students the few
fundamental questions listed above in order to review, assess and ensure that there is coherence and agreement about the aims of the programme.

Curriculum mapping
or auditing is a good way to stimulate discussion about coherence. The teaching, learning and assessment methods that are in use or are proposed could be recorded on a programme grid, which will then show any imbalances. Although curriculum maps are no longer required as part of a programme specification they provide a useful tool for programme design and review.
An example of a curriculum map follows.

Example of a Curriculum Map for [name of programme]
This map provides a design aid to help staff identify where the programme outcomes are being developed and assessed within the programme. It also provides a check list for quality assurance purposes and could be used in validation, review, accreditation and external examining processes. The map makes the learning outcomes transparent. In this way it also helps students monitor their own learning, personal and professional development as the programme progresses. The map shows the main measurable learning outcomes.

A process of mapping will show which programme outcomes are fulfilled by which modules. It enables programme teams to see whether:
1- any outcomes are too heavily weighted, (e.g. if an outcome occurs in several modules
2- any outcomes are insufficiently addressed; (e.g. can a student avoid a key outcome by a particular choice of modules?)
3- there is any unnecessary duplication of content and delivery.
4- all students are given sufficient opportunity to achieve all the outcomes; (e.g. is a key outcome assessed by examination(s) only and can it be
avoided by a student’s choice of answers)
5- the programme is balanced and coherent.

Assessment and delivery methods could also be mapped. Bunching of assessments and over assessment are areas of concern for students. Mapping the number, type and deadlines of assessment will allow the programme team to consider whether there is unnecessary overlap and duplication of assessment and whether there is too heavy a reliance on a particular method of assessment. See Effective Assessment in Practice,
in particular principle 9, page 36, for further information.

Effective assessment
Assessment may be valid, reliable, fair and transparent but could fail to improve learning because it cannot be adequately resourced or managed efficiently. Alternatively the assessment chosen may be an efficient use of resources but may not be valid in assessing the learning outcomes or may not help students learn; e.g. an assessment via 100% exam where a student can omit the question on a key learning outcome and still pass, or where there is too high an emphasis on memory recall.

This framework cannot be definitive but it can provide a guide to evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of assessment methods. The way an assessment method is implemented can alter its position in the grid.


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