The following is an outline of our physiotherapy programme’s recent initiation of a curriculum review. While there have been some minor amendments of papers, it had been 8 years since the role out of our current undergraduate programme. A change in the Programme Management in August 2018, has enabled a focused review of the curriculum as a whole- supported by incidental reviews leading up to this time.
In appreciation of the need for a review based on staff and student feedback, the incoming Head of Department (HOD) and I met to discuss a way forward. While not in the Programme Leader role at the time, I was asked if I would be happy to take on the responsibility of reviewing the curriculum. In preparation for this, there were a few considerations I wanted to be clear about:
Not to “go it alone”. If I was to lead the review, I would want to do it with a group of individuals who could help champion the progress forward. Discussions with the HOD lead to the advocacy of a “working group” that would have delegated responsibility to review, and make an informed decision and administer changes within the curriculum. At the next available staff meeting, the Head of Department called for expressions of interest in a Curriculum Working Group and a number of key (and well respected) staff volunteered to be involved
“Do a few things well”– then move on. I was keen to establish the idea that we would tackle a couple of areas of the curriculum at a time- though always returning to the agreed framework that had been established to ensure that if fitted with the overall vision for the programme.
Informally, this would follow a design thinking process- a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving complex problems that are otherwise ill-defined. This is done by following (not necessarily in sequential order) five steps (adapted from Dam & Siang, 2018
Empathising– understanding the human needs involved. This includes consulting (and re-consulting) the students, staff, and stakeholders to understand more about their concerns about the programme. Engaging and empathising to understand their experiences and motivations of the current curriculum, which allows setting aside of own assumptions of the needs of the programme.
Defining– reframing and defining the problem in human-centric ways. The important information has been gathered to define the core strengths and weaknesses that the working group has identified up to this point. This is usually done by creating “Problem Statements”
Ideating– creating many ideas in ideation sessions. Here, solutions are generated. Now with an understanding of the needs of the students, staff, and stakeholders, the working group can “think outside the box” to identify new solutions to the problem statement to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem
Prototyping– adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping. The group then presents a number of versions to the staff- or sub-group. The aim is to identify the best solution for each problem statement. The solutions are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined or rejected based on the responses.
Testing– developing a prototype/ solution to the problem. While the final stage includes the application solution, there may be further refinement as a deeper understanding of the impact of the implemented solution is developed.
It can be seen from above, that there are some potential similarities to the phases within Educational Design Research (EDR) as outlined by McKenney & Reeves (2018)- (Analysis and Exploration; Design and Construction; Evaluation and Reflection; Maturing Intervention and Theoretical understanding; and Implementation and Spread)
The following is a recent example of how we have utilised a design thinking process to the development of the curriculum:
– Once the group had been established, I arranged a meeting (utilising www.doodle.com
) and set about gathering some background information so we could start the process well informed. This included a review of the framework models and common themes proposed by teams of staff before amalgamating the models into the “preferred” framework. I also met with the Student Representative Group to ensure that I had “student voice” in any proposed changes. At the meeting (23rd July), there was general consensus in that we agreed (1) we had some good content already; (2) we want the programme to regain the “gold standard” status we had as a physiotherapy programme; and that (3) it was the framework [and delivery] that we needed to turn our attention to, and- with continued feedback from staff and students- ideas would be informed, presented, redesigned, implemented and evaluated.
– Key members of the Curriculum Working Group were delegated to gather further information on identified “key themes”. Information was gathered then presented
back at the next staff meeting (21st August). From this, we agreed to focus initially on two key themes for the overall framework- (1) the integration of research, and (2) the role of optional papers within the programme.
– Based on information gathered at the empathising stage, and then confirmation of key themes at the staff meeting, I was able to immediately put research and elective options to staff in a survey
sent via email (21st August). The aim was to provide staff with six options, to then determine a preference with qualitative data on their reasoning. The survey was open for just under a week (21st- 27th August) which resulted in a response rate of (78%), with 21 responses from the 27 current teaching staff.
– once I had collated the research and elective survey data, I arranged a second meeting (11th September) with the Curriculum Working Group to discuss the next set for prototyping. Ideas were discussed and documented on an “evolving ideas whiteboard”…
The results enabled us to identify two main options, which I then presented in a narrated PowerPoint via an unlisted YouTube Link
(13th September). The aim was to provide staff a final opportunity to discuss and consider prior to the next staff meeting (24th September)- after which the Curriculum Working Group would proceed with the identified preferred option for research and electives. This will not be able to be tested until 2020, which would be the first year any curriculum changes would be implemented from this date.
With the regular Curriculum Working Group meetings and a sense of progression and being updated, it had been rewarding to see the collective ownership and shared responsibility that is being developed within the group. This includes two staff who have presented
the pros and cons of the two options at the next staff meeting.
Impact on Teaching, Learning or Pedagogy
My use of technology as the working group has met and then updated staff has not been incidental. By utilising the various modes of delivery (PowerPoint, SurveyMonkey, staff meetings and YouTube Video) I have inadvertently showcased alternative ways of engagement that has been commended
by others, been suggested as good approaches in collating information and have has been requested as a great way to readily receive information in the future. While this appears to be an involved process for two aspects of a curriculum framework (Research and Optional Papers)- so it should be. I will be utilising elements of the design thinking process and Educational Design Research as I lead the Working Group in the curriculum review. Already, it can been seen that by utilising these processes, that the appropriate users are engaged with, empathised with; that ideas are defined, options are developed, prototyped (and later- tested), and then evaluated.
It is envisioned that this Blog Post will be updated at the next CMALT review.
McKenney, S. & Reeves, T. C. (2018). Conducting Educational Design Research. (2nd Ed). Routledge: London.