Student centered curricula (13 November 2018)
Curriculum policy is at the heart of the educational policy of an institution. After all, a curriculum is what all students in a certain study program share with each other and what is created by agreements and decisions within an institution. Choices made by institutions about the content and form of their curricula affect just about all other areas of education policy: study and student guidance, the material and digital infrastructure of the campus, educational professionalization, the organization of the academic year and the functioning of faculties and departments.
The key question is how study programmes in Flemish higher education can continue to respond to the needs of a rapidly evolving society through their curricula.
A student-oriented curriculum design uses learning outcomes as they express an expectation of what and at which knowledge and competence level a student will have reached after a certain period of study. This differs fundamentally from earlier ‘non-student-centered’ methods in which a course was recorded on the basis of an often rigid list of consecutive subject contents.
The use of learning outcomes, which developed rapidly in Flanders under the influence of the European Bologna process, also brought the question of the coordination of teaching methods, testing and learning outcomes to the fore.
Student centered teaching methods
Research shows that educational activities that are seen as successful in the classical, instruction-oriented paradigm, still have a positive influence on students' learning performance today. They are healthy didactic principles to which higher education must continue to pay sufficient attention: well-structured lessons that testify to thorough preparation, a passionate teacher, clear instructions for the student.
The literature also shows that specific learning activities that ensure greater involvement of students in education, encourage in-depth learning, yield clear learning gains, increase retention rates (reduce drop-out) and contribute effectively to achieving learning outcomes.
Making students responsible for their own trajectory seems to be key in curriculum reform, for example with a view to integrating 21st-century competences. The institution must of course support and guide students in this.
How to introduce more student-centered curricula in Flemish higher education?
Developing, implementing and adjusting a curriculum is an intensive and cyclical process. Today, higher education is already responding to the needs of society and is in dialogue with the professional field and other stakeholders to keep its curricula relevant. There are initiatives around interdisciplinary courses and study programmes, the introduction of more self-management among students, new forms of assessment, the establishment of joint programs, more thorough workplace learning, introduction of skills labs in certain study programmes, etc.
However, these initiatives often only come about on a project basis and have to deal with obstacles in quality assurance and regulations. In addition, widely accepted insights from scientific research, do not find easily their way into educational practice. The Vlor therefore advocates: • a more structural approach and more coordination between initiatives and the exchange of good practices. • a clear institutional vision and policy on curriculum development. • the professionalization of teachers.
The Vlor expects the government to support universities and colleges in this by giving them sufficient resources and autonomy in their curriculum development and to be innovative. The Vlor also advocates for the government to establish and finance a platform for curriculum design to exchange good practice examples and results of research and to translate them into educational practice.