Exploring New Approaches in Higher Education to Enhance Learning and Improve Practice

Working with academics in planning curriculum innovation across often unfamiliar knowledge domains, I spend much of my initial time endeavoring to understand different conceptual and methodological organizing frameworks for course development. Doing so, allows me to find bespoke ways of helping academics become innovative in enhancing learning for their students, improving their practice, in their contexts . The Partnerships in Teaching Excellence (PiTE) Program allowed me to hone those skills, in collaboration with a highly innovative and expert educator, Ruth Radford. 

The Program

In 2008 I took on the role as UTAS’ Education Faculty liaison, administrator, and teaching-lead for the PiTE project with the Department of Education Tasmania (DET). This school-based Partnership, initiated by Bob Philips in July 2008 (Oerlemans & Phillips, 2008), was an alternative initial teacher education pathway, tailored towards the needs of Tasmania’s low-SES schools. Pre-service teachers (PSTs) competitively selected for the Partnership, had more school-based time, were situated in small groups with a dedicated teacher-mentor, and had greater access to Department resources for teaching low-SES students. Ruth Radford, DET’s Project Principal, looked after the mentors and negotiated with schools.  

As well as administrate the University side of the Partnership, I developed, negotiated and taught a specialized HE curriculum supporting the University learning requirements, taking advantage of the extensive school opportunities, yet meeting the needs of teacher accreditation standards. Ruth and I worked closely together to develop the innovative program, which required at times creative thinking, much reflection, and considerable change, to guarantee the ongoing success of the initiative.  

The Framework

The curriculum innovation focused on breaking the apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975), through an intentional and explicit innovative curriculum geared towards helping PSTs become analytical and reflective, about their own and observed practices (Carroll, 2006; Mewborn & Tyminski, 2006). Bransford, Darling-Hammond and LePage’s (2005) organizing Framework for Understanding Teaching and Learning was foundational (Image below).  

curriculum innovation based on Framework for Understanding Teaching and Learning

Learning, assessments and program initiatives used the four key framework areas: learners and their learning, PST knowledge of subject matter and curriculum goals, and their knowledge of teaching, within the broader understanding of what it meant to be a teacher in the teaching profession. To engage with this learning framework in depth, PSTs completed a portfolio of short reflective tasks connecting their observations and practice to theory. They also completed a final small action research project in collaboration with their mentor (Oerlemans, 2010) .  

The Learning

I learned many things from my role in the Partnership. Curriculum is negotiated, taking time to develop, needing regular reviews, to bring about enhanced learning. It is difficult to capture the complexity on paper, many meetings were held between myself, Ruth, PSTs and others as we worked out what was meant by ‘Partnership’, what was required for students to pass their subjects, determining how to make their learning equivalent to that of their fellow cohort of PSTs not part of the PiTE.

On reflection, I realize one contentious issue was between two forms of knowledge, knowledge-as-curriculum and knowledge-as-student-understanding, as PSTs struggled to develop different kinds of ‘gazes’ and ‘lenses’ (Ashwin, 2014), in a constant move between student-as-PST and PST-as-teacher. Whilst for me, the key pedagogic challenge was how to help them to understand and negotiate this liminal space (Oerlemans, 2010) .  

The Future

This project has ended, I left the University in 2010, and the government removed the funding that underpinned it in 2013. However, our hard work in developing the PiTE Program was well rewarded, the Partnership was very successful, with the results of the project widely recognized (see here!). 

And I no longer work in Initial Teacher Education Programs. But working in other Higher education institutions, faculties and subject areas, I have found that all curriculum is contextual, with discipline specific approaches depending on the body of knowledge or discourse to be transmitted (MacKenzie, Muminovic, & Oerlemans, 2017). So, I look forward to the next curriculum innovation challenge, and new opportunities for engaging with organizing frameworks for course development, such as Higgs’ et al (2012) practice-based education. 

©2019 Karin Oerlemans 


References

Ashwin, P. (2014). Knowledge, curriculum and student understanding in higher education. Higher Education, 67, 123-126. doi:10.1007/s10734-014-9715-3 

Bransford, J., Darling-Hammond, L., & lePage, P. (2005). Introduction. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 1-39). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Carroll, D. M. (2006). Developing Joint Accountability in University-School Teacher Education Partnerships. Action in Teacher Education, 27(4), 3-11. doi:10.1080/01626620.2006.10463396 

Higgs, J., Barnett, R., Billett, S., Hutchings, M., & Trede, F. (Eds.). (2012). Practice-based education: Perspectives and strategies. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense. 

Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 

MacKenzie, A., Muminovic, M., & Oerlemans, K. (2017). The intentional use of learning technologies to improve learning outcomes in studio. Journal of Problem Based Learning in Higher Education, 5(1), 47-63.

Mewborn, D. S., & Tyminski, A. M. (2006). Lortie’s apprenticeship of observation revisited. For the Learning of Mathematics, 26(3), 30-33.

Oerlemans, K. (2010). Changing the gaze. Retrieved from: http://kairosct.com/in-print/changing-gaze-teacher-education/   

Oerlemans, K., & Phillips, B. (2008). Pathways to practice: Piloting a new partnership in teacher education. Poster presentation at 7th Teaching Matters, UTAS, Launceston, TAS December 4.

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Curriculum Innovation in HE
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