• Curriculum development and design;
  • curriculum change;
  • faculty development;
  • learning communities


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements

This article summarizes the major components of curriculum design: vision, operationalization of the vision, design, and evaluation. It stresses that the relationship between these components is dynamic, and that the process of curriculum design does not proceed via a linear application of these components. The article then summarizes some of the major influences on curriculum design: policy, local context, societal expectations, research trends, and technology. Then, it provides examples of how these influences affect the design of a curriculum and ends with a comprehensive set of questions that instructors could use to guide their curriculum development process. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 68–76, 2011

There is a current worldwide climate of curriculum reform and faculty development within traditional research universities, particularly in the broad area of biology [1] where there is a drive toward bringing the biology we teach in line with current modern trends in biological research [2]. Proponents see the growth of communities of scholars within biology departments as being essential for the success of such endeavors. In line with this, the overall aim of the Bridging-the-Gap series [3] is to promote the tenets of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) movement [4] throughout the biochemistry community. This rapidly growing movement advocates an innovative approach to science education in which teaching practice is informed by rigorously researched educational theory rather than just intuition, experience, and knowledge of the subject matter. SoTL is also about empowering instructors to take responsibility for their own practice by availing themselves of the wide range of available resources and staff development activities. The desired outcome is that more tertiary teachers will develop the competence and motivation to implement some of the excellent educational innovations that are part of the large body of published science education research knowledge.

In this series of three papers on curriculum development, we will address some of the driving forces that could encourage faculty to embark on curriculum change processes. In this article, we will focus on ideas from the science education literature, on the meaning of curriculum, and curriculum development. In particular, we will focus on the key components of curriculum design and the major factors that influence it. In Paper 2 of this series, we will discuss ways of becoming an agent of change, and factors to take into account that might enhance or inhibit innovation. In Paper 3 of this series, we will examine case studies where specific curriculum changes have been brought about in science faculties, looking at factors that have led to the successful implementation of change.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements

The notion of “curriculum” has been interpreted in so many diverse ways that it is not easy to distill one unifying definition. A useful definition by Kelly [5] claims that the word “curriculum” can have two meanings. It can be used to describe a set of courses from which students can choose what subject matter to study or it can collectively describe the teaching, learning, and assessment practices and materials available for a specific course or program. Thus, according to the second definition, a curriculum is more than just a syllabus of content topics—it consists of a number of interrelated components and influences (Fig. 1), which are important to consider when designing a curriculum.

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Figure 1. A flow diagram illustrating the dynamic and cyclical relationship between key components (C 1-4) of curriculum and related influencing factors (I 1-5).

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Figure 1 depicts the dynamic, interactive, open-ended and cyclical nature of curriculum development [6]. The dynamic and interactive nature is shown by the bi-directional relationship between the four identified curriculum design components and five influencing factors, which should not be considered in isolation during curriculum design as they strongly affect one another. For example, as discussed in Anderson [7], the nature of the course objectives (embodied in Vision, Component 1, C1), will determine the composition and structure of the curriculum (Component 2, C2), which will, in turn, determine what and how instructors teach and assess students and how students learn (Component 3, C3). Similarly, there is a strong relationship between the five influencing factors, all of which can influence any number of curriculum components. For example, research into inquiry-based learning (Influence 4, I4) has been enhanced by the availability of powerful e-learning facilities (Influence 5, I5) but has necessitated improvements in the capacity of staff and students (Influence 2, I2) to work with specific computer platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle (I5).

Once a curriculum has been designed, it should not be considered a fait accompli that remains the same every year. Rather it should be an open-ended, ongoing, and iterative process of regular curriculum development and innovative change that should continue throughout the life of a course or program [8]. This process might, according to Fullan [9], involve innovative alterations with regard to materials and structures; practices, behaviors, and skills; and beliefs, understanding, rationales, or philosophies. The open-ended and cyclical nature of the curriculum development process (Fig. 1) is depicted by the arrows that create the loop back from evaluation (C4) to delivery (C3), operationalization (C2), and vision (C1). Thus, information gained from the course evaluation can provide feedback used in improving any of the other curriculum components.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements

The curriculum is dynamic and interactive in nature in that it is composed of several interrelated components and influences. Thus, although this discussion is presented in a linear manner, readers should bear in mind that changes in any part of the curriculum could impact on another part and that curriculum development could focus on any part in any sequence. To emphasize this point, in this section, we will link to other components and influences as and when relevant.

