A couple of programs are thinking or already started to re-map (sequence) their curriculum. These are critically important tasks, which I will support very enthusiastically. Every program should consider doing something like that.
Curriculum drift is quite natural; it is actually an evidence of a healthy program. When programs are designed or redesigned, there is usually a broad agreement on what should be taught in each course. However, people tweak their courses, change them a little, improve, and try new things, as they should! An unintended consequence of it is that curriculum pieces drift apart: gaps and redundancies form, expectations begin to vary, and program coherence deteriorates. Fractures appear between core course, and even among several sections of the same large course. Individual courses may actually improve with time, but the program as a whole may suffer. For example, students would read the same book two or three times in different classes, but never learn other important texts or concepts (everyone assumes they learn it somewhere else). Students may hear about the basic difference between formative and summative assessments three or four times, but never actually manage to build or critique either. Lesson plan formats is another drift-prone entity. There are dozens of them around, most are not substantially different from each other, but have different structure and look. Yet every instructor has a favorite, and student never have a chance to improve on what they have already done in a previous course. I observed very similar concepts to be sometimes called differently in different classes, so students do not see the connection, and cannot build on existing knowledge. A group of students told me that in their various practicum courses, one may get no experience working with small groups of kids, or miss the on-on-one tutoring, depending on which individual instructors happen to teach those. We may have two sections of the same class, but field component in one is twice the size of that in the other. A student may write three substantial papers in one section, and none in another.
The only way to fix the curriculum drift is the academic housekeeping; really routine maintenance. It is not a big deal if done frequently, but as it is the case with any maintenance, defer it and problems accumulate. Ironically, most accreditors miss the curriculum drift entirely; curriculum cohesion is not on their radar screen. They would only request one official master syllabus – who has time to read them all? But we should mend and align our programs anyway – it gives students better experience, and makes them more effective teachers. We also look a lot better in our students’ eyes, if we act collectively. Our professional judgment is the biggest accrediting body.
There are several ways of curriculum alignment/sequencing. One can just collect all syllabi and map what is being taught now. Gaps and redundancies would become visible. Here is an example:
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A teacher preparation program, together with major is probably about 40-60 credits, or 12-20 courses (depending on how well the major is integrated with the pedagogy cycle). But completing the table is a lot of work, and syllabi are always imperfect reflections of reality.
Another way of doing it is taking programs apart, and sequencing, for example, literacy cycle in Elementary, or the Foundations cycle (Ed Psych, Social Foundation, generic methods, content methods, etc.) in Secondary. It is much more feasible, for you could have 4-5 people around the table, rather than 20.
And finally, faculty can just start with not what is, but go straight to what should be, skipping an entire time-consuming step. It would be the same, or a similar table. Identifying a few cross-program curriculum threads, as well as common expectations is the essence. Some ideas and concepts are course-specific; only a few can be managed to go from course to course and develop. And those are not necessary global ideas, but also very simple things like the lesson plan format or a writing rubric everyone uses. Programs do not have to get it all – just a few stepping stones to cross the creek. One interesting trick is to start with a curriculum map that is addressed to students, rather than to other faculty. It forces to use simple. Straightforward language, and encourages students to understand their own program of study, which may add a little pressure for faculty to stay within the negotiated limits.
I asked Chairs to plan departmental or program retreats and submit curriculum sequencing agendas and budgets. Perhaps we could manage to do some of this work right after the end of the school year, or right before the next one begins. When I see faculty sitting around the table and talking about curriculum, my heart sings. That is what we should e doing, not running around trying to write accreditation reports, collecting student work samples, and filling out paperwork.