Monday, January 31, 2011

Successful Classroom Innovation

As a member of the Curriculum Management Committee I am often involved in assessing proposed changes in the Palmer instructional program. This may involve evaluating a newly proposed course, or considering changes in existing course objectives, among other decisions that must be made. And when we design such changes, there are lessons we might apply to our effort. The excellent text “Designing and assessing courses and curricula: a practical guide” (1) provides a number of characteristics that can help make your efforts succeed. These include:

Have a plan and follow it: The text offers a model for curriculum design that has been shown to be successful, and it recommends you follow it carefully.

Do not do it alone: Involve others in your design efforts. Include your chair, quite obviously, but also include others who may be affected by what you are doing. And include those whose expertise you may need, such as those with expertise in, for example, instructional technology.

Strive for the ideal: Focus not on what exists but rather on what ideally could be. This can also help reduce potential turf war problems and can lead to new and novel curriculum approaches.

Collect information before you begin. In my estimation, this often does not take place. People focus on the end result more than the tasks involved in producing the end result and often do not do sufficient preparatory work. The information you should collect should address the need for your innovation, it should allow you to test your assumptions and it can provide base data to measure change.

Create ownership and keep key individuals informed. You need to make sure you have support before you begin a change process. All affected need to be kept informed and you need to consider who it is that may be affected. Involve key administrators.

Be sensitive to human problems. Curriculum innovation and change can significantly affect others. Change can be an emotionally laden process and we need to keep mindful of that fact. Those who are affected may see this in a negative light, forgetting that this is about institutional need, not personal need. Use administrative help. Talk to people. Answer questions respectfully.

Do not reinvent the wheel. Keep abreast of what is new, what has been tried and what has succeeded. Model your efforts after that, and don’t waste time and resources uing approaches that have failed in the past.

Pay attention to support systems and logistics. This really means that you need to work carefully with the registrar’s office to see how what you are planning fits into what can actually occur and be scheduled.

This is just a short overview of some of the issues you need to consider when you decide to innovate. This is something we all wish to do. We just need to smooth the path for innovation to occur.

1. Diamond R. Designing and assessing courses and curriculum: a practical guide, 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA; Jossey-Bass, 1998:237-238

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