1. Vision

There are different levels when it comes to the consideration of the goals and purposes of a curriculum. At the upper or more holistic level, developers might, for example, need to decide what type of biochemistry graduate they would like their undergraduate program to produce. In making this decision, they would need to consider influencing factors such as market demands (I3); new niche areas that might give the institution a competitive edge (I4); graduate attributes that employers would expect practicing biochemists to have for competency in the work place (I3) [10, 11]; and, the expectations of any accreditation bodies or directive from policy makers (I1). Such factors would, in turn, impact on developers' vision at the lower level regarding the goals and purposes of individual courses composing such a program. For example, the course might be part of the undergraduate major or it might be a service course for other majors, in which case the design and content of the curriculum will be different.

Whereas the goals are the target or end point of the course or program, the objectives should be seen as the steps toward achieving such goals. Thus, the objectives and learning outcomes need to be compatible with the goals but also clearly defined, realistic, and achievable by students. In this regard, there is a world-wide trend (see I4) toward an emphasis on the understanding of core knowledge, critical, and threshold concepts [12], and key skills, rather than overloading students with excessive information that encourages rote learning [13]. Learning outcomes should be clear statements of what the learners will be able to:

  • Know and understand in terms of content, knowledge, principles, concepts, and theories;

  • Do in terms of skills and competencies;

  • Develop in terms of attitudes and values.

In addition, many accreditation bodies might expect the following additional information for each learning outcome:

  • A range statement indicating the context, complexity, or standard and educational level at which the outcome will be achieved (See C2);

  • Assessment or performance criteria for describing what the learners will need to do to demonstrate that they have achieved that particular learning outcome (C3).

A discussion of the wide range of graduate attributes including skills and learning outcomes recommended for modern biochemistry courses is beyond the scope of this article. However, for further reading colleagues are referred to the following key papers and reports [14–17].

2. Operationalization of the vision

Putting the vision into action mainly involves developing the overall structure and contents of the curriculum and deciding on appropriate resources. A crucial part of this process is to ensure that the design and content of the curriculum will directly and specifically address all objectives and enable the students to achieve all the stated learning outcomes. Although it is important to include the latest biochemical knowledge (I4) in the curriculum, it is equally important to ensure that students develop such knowledge in a logical and progressive manner as they move from one educational level to the next. Each course in the curriculum needs to be pitched at an intellectual level or standard, that is, appropriate for the particular educational level of study (e.g. 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year), so, that it is sufficiently cognitively demanding that students are challenged but still have sufficient prior knowledge so they do not flounder. Thus, selection of the appropriate pre- and co-requisite courses that compose a program or degree is important. The structure and design of the curriculum also needs to emphasize the importance of both horizontal transfer of knowledge between courses at the same educational level and vertical transfer between each level [18]. This ensures cohesion within the curriculum between courses and enhances students' development of sound conceptual knowledge and skill competence. It also minimizes excessive duplication of information, a problem which can be solved through rationalization of course content.

An important factor influencing cohesion within the curriculum comprises issues pertaining to the number, duration, time-tabling, and co-ordination of teaching and learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, and laboratory classes. This has a major impact on the load that staff and students can tolerate before efficiency and effectiveness is seriously affected. To this end, most curricula include the allocation of credits or notional hours (See, e.g. [19]) to each course and the overall program, and restrict the number of credits that a student might register for within each academic year. The validity of this practice is questionable as it (wrongly) assumes that all students require the identical amount of time to learn something. This is not true and, therefore, it is important to always obtain feedback from students via course/program evaluations (See C4) about whether they are coping with all their courses. Indeed, it is a common problem for instructors to focus solely on their own course and not consider students' other course commitments. Thus, although credits and notional hours might serve as rough guides for curriculum planning, ultimately, we need to consider all students as individuals with unique contexts, skills and motivations, and design curricula that allow them all to achieve meaningful learning.

