A model of curriculum change in an international comparative context

Year: 2012

Author: Anakin, Megan, Spronken-Smith, Rachel, Healey, Mick, Vajoczki, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The aim this presentation is to engage participants with a model of curriculum change that emerged from the analysis of factors promoting and inhibiting curriculum change in two university settings using cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT). This model includes an international dimension because the process of curriculum change at McMaster University in Canada and the University of Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom were compared.  At McMaster University, a research-intensive university, curriculum change had been occurring for three decades and was conceptualised as inquiry-based learning localised in particular departmental and interdepartmental programmes.  At the University of Gloucestershire, a teaching-focused university, curriculum change was a recent policy initiative and was conceptualised as active learning present in pockets of practice.  In each institution data were collected from policy documents and reports and through one-on-one and focus group interviews with identified proponents of curriculum change.  Primary data analysis using a general inductive approach aggregated 74 factors (i.e., 31 from McMaster and 39 from Gloucestershire) to reveal 6 main themes: conceptual ownership, access to resources, academic identity, leadership orientation, student role, and quality assurance. However, during secondary analysis using CHAT, these factors were also classified by their magnitude and polarity (i.e. strongly promoting, promoting, inhibiting, or strongly inhibiting) and were considered dialectical elements instead of oppositional forces in relation to curriculum change in each institution.  This new conceptualisation of the factors, as dialectical elements in tension, enabled us to identify the focal points of the change process in each institution and locate them within different levels of social organisation within and across the universities.  The most evident tension in common across the two universities was located at the individual level and involved motivational factors in the conceptual ownership theme.  The most evident tension that was distinctive between the two universities involved quality assurance factors located at the individual and institutional levels at the University of Gloucestershire that were entirely absent from McMaster University.  This study addresses a need for empirical evidence about how curriculum change is achieved in institutions of higher education and also theorises about how this change occurs from a holistic perspective and using multiple levels of analysis.  We invite academic developers to critique the usefulness of this model of curriculum change and suggest that members of the higher education community consider CHAT as analytical tool for researching and visualising activity patterns within and between institutions of higher education.