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Case study 20: Curriculum Development for Practitioners, School of Education, Murdoch University, Western Australia


Curriculum Development for Practitioners deals with curriculum development from the point of view of the person developing, modifying or improving a teaching-learning program. It is of value not just to professional classroom teachers, but to anyone involved in the practicalities of education and training in an educational institution, a corporation or public service organisation. The unit content covers the basic processes of program development (i.e. design, production, implementation and evaluation) at the local level and also examines wider curriculum issues, in particular the politics of curriculum design and implementation.


Curriculum design, curriculum development, program development

Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice

The unit is taught on campus at Murdoch’s main campus in Perth and at its Dubai campus. It introduces students to the theories and principles of curriculum design and development. As its name suggests, the unit was designed for practitioners, people with some experience of teaching. Students are enrolled in a variety of different courses, reflecting their professional backgrounds and interests. It is offered to undergraduate students in the Diploma of Tertiary and Adult Education, and the Bachelor of Education, but it is also offered as an elective unit in the Master of Education. Some of the students taking this unit teach in schools, but others teach at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges, universities, community organisations or private adult education providers; a number of them are nurse-educators. 

What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?

Curriculum Development for Practitioners aims to give teachers/educators practical experience of the kind of skills and processes educators need in order to develop curricula in their own workplaces or contexts while helping them to critically consider a range of historical and contemporary issues and controversies surrounding curriculum design.

What made/makes it “Master's” level?

There is little difference in the content of the undergraduate and masters’ level versions of this unit, but a great deal of difference in the expectations of students. Students taking this unit as an elective in the M.Ed programs are expected to demonstrate a greater breadth and depth of knowledge of curriculum theory and the principles of curriculum design. More importantly, they are also expected to demonstrate greater capacity for critical thought and reflection on the processes and issues involved. In general terms, undergraduate learning may be described as reproductive; students are expected to read, listen, summarise and describe information. In many cases they are also expected to analyse and apply information as well, but analysis may be limited and they are not usually expected to create new information. At the postgraduate level, students are requires to analyse information more thoroughly and in greater detail, to evaluate information, to combine or recombine ideas. The aim is what we might term “simple originality”, i.e. the capacity to reshape material into a new pattern and apply the information or concepts in new contexts (Ballard & Clanchy, 1998). Another characteristic of mastersness is increased confidence in speculating and hypothesising new possibilities based on existing knowledge. Originality or creativity of this type is a requirement of higher degrees by research, but we would expect to see evidence of it in masters’ level students as well. These differences in expectations are reflected in the different marking criteria used for undergraduate and postgraduate students’ work.

What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

In terms of mastersness, the challenge has been to help the M.Ed students get to grips with the required skills of critical thinking and analysis at an advanced level; to move into theoretical or abstract thinking as opposed to practical approaches. Students need to be taught/shown how to critically evaluate an argument, to interpret data, to adopt a sceptical attitude to information or data, to construct an argument with an appropriate level of supporting evidence and to debate multiple points of view on an issue.

Many of the students undertaking this unit have had little or no exposure to the academic skills and genres of reasoning, debate and constructing an argument (either in writing or verbally) in the course of their undergraduate education. The solution has been to provide them with readings that address these topics, examples of the type of material they are expected to produce (e.g. a literature review as opposed to an annotated bibliography), and to discuss the issues explicitly in terms of the unit content. There is a very close fit between the content and delivery of the unit: as students consider the politics of curriculum design, they are encouraged to reflect on the design of the unit, and the M.Ed course, as well as on the curriculum they are delivering in their own classrooms.

Where to next - in terms of mastersness – if anywhere?

Curriculum Development for Practitioners introduces students to the principles and practice of curriculum design and development. Ideally it would be followed by a second unit that explored these same ideas in greater depth and allowed students to apply their knowledge; they would be able to develop a curriculum and then implement and critically evaluate it allowing them to demonstrate their mastery of more advanced form of learning.   


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Dr Anne Price,, School of Education, Murdoch University, Western Australia
Dr Madeleine M. Laming,, Centre for University Teaching and Learning, Murdoch University, Western Australia