Other essential components of curriculum structure are the teaching materials and human resources (I2) that will be needed to teach the course. It is important to select or design those teaching resources that will specifically enhance the teaching process and students' achievement of the desired learning outcomes. These usually include curriculum materials such as course outlines, notes, handouts, activity booklets, laboratory manuals, textbooks, visual aids, websites and e-resources (I5). Finally human resources (I2) will include considerations of number of staff, workloads, and capacity and competence to do the job. This latter issue might, for instance, necessitate decisions about technical training or faculty development before the desired curriculum could be implemented. These and other issues that could influence the availability of curriculum resources will be discussed further under the section on local context (See I2).

3. Delivery

Having developed the structure and contents of the curriculum the next important step is to consider how best to teach the course and assess students' achievement of the stated learning outcomes. In making such decisions, it is essential to consider the important relationship between objectives, teaching, learning, and assessment in the educational process (see Fig. 1, p 472 in Anderson [7]). How and what content is assessed will have a strong influence on how and what instructors teach and how and what students learn. Thus, there needs to be good alignment between these components and the stated objectives and outcomes so that instructors focus their teaching and students focus their learning on the goals of the course. Having said that it is important to realize that there are multiple paths to achieving the same learning outcome and that individual teaching and learning styles need to be respected [20]. People should not be forced to teach and learn the same course in identical ways. Instead, they should have the academic freedom to be innovative and encouraged to interpret and apply ideas from the educational literature as they see fit, and in ways they feel will excite themselves and the students. This aspect will be emphasized and expanded on in Paper 2 of this series in which we discuss strategies for curriculum change.

It is important to base one's teaching practice on sound educational theory and some of the latest innovations (See I4) from the educational and scientific literature. Gibbs [21] mentions four key elements that numerous research studies have identified as being associated with “good teaching” and that are most likely to foster a deep approach to learning, the development of conceptual understanding, and problem-solving ability in students. These elements include:

  • Students' motivation is intrinsic—The student experiences a need to know something;

  • Students are active, rather than passive, in the learning process;

  • Students are involved with others in groups, rather than alone, when negotiating meaning and manipulating ideas;

  • Students have existing conceptual knowledge and experiences, which they bring to bear in the learning of new concepts.

Bransford et al. [22] introduced a further element, metacognition, which is considered critical for successful learning. Metacognition describes the awareness and regulation of one's own thinking process. Metacognitive approaches to instruction have been shown to help students take control of their own learning by defining their learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

4. Evaluation

All components of the curriculum (C1-3), including the performance of teaching staff, should be subjected to regular quality evaluation (C4) and, where necessary, improvements rendered. Evaluation is also an important part of the process of introducing a new innovation into the curriculum. As stated by Kolb [23], the curriculum development process should involve ongoing cycles of gathering innovative ideas, incorporating the ideas into curriculum planning, implementing them in the teaching process, evaluating and reflecting on their success, and if necessary modifying and re-testing them.

The evaluation of course quality and teacher competence is usually performed at one of four possible levels. At most institutions the standard way (Level 1) of evaluating courses and their teachers is via student questionnaires, either using paper-and-pencil approaches or online systems [24]. This is an important subjective measure of whether one has satisfied students who believe that they are receiving a quality education. Furthermore, questionnaires that probe student perceptions of their learning can yield very useful information for improving both student learning behaviors and instructional approaches to achieving the desired learning outcomes [25]. What students actually say about their learning, though, should be interpreted with caution as extensive research [26] has shown that students are not usually competent to make such judgments. Indeed, research has shown that people in general are quite unaware of the depth of their explanatory knowledge [27]. As discussed by Anderson and Schönborn [13], students may for instance believe they understand a topic simply because they can memorize facts about it. But this does not necessarily mean that they have acquired higher level cognitive skills such as transfer or application skills.

Given that student questionnaires alone are not good enough indicators of course quality and teacher competence, other measures are also needed. Another approach (Level 2) used at universities is to use student grades or pass rates as an indicator of quality. However, this approach is entirely dependent on the quality of the assessment tasks, which may only be testing rote learning of facts. In this situation, the assessment is also susceptible to manipulation to achieve good grades, which could give a false impression of course quality. To minimize this problem, the assessment tasks need to be subjected to rigorous peer evaluation and, if necessary, improvement before using them on students.

