Managing Curriculum Change
Imagine a navigator on a manned spacecraft heading toward a distant destination. The ship has an educational mission. The passengers are students. The navigator is very knowledgeable about the abilities of the students, their educational sophistication, or lack thereof, and the best method to use to impart the information presented to allow the students to reach their potential. The navigator is also in possession of a map that will chart the course. This map describes the things the students will see and the order in which they will encounter each one of them. The map contains other useful information for the navigator, such as all of the pertinent facts in great detail, information about the concepts that students must know in order to process the information given, and a time frame in which this journey will take place.
Professional navigators will spend many hours familiarizing themselves with this map. They will learn the facts and perhaps elaborate on them. They will connect the facts to the concepts necessary in order for the facts to make sense. They will plan their itinerary so that all information has been covered in the appropriate time allotted for the journey. They will construct analogies to the information so that students will be able to relate to the topics presented or the sights seen. They will feel confident and well prepared.
Now, imagine the anxiety the navigator would feel if suddenly presented with a new map. Such is the anxiety that many instructors often feel when they are presented with a new curriculum. But such anxiety is not necessary.
Curriculums must change to stay current. The geography curriculum for the fourteenth century included several references to a flat Earth. Instructors at that time spent countless hours devising lesson plans explaining the dangers of sailing off the edge. Notions about how things work constantly change. New facts are uncovered that take the place of old ones. New conclusions are arrived at, based on the discovery of new facts.
Today, the rate of change is very rapid. In some areas new discoveries are made on a daily basis. In order to prepare our students, we must give them the latest information and theories. This means that curriculums must change to reflect the most current thoughts.
One of the ways you can prepare for change is to stay current in your field. Do not confuse a textbook with a curriculum. A textbook supports a curriculum to be sure, but the additional information you bring to the discussion and the way you present the material is your own. In the best case, you will develop your own curriculum to meet the needs of your students so they are fully prepared to meet the challenges in their field.
Curriculums often change based on the delivery system. It is important to stay familiar with the latest technological developments in your field. Think of the impact that computers have had on the educational system. Information to and from students can be processed and stored in ways that no one could have imagined years ago. Students, through distance learning, need not be in your classroom in order to be part of the class.
A curriculum must change in ways that allow the computer to be used to support the educational process. Imagine teaching a science class before and after the development of the microscope. While the same concepts may be taught with or without a microscope, the use of the microscope certainly makes the subject easier to see and understand. Only a change in your curriculum would allow you to take advantage of this technology. This step would then lead to other changes in what you teach and how you teach it.
A moment in time may be the impetus for a change in a curriculum. Recent events, such as the attack on the World Trade Center, demand new approaches to current problems. They create new fields of study and add new emphasis to existing ones. Imagine the array of courses that will be developed around the ideas of home front security, biological and chemical warfare, and the Middle East to name a few.
Some curriculum changes substitute one topic or bit of information for another, while others just get longer. Curriculums in history, for example, continually add new areas simply because of the march of time. In other circumstances, curriculums change in order to be realigned with new degree requirements or state mandates. Policymakers may institute these changes either to have the new curriculums reflect current research and theory or to prepare students for the latest trend in the job market. New ideas and new skills may have to be taught. A revised curriculum is the game plan to make that happen. It is the interface between the student and the content. It is the map. You are the navigator.
Curriculum change invigorates the climate in the course and classroom. As a seasoned instructor, you should welcome these inevitable changes in curriculum. As a navigator you always know where you are going, but you may be taking a new way to get there.