How Universities can Upgrade Curriculum Design with Technology

The future of education is largely defined by technology – as innovations in technology advance, innovations in EdTech are increasingly demanded. From accessible learning tools to entering the Metaverse, universities are undergoing a lot of change, and a lot of it starts with curriculum design.

Curriculums are a pinnacle element of universities. They are at the root of deciding and organising the student learning experience – from what they learn to how they are taught. In the digital age, technology is utilised to enhance a number of different aspects in education, so let’s look at how it can upgrade curriculum design.

Defining curriculum design

The designing of curriculums has been described as a ‘high-level process defining the learning to take place within a specific programme of study, leading to specific unit(s) of credit or qualification.’ This was a statement from the findings of the Jisc Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design Programme, which ran from 2008 to 2012. Ultimately, a curriculum is the entirety of student experiences that ensue in the pedagogical process.

There are generally three types of focuses when it comes to curriculum design: subject, learner and problem. Subject-focused is based on the topics learnt, such as mathematics, which is more commonly found in schools. Learner-centric focuses on the pupils, allowing for more independent research on the topics, which is where higher education makes its mark. Problem-centred curriculum design can be applied to both higher education and workplace training, as it’s more attuned to real-life solutions.

The process of designing a university curriculum involves a combination of pedagogical decision-making, market research and a complex relationship between objectives and values. Curriculum teams make the educational design decisions, before awaiting course approval. There are many things to consider, such as navigating the knock-on effects of seemingly minor changes. For example, altering the information provided in a course curriculum can affect the entry requirements for that course. Decision-makers have the challenge of meeting student expectations – university fees often mean potential students are looking for a large variety of benefits to a course.

Why is there a need for change?

The digital age hasn’t just affected technology – it’s affected people’s lives. There are more capability requirements asked of graduates when starting new jobs than there have been in the past. With the evolution of technology, most occupations require the candidate to have skills and knowledge in online systems. The Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to the increase in job requirements; with the pandemic causing job losses, the surge in demand for employment has meant employers can also demand more from those applying for roles. All in all, students generally feel the pressure now more than ever to have sufficient skills and capabilities to get a job after university. This is where course curriculum design needs to step up its game to be more attuned to student needs in the current employment climate. Furthermore, universities often have the challenge of competing with each other to gain more students, and curriculum design plays a role in this battle.

Optimising the design of curriculums can benefit everyone from the lecturers to the students themselves. The aim is to improve the flow of the layout to allow for easy reading and update sources so they are reliable and credible, eliminating anything that diminishes the admin process. Ensuring the admin process is efficient makes the whole process easier and quicker. It’s also important to create better access to pedagogical guidance for those designing the curricula – this means it’s clearer to design and easier to get feedback to amend any faults. This also leads to improved consistency in terms of content, which makes quality assurance and approval procedures much easier. With all this in mind, it can seem like a lot of work – this is where technology comes in to help.

Research and reflect on the course

With a broader range of available technology comes a broader range of research opportunities. There’s never been a better time to research a topic in-depth, and you should use every technological tool available to design your curriculum. Technology has improved guidance while researching a topic as there is content to explain everything imaginable on the internet. This allows for better independent research, so curriculum design teams and work alone and as a team to fully get the benefits of online research. Furthermore, you can use technology to extract the latest news and up-to-date information on a subject, making your course more appealing and rewarding for students.

Once you’ve successfully researched everything there is to know about your course’s subject, you can use technology to evaluate and analyse the information gathered. Judging information on credibility and relevance is crucial in supporting your course’s success, and this is something technology and the internet have made easier. As you build your knowledge in technology, you can integrate it into the course itself where applicable. This helps your students learn not only the course, but how to use technology appropriately and effectively, which supports their skillset and future prospects. This makes your curriculum relevant in the modern day.

Create asynchronous lectures

Email has always possessed the beauty of being asynchronous – people can communicate without the need to both be present, active or online and the same time. Thanks to the optimisation in technology, this can be applied to teaching. A large group of students aren’t always going to be on the same schedule, and in the past, this meant some students would not attend the class. Now with the implementation of platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, lectures can be filmed and recorded for use in another location and at another time.

These platforms are not just good for lectures, however. Another way to further make lectures asynchronous is to build learning resources that can be used outside the classroom. If you include resources such as spreadsheets, quotes, or anything relevant to the subject – they can also be saved as a PowerPoint or other online presentation for students to check later. The support of social networks can be used to further share this information among students. A curriculum design that incorporates social networking shows that it’s in touch with students in the present day, and earns the benefits of online communication and collaboration.

Use student smartphones to your advantage

We can assume that most, if not all, university students own a smartphone. Earlier in their educational lives, they were always told to put their phones away – now it’s time for the opposite. Students studying and especially living on campus have access to the university’s wifi, which allows them to have their mobiles online, ready for mobile learning.

The power of mobile learning goes beyond taking a picture of the lecture slides – which, of course, is still a valid benefit. However, curriculum designs should include the use of apps to enhance the student experience. The Blackboard app allows and encourages students to share files and documents via Google Drive and Dropbox, which both offer student account features. These tools help secure collaboration for higher education, and the fact they’re included in one app makes the curriculum design process easier. Simply ask students if they can download a mobile learning app so they can access these features, as well being able to track their class schedule, assignments, grades and set themselves tasks to help organise their learning.

Written for OEB Global 2022 by Chloë Sibley.

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