Over the years, there have been numerous reports in the literature on the measurement of learning gains and improved conceptual understanding as indicators of teaching and course quality. This approach (Level 3) involves screening student responses to open-ended and multiple-choice questions to get an idea of their reasoning ability and understanding of concepts. Such an approach could include giving students a pre- and post-test to gauge any learning gains such as that advocated by Seymour [28]. There are also several concept inventories (e.g. [29, 30]) that are being used as diagnostic tools to measure learning gains. Another recommended evaluation approach (Level 3) has been developed by Banta and co-workers [31] involving the collection of three different types of information on student learning outcomes in a form suitable for public reporting. First, they use e-Portfolios to gather long-term information on student skills and abilities. Second, they use rubrics to evaluate student writing and depth of learning and, third, they promote faculty development through online learning communities that collaborate on a range of issues to do with teaching practice and its evaluation.

Finally, as recommended by Driver and Scott [32], the approach of collecting student data could be extended into a more formal evaluation or action research study (Level 4), involving the collection and processing of all data and materials emanating from the teaching process. They used the research results to monitor for clear evidence of improvement in student learning as the result of the implementation of an innovation. They advocate this approach by stating, “…. one cannot assume that what is taught is what is learned. Curriculum development and evaluation from this perspective must consider the understandings that learners are gaining from the activities.” More details on how to design such an evaluation research study can be found in an article by O'Loughlin [33].

Since none of the above methods of evaluation will give a complete picture of course and teaching quality, it is recommended that instructors use a combination of evaluations at Levels 1–3 and restrict evaluation at Level 4 to specific issues of concern that require deeper investigation.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements

We have identified five factors (Fig. 1), namely policy, local context, societal expectations, research trends, and technology, which have a major influence on curriculum design and its four constituent components. As will be discussed in Paper 2 of this series, changes in these factors yield the major “forces” that regulate how much curriculum change and innovation occurs. Curriculum developers should maintain awareness of changes in any of these influences and respond where appropriate.

1. Policy

Curriculum policy is a permanent part of any educational system, and exists at the international (e.g. professional societies), national (e.g. government), and local (institutional) levels. Professional societies tend to have guidelines for undergraduate degrees, whereas governments tend to establish accreditation or standards bodies that favor more top-down policies (e.g. issues of equity) that are often tied to funding subsidies. Universities on the other hand usually design quality assurance frameworks and staff performance management systems.

Policy from all levels of the education system can have positive benefits if applied in a flexible manner. For example, policy documents on teaching approaches (C3) can serve as useful guidelines in cases where the capacity to do curriculum development is limited. On the other hand, it might be necessary to enforce policy in cases where individuals, for example, favor the status quo in opposing innovation in the curriculum. Policy can also help encourage investment in instructional technology (I5) that directly benefits student learning, rather than in administrative infrastructure that may not ultimately achieve such benefits. Generally speaking, though, one would hope that the policy influences would not be too restrictive of staffs' academic freedom to be creative and innovative during curriculum development, but rather that policy would emerge as a consequence of the collaborative curriculum process.

2. Local context

Curricula also need to be designed to be compatible with both the student and staff contexts. Universities are increasingly facing a changing student profile necessitating considerations of their specific needs, interests, and expectations when designing curricula. For example, these days universities are encountering greater cultural and language diversity among registrants, as well as more marginal students of variable educational backgrounds. Such changes could, for example, necessitate the introduction of language and scientific literacy modules for second language English speakers (C1,2) or the devising of extracurricular tutorials (C3) or even foundation and bridging courses to help marginal students acquire the necessary prior knowledge. Many universities have also recorded an increase in international students requiring curricula to be modified to meet employer and government expectations in foreign countries (C1 and I1). These days more students are also working part-time, expecting flexible learning (C3) facilities such as downloadable podcasts (I5) of lectures, chat room discussions, and e-learning facilities (I5), all of which require new approaches to curriculum design. Finally, the pressure is on staff to improve course curricula to meet the needs of modern students who these days are generally more proactive in demanding high-quality education with guaranteed employment.

From the staff perspective, the context includes an increasing number of innovators and agents of curriculum reform, together with staff displaying resistance to change (See Paper 2 of this series). The changing times (I4) and student context means that staff are under pressure to be more innovative and scholarly. Thus, there might be a need to develop staffs' capacity to be innovative through faculty development programs that empower them to take charge of their own curriculum development (C1–3).

