Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Curriculum renewal: Strategy and flexibility for supercomplexity (#147)

Marcus O'Donnell 1 , Margaret Wallace 1 , Anne Melano 1 , Romy Lawson 1 , Eeva Leinonen 1
  1. University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 Ronald Barnett contends that supercomplexity is not just about negotiating social and technological change but about negotiating our fragile understandings of self and our ability to act in the world (2000:257). Barnett argues that curriculum must therefore be designed at the triangulation of knowledge, action and self-identity: educating students for life, not just for graduation. This paper describes the consultation process and development of a model for institution-wide curriculum transformation at the University of Wollongong which responds to the dynamics Barnett describes: a curriculum that supports and scaffolds self-regulated learning and builds wide-ranging integrated perspectives on the challenges ahead. 

At the heart of the UOW Curriculum Model are three curriculum design principles: transition, synthesis and broadening. These principles link to four curriculum themes: a real-world focus, underpinned by research/enquiry led learning activities that are technology enriched and intellectually challenging. This is delivered through five transformational practices: a focused first year experience, integrated eportfolios, connections subjects which take learners beyond their disciplines, hybrid learning which matches a variety of face to face and online learning opportunities and a capstone experience for every course. This Curriculum Model will be rolled out in every UOW course over the next three years through a comprehensive course review process.

This paper argues that only such a cohesive, research based, institution-wide approach to curriculum can hope to respond to the multifaceted demands of the complex contemporary environment. However agility and adaptability, particularly responsiveness to disciplinary particularities, are also key factors that must shape this response. Drawing on staff and student narratives from the developmental phase of the project this paper describes how the UOW Curriculum Transformation team sought to balance these competing priorities.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

 This paper addresses the sub theme Navigating uncertainty and complexity. It draws on Barnett’s work on curriculum and the age of supercomplexity that influenced the development of the UOW Curriculum Model. The Model responds directly to the issues raised by this theme – uncertainty, resilience, new ways of knowing and organizational response to global change – through its four themes: real-world focused, research enquiry led, technology enriched and intellectually challenging curriculum and its suite of transformational practices. Using the rich narrative data gathered in the consultation process to develop this Curriculum Model the paper addresses the necessary balancing act in developing institution wide curriculum renewal in this context. The paper’s key contribution to this theme is the argument that educating for supercomplexity demands flexibility and adaptability but it cannot be addressed effectively through one-off strategies. The multifaceted personal and professional challenges of supercomplexity demand an integrated whole of institution approach to curriculum but such an approach must also maintain sufficient adaptability to harness the unique perspectives and affordances of each disciplinary community.