Curriculum design is a very important part of creating a contextually relevant and responsive teaching and learning environment for both lecturers and students. The curriculum contains the knowledge, skills and competencies that students need to master in order to move to the next level in their studies, and academic lecturers and tutors who are tasked with teaching this curriculum should, therefore, ensure that the curriculum is up to date, relevant, interesting and stimulating for students.
The approach to curriculum development, design and renewal at UWC is underpinned in part by social constructivist approaches to student learning, and to teaching, and is informed by the work of John Biggs and others. The principle concept we work with is that of ‘constructive alignment’. Simply put, this means that each module or course – each curriculum – must have clear learning aims or outcomes for students to achieve, and these must align with relevant and appropriate teaching and learning activities through which students can come to learn and master the relevant knowledge, skills and competencies. Further, the assessment tasks and methods must align with the outcomes and activities, so that students actively use what they have learnt to demonstrate their achievement of the stated outcomes. And finally, there needs to be evaluation that enables students and lecturers to reflect meaningfully on the curriculum as a whole, which can and should form part of ongoing processes of curriculum alignment and renewal.
Below is a link to a PDF document illustrating a basic example of an aligned module, with brief notes.
Constructive alignment guideline
On staff induction retreats, the first step to working out how to align a curriculum is concept mapping. This is a very useful tool used in many different ways in education, and it’s principle benefit is that is encourages the mapmaker to make very explicit the concepts that are being taught in the course, the order in which they are being taught, and the relationships between the different concepts. It gives lecturers a visual picture of their curricula, and can allow them to see where there may be too many or too few concepts being taught and where the relationships between concepts are either clear or opaque. One can make concept maps by drawing them by hand or by developing them on a PC using an open source tool called C-Map. This is available to UWC staff on the S-drive or can be downloaded from the internet for free. The following resources are designed to guide academic lecturers through the process of concept mapping.
Guide to understanding, making and using concept maps
Useful readings – list of references
Once the course has been mapped, and strengths identified and gaps and weaknesses identified and resolved, the next step is to write outcomes that are clear, achievable and that will link to the rest of the curriculum, and guide the teaching and learning activities and assessments. The following resources are designed to assist academic lecturers with curriculum alignment and writing outcomes and descriptions for their modules and courses. They can be downloaded in PDF format.
Writing learning outcomes