Finally, the design of the curriculum needs to be considered in the light of available and perhaps changing financial, material, and human resources (C2). Modern biochemistry teaching programs involve high consumable and equipment costs and require the availability of specialized teaching facilities such as e-learning labs (I5). Other logistical aspects such as staff availability and time-tabling will also place constraints on the content, nature, and design of the curriculum.

3. Societal expectations

The opinions and expectations of society always have an important influence on the nature of the curriculum as universities can no longer retain the old “ivory tower” attitude as they are accountable to the public, funders, the government, professional societies, activist groups, and any other stakeholders. As discussed earlier (C1), it is vitally important to decide what type of biochemistry graduate an undergraduate program should produce. In making this decision, market demands for such qualifications need to be considered—a process, which can be facilitated by prominent alumni who are more familiar with new directions. In addition, graduates expect their qualifications to be mobile and globally recognized, so that they more readily receive credit for qualifications at other local and international universities and are more readily employable on the international stage.

There are various moves toward better preparing graduates for work in scientific and technical fields outside academia through, for example, the development of professional science masters degrees at universities in concert with industry (e.g. [34]). In this regard, the design of curricula will be strongly influenced by the nature and availability of facilities for students to get work experience in local industry, which can present a problem for universities located in smaller towns where appropriate industry is lacking.

The curriculum might also be strongly influenced by any societal and ethical norms regarding issues such as animal cruelty and environmental acts and expectations of ethical practice by scientists (see e.g. [35]).

4. Research trends

To keep the curriculum up to date with the very latest cutting-edge biochemical knowledge and skills and in line with modern trends regarding course content, it is important to consider the international biochemistry context when designing a curriculum. Trends in educational research also have a profound influence on all components (C1-4) of the curriculum, and it is considered an important part of scholarship in teaching keeping up to date with the latest trends and innovations available to curriculum developers. For instance, inquiry learning approaches such as POGIL [36] have had a profound influence on the structure of the curriculum and the sequence of presentation of material. Instead of giving students the knowledge obtained through research, POGIL provides a guided, active discovery, and problem-solving process, thereby helping students experience what it is like to do scientific inquiry.

Currently, there are several international trends that have emanated from the educational research literature. For example, these include, the identification and teaching of graduate attributes (C1), including cognitive skills [13]; the development of diagnostic assessment tools for conceptual understanding such as concept inventories (e.g. [30]; the development and measurement of visual literacy and visual skill (representational) competence [37], [38]; writing about scientific understanding (Calibrated Peer Review; [39]); theme-based teaching for promoting cross-disciplinary understanding; and problem-based and inquiry-based learning [40] for promoting skills for practicing science. In addition, the exponential growth in biochemical knowledge has necessitated moves to identify core knowledge [16]), critical and threshold concepts [12], and key principles that are indispensable to the development of expert understanding in our students.

5. Technology

Advancements in technology have had a profound andongoing influence on the nature of the curriculum. Biochemists can now study aspects of the natural world that were previously inaccessible. Technology is also changing how scientists work together—open access, web-based media (e.g. Web 2.0), cloud computing, shared data sets, etc. This implies that course curricula need to keep in line with these advancements by preparing our students to become competent to use such technology. In addition, advancements in computer technology have had a profound influence on the design of course curricula, especially, on the mode of delivery (C3) of courses. Platforms like Blackboard and Moodle are increasingly being used to facilitate the curriculum management, teaching, and assessment of courses while the number of e-learning approaches and resources has increased exponentially. Extensive software has, for example, been developed for use in inquiry learning, protein modeling, and bioinformatics, and for the efficient accessing of literature. The use of resources such as mobile internet and smart devices, virtual realities, cloud-based applications, open-access resources, simulations and animations, and personal response systems (clickers), has increased dramatically. This has, in turn, raised new issues regarding the pedagogical soundness of all of these devises and approaches, which need to be considered in the evaluation of curricula (C4).


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements

In Table I, we summarize some of the key issues highlighted in this article by presenting them in the form of questions that could be addressed and acted on by teaching faculty as part of a curriculum development process. In using this table, faculty would need to decide what influences are relevant to their own situation, which curriculum components need targeting, and in what order of priority. Although this process could be performed by an individual, we recommend that faculty members work together in groups in workshops or learning communities (See Paper 2). Such interaction serves the dual purpose of enhancing the quality of the developed curriculum and the professional development of participants (See, e.g. [41]).

