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Chapter in a section on Formal Study in Developing Teachers: A Celebration of Teachers' Learning in Australia, eds Barbara Comber & Joelie Hancock, Methuen, 1987.
Garry Gillard has worked at Deakin University as a course developer in the School of Education. Since then he has been Coordinator of Course Development for the University of the South Paciﬁc and is now an Education Officer in the External Studies Unit of Murdoch University.
The Curriculum Theory course, part of the Deakin University M.Ed. program, has several aspects which give it a unique potential for empowering students as members of an educational community, for liberating teachers from the isolation of their classrooms, and for allowing its learners independence. It also has practical aspects.
The M.Ed. program, like its companion M.Ed. Administration, is fully available to external students. This enables teachers and other educationalists in service anywhere in Australia (or even farther away) to complete a postgraduate degree.
The aims of the course include assisting students to develop their own coherent rationales and practices in relation to curriculum as a field of action and enquiry. However, this is not the kind of course that states its objectives as a list of five points. In order to help people to understand the nature of what is intended, the university’s study guide begins with a full discussion of related issues. Perhaps one sentence can serve to give present readers an insight into the orientation of those issues:
The course team takes the view that improvements in education and social life generally can only be achieved by the development of an educational profession committed to the ideas of teachers as researchers, teacher—theorists, a self- reflective critical community in the profession, and the like. (Deakin University 1983, p. 11)
Some people, the study guide points out, ‘will feel that a curriculum theory course should simply provide a set of learnings on which they can be tested and for which they can be given credit at the end of the course; this course is not for those people’.
The uniqueness of Curriculum Theory resides in the fact that the bulk of the course is not simply given to the students, but has to be created by them. Each year the communal aims of the course are created by the students by participation through communication. The main medium of communication is the course journal.
In order to fulfil the requirements of the course students have to carry out several activities and a major project, take part in a conference, and write for the journal. The activities and project are the practice which arises out of their consideration of the theory. Through the requirement that all activities have to be reported in the pages of the journal (the reporting of projects is optional), all the teachers on the course are able to share individual insights, so that they can critique them or attempt to reproduce them.
‘Our image of the course’, says the study guide, ‘is that of a small and rather elite professional association’ (p. 6). Two of the activities typically carried out by such associations are publishing journals, and holding conferences. In the light of this, when course participants meet it is seen more as a conference than a residential or weekend school. This is no mere playing with terms, however. Whereas in a residential school the emphasis is on teaching, during the curriculum theory course participants are expected to present formal papers (or send them if they cannot attend). Although the papers may well arise out of work done during the course—for the project, for example—they are expected to have the same status and force as those given at a conference held by a real professional association.
Similarly, the course journal is expected to aspire to professional standards. It is published four times a year (Curriculum Theory is a full-year course). Contributors are required to write once per semester for each of the five sections of the journal: activity reports, feature articles, book reviews, abstracts, and correspondence.
Activity reports are accounts of the effects of ‘probes’ into the practice of the course participants. For example, teachers bring about some change in their classroom organisation, observe the effects of the change, and then report it. Feature articles are more in the nature of position papers. Their aim is to ‘articulate statements which begin to shape the concerns of the critical community of the course’ (p. 50).
Book reviews and abstracts of articles are related to another feature of the course; its bibliography and library support system. An initial bibliography is supplied in the study guide with some annotated entries. Course participants contribute not only titles to the bibliography, but also reviews of the books, and abstracts of the articles. Again, the journal is the medium through which the bibliography is extended. As books and articles are added to the list they are obtained for the university library; the books for loan, and the articles to be held as masters from which more photocopies can be made and sent on demand. Abstracts of conference papers have to be submitted to the journal before the date of the conference, so that participants can attend with some foreknowledge of issues to be aired.
The point of the correspondence section is self-evident. There is also a news and notes section for general information.
All contributions have to be submitted ready for printing. All that tutors do is to veto unsuitable material (in effect giving a fail, or ungraded pass). Anything deemed acceptable is passed to the editor for inclusion, warts and all. Submissions that are unacceptable, either because of the form in which they are submitted, or because of normal academic criteria, are returned to writers, who have the opportunity to resubmit.
When the course was offered for the first time in 1983, it was evident by the end of the year that at least some of the students had managed to sustain the sense of excitement about it that the course team had held at its beginning. Most people had managed to stay in the course and to meet its high standards. Some wrote in the correspondence section of the last issue of the journal in glowing terms about the course, although others recognised the difficulties involved.
This is part of one student’s comment: ‘[in the course] students have experienced a new approach by Deakin . . . Those interested in curriculum have been challenged to express ideas foremost to them in their profession. Such an approach, because it has involved publication of one’s efforts, has seen members expressing anxiety throughout the course.’
Another student found this: ‘What has appealed to me is the valuing and recognition of my “everyday” knowledge about curriculum by the course team and other course participants. This affirmation via the journal, curriculum conference and tutor’s comments has encouraged me to lay out more of my practice for scrutiny and in so doing has given me greater control over it.’
A third was most enthusiastic; ‘All praise to whoever dreamed up the course journal. Its brilliant! (I’m going to miss it next year.)’
Some students used the correspondence section to comment on articles and reports written by others, and even to comment on comments. Some examples:
‘I found this article really interesting, and thought-provoking.‘
‘I found your feature article most interesting and relevant to the questions of moral values, socialisation and hidden curriculum within school curricula’.
‘The letter in the journal takes up some of the issues that I raised in my first correspondence piece. While not wanting to sound defensive I would like to clarify two issues (at least from my point of view), and answer some questions. Indeed isn’t this what the journal is all about—dialogue?’
‘Reading your activity report reminded me so much of the problems we continually face as educators’.
This last word, ‘educators’, used in this context, brings out by implication the key feature of the curriculum theory course, and the importance of the journal and the conference. The person writing the letter sees herself participating not as a student, but as an educator. The ideological function of the course is to force people to see themselves as peers and not as subjects, as adults and not as children. In contributing to the journal and in presenting a paper to the conference, people are acting as professionals talking to professionals. It is no longer possible to maintain a self-image as someone who is learning from; one clearly is someone who is learning With.
Finally, whatever people may think of the theories underlying the course, they seem to appreciate the opportunity to consider ways of improving their practice. The course creates a learning environment in which teachers can reflect profoundly on what they do and why, and then as individuals apply whatever changes they think necessary in their own practice. But in addition to encouraging independent decision making, the course also provides participants with a way of sharing the results of these reflections and changes with others in similar situations, thus creating a unique community of mutual support.
Deakin University, Curriculum Theory Study Guide, Victoria 1983.
Garry Gillard | New: 29 July, 2017 | Now: 20 December, 2018