Educating the educators

April 2013


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Education Review was there to witness the official opening of the New Zealand Curriculum Design Institute in Hamilton.

The smell of fresh paint played on the nostrils, a sparkly new chandelier twinkled above and the red ribbon across the doorway flew in the Hamilton breeze as assembled guests awaited the arrival of Prime Minister John Key to officially open the New Zealand Curriculum Design Institute (NZCDI).

And open it he did. Ribbon was cut, plaques unveiled, speeches were delivered, blessings bestowed.

New place. New concept. The institute doesn’t fit conventionally into any existing facility type – it isn’t a university or a polytechnic, and director Susan Stevenson says it isn’t a private training establishment. What is does, among other things, is aid tertiary institutions in the design of their qualifications.

The Prime Minister’s comparison of designing qualifications to making sausages - “You don’t want to know how it’s done; you just want the end result!” – while flippant, is probably close to the mark in many cases.

Stevenson believes that more consideration needs to be given to the curriculum at the higher education level. At a symposium late last year, she pointed out that tertiary educators are typically very well qualified in their area of expertise, but often lack an understanding of how to design suitable education programmes.

However, some tertiary providers have pointed to a lack of resources rather than proficiency in the area of curriculum design. As one provider representative said, “We lack the capacity for curriculum design, not the capability.”

Either way, this is ultimately what the NZCDI does: collaborates with institutions to help them with curriculum design. As Stevenson said, the institute is there to “work around the edges to optimise higher education”. She believes there is the potential to lift educational outcomes by at least 25 per cent.

Its sales pitch is that, as a NZQA-registered and approved course owner, the institute designs a range of qualifications at all levels of higher education, from certificate to postgraduate, and then partners with tertiary providers to provide them.

Yet, the institute is small enough to work on a bespoke level with tertiary providers to meet their needs. So not only does it provide qualifications to providers, but it also provides consultative services and professional development.

Representatives from Hamilton-based tertiary institutions Wintec and Waikato University
were among those who attended the opening. Amy Edwards of Wintec said they were collaborating with the NZCDI and other institutions in areas of professional development.

Institutions are clearly aware of the need to develop and reflect on their own teaching practices. The day before the NZCDI opened, the University of Waikato’s Centre for Tertiary Teaching and Learning was officially launched. The centre, under the administrative umbrella of the Faculty of Education, sees the integration of three groups: Student Learning, the Teaching Development Unit and the Waikato Centre for e-Learning. Centre director Dr Marcia Johnson says the centre will take a pan-university role in promoting, facilitating and supporting learning and teaching development, as well as providing research-informed leadership in tertiary teaching and learning.

No doubt there will be opportunities for Waikato’s new centre to liaise with its new neighbour. After all, the NZCDI is ultimately setting out to help providers help themselves. Through a range of qualifications, including a Diploma in Advanced Curriculum Design & Academic Leadership (Level 7), the institute is helping to educate the educators in the area of curriculum design.

The institute also has a tool that can be used by tertiary providers as a health check for their existing programmes. The tool helps providers identify areas of weakness in their curriculum, which the NZCDI can potentially help them with.

Perhaps, from a broader perspective, the real advantage of the institute is its international relevance.

As the Prime Minister noted, through the aid of modern technology and the expansion of the service-based sector, curriculum design is a business that can be exported.

Agreements have been signed with institutions in Korea, Papua New Guinea, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Indeed, Stevenson and her team have high hopes for NZCDI. After the more formal proceedings, the chandelier dimmed, prompting a hush among the crowd. A blanket was pulled down to reveal an art work that would house the names of the 100 NZQA-approved courses. Nifty, and certainly evocative of the passion, creativity and drive that has very evidently been put into getting the institute up and running.