Table I. Examples of questions that could be addressed during a curriculum development process regarding curriculum components and influencesa
QuestionsResponses, proposed action and priorities
  • a

    The questions in this table assume that a curriculum already exists but requires further development.

A. Curriculum components
1. Vision 
 • What type of graduate would you like to produce? That is what are the goals and purposes of the program or constituent course? 
 • Will such a program or course satisfy the expectations of key stakeholders (e.g. employers, accreditation, and funding bodies, your institution expecting a competitive niche area for recruitment)? 
 • What are the specific objectives or learning outcomes of the program or course in terms of graduate attributes, including knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values, and will they be compatible with the goals and purposes? 
 • Is there a strong focus on core knowledge, critical concepts, and relevance (to students) of content rather than information overload? 
2. Operationalization of the vision 
 • Does the design and content of the curriculum specifically address all the course objectives and learning outcomes? 
 • Is the standard of the course appropriate for the educational level of the student, that is, do they have sufficient prior knowledge? 
 • Which other courses would be appropriate pre- and co-requisites for developing the required prior knowledge? 
 • Does the structure of the course curriculum show logical sequence of presentation of material, that is, to facilitate students' development of sound conceptual knowledge and skill competence? 
 • Does the structure of the curriculum promote progression and vertical translation between courses at different educational levels? 
 • Is there good cohesion and horizontal translation between this course and others within the program at each educational level? 
 • Is there excessive duplication of material between related courses necessitating rationalization of some of them? 
 • Is the nature, number, duration, and time-tabling of the teaching and learning activities both appropriate and well coordinated? 
 • Does the course have the correct credit (or notional hours) rating, also relative to other courses within the program? Are the students coping with the program? 
 • Will the necessary human resources and facilities be available to implement the curriculum? (Note: See more questions under B.2 below) 
 • Are there appropriate curriculum materials, e.g. notes, activity booklets, lab manuals, textbooks, visual aids, websites and e-resources, available to students? 
3. Delivery 
 • What modes of teaching and learning (e.g. lectures, seminars, assignments, group work, readings) are used in the course? 
 • Does the teaching approach include some of the latest innovations such as problem-solving, inquiry learning, and theme-based teaching? 
 • Have the teaching and learning activities been specifically selected or designed to address each course objective? 
 • Does the mode of delivery promote active learning and metacognition through a student-centered rather than teacher-centred approach? 
 • What types of assessment (e.g. essays, MCQs) are used in the course? 
 • Is formative assessment used during the course to help students gauge their own learning understanding and skill competence and to help faculty monitor student progress. 
 • Will the summative assessment specifically measure the achievement of all the course objectives? 
4. Evaluation 
 • What quality indicators/evaluation methods are used for evaluating the course and the instructor's teaching competence? Are they effective? 
 • What level of quality evaluation is used and what results are obtained? 
 • ○ Level 1: Student questionnaires about teaching and course quality; 
 •  ○ Level 2: High assessment quality (see Anderson and Rogan, 2010 below) relative to pass rates; 
 •  ○ Level 3: Learning gains and improved conceptual understanding and skill competence via pre- and post-testing; 
 •  ○ Level 4: Rigorous action research that is publishable. 
 • Does the quality of the assessment instruments meet the criteria detailed in Table 1 of Anderson and Rogan [42]? 
 • Do the evaluation methods you use give an acceptable measure of student achievement of the course objectives and outcomes? (Note: Use of multiple methods will give better indication of course quality). 
 • Is there evidence that the students are using the prescribed resources and they are effective in promoting learning and understanding? 
B. Influences on the curriculum
1. Policy 
 • Do we need to consider the influence of any international (e.g. professional societies), national (e.g. government, accreditation bodies) and local (institutional) quality assurance? How flexible/restrictive is such policy on staff's academic freedom to be innovative? 
 • Will government funding depend on evidence of equity of access into the course? 
 • Is there a university quality assurance framework that the curriculum would need to comply with? 
 • Is there a university performance management system that will influence how the course is designed and taught? 
2. Local context 
 Will the student context influence the curriculum design? For example, do the following student characteristics need to be considered: 
 • Students of cultural and language diversity and language proficiency problems; 
 • Students of marginal educational backgrounds and preparedness without necessary prior knowledge and experience; 
 • Students working part-time expecting flexible learning facilities; 
 • Students' areas of interest and motivations; 
 • International students expecting globally accepted qualifications; 
 • Students expecting high quality education with guaranteed employment? 
Will the staff context influence the curriculum design? For example, do the following staff characteristics need to be considered: 
 • Staffs' academic and technical capacity to develop, teach and run the course; 
 • Staff displaying resistance to innovation (See paper 2 of this series); 
 • Staff incentives and rewards; 
 • Staffs' active support for innovative change? 
Will there be a need to develop staff capacity to be innovative, thereby, empowering them to take charge of their own curriculum development process, through academic development activities? 
Will the institution be able to supply all the necessary human, financial, and material resources (e.g. funding, facilities, equipment, administrative and technical support, Internet, and e-learning platforms)? 
3. Societal context 
 • Are there any expectations from employers in terms of graduate attributes (knowledge and skills)? 
 • Is there a need to consider any funder expectations and accountability when designing the curriculum? 
 • Will there be a need to internationalize the curriculum to promote recruitment of international students? 
 • Will the need to be recognized globally influence the design of the curriculum? 
 • Will the curriculum be influenced by any outreach or public understanding program? 
 • Will there be any societal and ethical norms to consider such as animal cruelty and environmental acts? 
4. Research trends 
 • Is the curriculum up to date with the latest biochemistry knowledge from the latest textbooks and/or research literature? 
 • Is the curriculum informed by rigorously conducted educational research (as per the tenets of SoTL)? 
 • What innovations (e.g. concept inventories) should we consider implementing in the curriculum? 
 • What ideas from the educational research literature about teaching effectiveness (e.g. theme-based teaching) might improve the quality of course delivery? 
 • What learning theories, tools and activities from the research literature (e.g. problem-based learning) might improve the quality of delivery? 
5. Technology 
 • Where feasible and relevant, does the curriculum make use of the latest technology and scientific equipment? 
 • Does the curriculum make use of some of the latest e-Learning approaches and devices (e.g. mobile internet and smart devices, virtual realities, cloud-based applications, etc)? 
 • Does the curriculum use any e-Learning software and resources e.g. for inquiry learning, protein modeling, bioinformatics, accessing literature? 
 • Is an Internet management system (e.g. Moodle or Blackboard) used to manage the course, communicate with students, make learning available to students, and to assess them? 
C. Action plan and feedback
 1. Have the items to be addressed been prioritized? 
 2. Has a timeline for acting on them been set up? 
 3. Who will implement and evaluate the changes and give feedback to the group? 
 4. How will the changes be evaluated? 
 5. Was the innovation successful? What did the results of the evaluation process suggest be modified, if any, regarding the design of the curriculum? 
 6. What were the major gains from the process in terms of the professional development of participants? 
 7. How could the process be improved? 

