17 October 2009

Curriculum Change

What / who drives curriculum change? Some claim that it should be the academic faculty, others claim the industry, employers, or best practices, while others claim the students. Gruba et al (2004)'s extensive survey finds that computer education curriculum changes are driven by individuals, politics, and fashion (what is attractive to students) more than they are driven by academic merit and external curricula. So how can curriculum changes be made more objectively?

Peter Wolf, Associate Director of Teaching Support Services at the University of Guelph, co-edited the New Directions for Teaching and Learning publication, “Curriculum Development in Higher Education: Faculty-Driven Processes and Practices”. He is also the first author of the Handbook for Curriculum Assessment. In the handbook, he suggests a curriculum development process that combines Donald Kirkpatrick's four level training assessment model during curriculum development. It is evidence based that informs and guides the entire process. Here is a synopsis of the individual processes:

Curriculum Development

Peter Wolf's model of curriculum development process is a top-down model which starts with the learning goals and expected outcomes that should be acquired by an ideal graduate and then further refine this to how these goals can be implemented within a program / course structure and specific learning activities.

Training / Learning Assessment

Donald Kirkpatrick (1994) proposed a four level model to assess effectiveness of training:
  1. Reaction - Did the learners like the program? Was the material relevant to their work? This type of evaluation is often called a “smilesheet.” According to Kirkpatrick, every program should at least be evaluated at this level to provide for the improvement of a training program.
  2. Learning - Did the learners learn anything? Have the students advanced in skills, knowledge, or attitude? Pre-tests and post-tests are often administered to assess student learning.
  3. Transfer - Are the newly acquired skills, knowledge, or attitude being used in the everyday environment of the learner? For many trainers this level represents the truest assessment of a program's effectiveness. It is also most difficult to test at this stage.
  4. Results - Is there any increased production, improved quality, decreased costs, reduced frequency of accidents, increased sales, and even higher profits or return on investment from the training?
Integrated Development and Assessment Model

By combing Wolf's and Kirkpatrick's models, each stage of Wolf's development process can be accessed by various levels of Kirkpatrick's assessment model, thus each is informed by the other.


Gruba, P., Moffat, A., S√łndergaard, H., and Zobel, J. 2004. What drives curriculum change?. In Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Australasian Computing Education - Volume 30 (Dunedin, New Zealand). R. Lister and A. Young, Eds. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, vol. 57. Australian Computer Society, Darlinghurst, Australia, 109-117.

Kirkpatrick, D.L. (1994). Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Wolf, P., A. Hill, and F. Evers, The Handbook for Curriculum Assessment, 2006, Guelph University, obtained February 2007 from here.

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