• Beginning lecturers’ conceptions of undergraduate curriculum at the University of the South Pacific

    Gillian Boulton-Lewis
    Queensland University of Technology, Australia and University of the South Pacific, Fiji

    Research paper

    Themes: internationalisation of the curriculum

    Tuesday 2 September 2008, 09.00-10.00 in Penthouse Boardroom

    A rudimentary description of curriculum is as a set of organised educational experiences with some guide for teaching and learning outcomes. Barnett and Coates(2005) asserted that the idea of curriculum (its nature and ideological underpinnings) in Higher Education is currently missing (in books, reports, discussions). A search of the literature for Higher Education and Curriculum (600 articles back to 2002) confirms this point and reveals only a few discussions of curriculum generally although there are many articles describing improvements in specific teaching areas. The current strong concerns in university teaching and curricula are learning and teaching strategies, student-centred learning, employability, skills and work experience (where relevant). In a new book on teaching for quality learning at university Biggs & Tang  (2007) only mention the term curriculum in passing with reference to breadth and depth and ‘emergent curriculum’. They have a very strong and positive focus on constructive alignment in university teaching and there is a most pertinent chapter on designing intended learning outcomes at institutional, programme and course levels. Toohey (1999) described ideologies that shape curriculum development - discipline, performance, cognitive, personal, socially critical – and most good curricula could contain a mix of these. However the nature and purpose of curriculum as such in Higher Education currently seems to be almost a non issue and is not currently being actively debated, The situation with regard to curriculum at the University of the South Pacific (USP) is similar to that described above. In a course for beginning tutors and lecturers, focussing on university teaching, curriculum was initially assumed by most participants (14) just to exist to be taught. There was little questioning of the origins, ideologies, purpose, content, alignment of objectives and outcomes, or assessment in the curricula they were teaching. This was a small group who had already undertaken a semester course on teaching and learning. It led me to be interested in determining more about their understanding of curriculum and hence the study presented here.


    At the beginning of semester 1, 2008, 15 -20  students enrolled in the teaching and learning, or the curriculum course, of the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching at USP will be asked to respond in writing and then interviewed in depth to determine their conceptions of curriculum. The interviews will be semi-structured and phenomenographically inspired (Marton et al. (1993: Marton & Pong, 2005). Questions will focus on the curriculum they teach, important aspects of it, how it was developed, who determined the content, the basis for planning, what kind of knowledge is valued, the purpose, responsibility for learning, other cultural determinants, and then asked to describe what they think a curriculum is?

    The interviews will be transcribed verbatim and pooled as one data set. They will be read closely by the researcher who will derive from them a set of categories of conceptions of curriculum. These will be discussed with at least one other colleague. The results will be presented and discussed at the conference. The implications for lecturer input into curriculum planning at USP and elsewhere will be examined.