As stated previously, the curriculum design process should be cyclical (Fig. 1) in that the participants in the process should meet regularly throughout the life of the course/program to reconsider the questions posed in Table I and where appropriate to consider the introduction of any new innovations in the curriculum. The process should also not be linear but rather an integrated, nonlinear process in which faculty could choose to address the questions in any sequence depending on requirements and feedback from the evaluation process. But when changes are made, instructors should remember that the relationship between the curriculum components is dynamic (Fig. 1) in that changing one component will most likely affect another and also necessitate changes in that area.

Finally, all curriculum development processes should be well managed and coordinated and be part of an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process [43] involving responsible and sensible change strategies including the more gradual phasing in and trialling of innovations so that both student and teacher can cope with the changes. The process should also not be dominated by autocratic managers who use the contents of Table I as a set of inflexible regulations. On the contrary, they should be used as a set of guidelines for discussion as part of a democratic and collaborative process involving inputs from key stakeholders such as the course teacher, teachers from related courses, program co-ordinators, faculty developers, tutors, and even present and past students. In fact, the collaborative nature of the process should ultimately determine its logical direction. As Cronin-Jones [44] so aptly warns, “Implemented curricula are often quite different from intended curricula.”

The second paper in this curriculum series will go into greater detail as to how the process of curriculum development might be managed in cases where significant change and reform is desirable and where there exists barriers to change that require specific strategies to overcome them.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  7. Acknowledgements
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