Technology to Improve Curriculum Development
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it possible to develop quality curriculum materials more quickly using
in resources and expertise, some curriculum designers may cut corners and
produce educational materials that lack quality, usefulness, and longevity (Dowding,
1991). But as the amount and complexity of information increases, the ability to
quickly develop and adapt educational materials could be more critical to the
learning experience than is now recognized.
Description of Case Study
Agricultural and Extension Education Department at Penn State develops and
maintains hundreds of curriculum materials, not only for student use but also for
youth programs such as 4-H. In this case study,
(see description below) were compared
with the development and review of a sequential set of modules on an electronic
database. In the initial comparison, a sequential curriculum (set of seventeen
modules) was developed. Later, support materials of various types were created,
including reference lists, fact sheets, audiovisual scripts, evaluations and
tests, and activity guides. The overall objectives of these comparisons were to:
reduce the curriculum development time from the initial onset of ideas to the
release of an actual product for educators to use
retain or improve the quality of curriculum materials
maximize the use and longevity of the curriculum by keeping resources and other
support information current
case study also compared the time spent by the curriculum developer and the
reviewers in learning more about the curriculum development process itself.
traditional curriculum development methods consisted of a needs assessment;
committee meetings of experts and educators; writing, collating, and mailing
materials to reviewers; and waiting to receive the comments back. The electronic
process included the development and distribution of materials on an information
database made accessible to the university, county extension offices in
Pennsylvania, and the State Department of Education.
simulate actual curriculum development conditions, the curriculum reviewers were
self-selected in both cases, rather than randomly or specially selected. The
reviewers also were surveyed afterward to determine their opinions and to
identify overall factors that seemed to inhibit and facilitate the process.
a target population of more than 500 participants, 63 extension agents,
teachers, parents, volunteers and youth reviewed the electronic curricula. On
the 200 sets of traditional mailed materials, only eight reviewers sent in
comments. Although more curriculum materials (102 versus 8) were reviewed on the
database, only a handful of reviewers provided input on all 17 modules in the
the electronic materials were placed on an information database already used by
the reviewers in the study, curriculum drafts were easily accessed and quickly
reviewed without a lengthy orientation process. Explanations of each module,
review forms, and a menu were provided on-line to show how all the materials fit
within the overall curriculum plan. The support materials were assigned a
document name and number and were reviewed in the same way.
the database, no additional materials had to be reprinted or sent out
electronically because of loss in mailing or delay in delivery. The database
simply "held" the documents until the reviewers were ready to read or
share them with others. Once entered into the electronic system, the modules
could be reviewed immediately. In some cases, a professional editor made
grammatical changes at the same time as the reviewers looked at the content,
further reducing the development time.
developer also was able to make sequence changes from one module to another more
easily and to eliminate problems associated with managing different drafts of
the same document. As reviews came in, changes were continually incorporated
into the documents on the electronic database. These corrections were
highlighted, allowing later reviewers to benefit from the changes and
forestalling redundant suggestions. Reviewers were informed that their comments
might be modified if a disagreement arose. Disagreements were not uncommon and
were resolved by consensus, usually in a conference call.
the traditional methods, the developer spent a large amount of time
corresponding with potential reviewers and managing the printing, collating, and
mailing of the materials. Some documents had to be resent when the originals did
not arrive or were misplaced. The traditional review was so time consuming that
the reviewers did not have the opportunity to discuss their suggestions or
respond more than once.
the initial comparison (1993), development time and effort were reduced by
one-third (15 months versus 24 months) using the electronic database (see Figure
1). In subsequent comparisons (1995 and 1997), support materials—mostly
monographs—were produced in far less time (a 75 to 80% reduction). These
favorable results appear to be due largely to three factors:
the ability of the reviewers to locate and review materials quickly
the reduction of developer time spent coordinating the distribution and
replacement of lost materials
the opportunity for the developer to make multiple changes to the electronic
documents with limited reviewer confusion (which can occur when review materials
are mailed out in
greatest advantage of the electronic process was to allow first drafts of the
text, particularly those that would be widely used and/or controversial, to be
reviewed by the users of the final product before the bulk of the curriculum
development investment (time, effort, and money) was expended. This was a
decided advantage, as developing curriculum that works for a large group of
people can be like "attempting to hit a moving target" (Whitten,
either method, there was no indication of any lack of access to the curricula.
When the electronic methods were employed, reviewers noted that they were able
to respond more easily to the materials and could adjust their review time
better. Some reviewers, however,
spent additional time modifying the electronic review form to fit their
needs, and a few chose to print the documents out on their own equipment, at
their own expense.
these minor drawbacks, in the end there was no comparison between the
traditional and the electronic methods. Despite numerous needs assessments,
planning meetings, and follow-up letters, no one wanted to use the final
materials that had been produced in the traditional way.
provide some measure of quality, the electronic materials were also reviewed by
professional curriculum developers located throughout the country. The
evaluations were so high that the materials are now included in a national
curriculum collection. Best of all, the electronically developed materials (and
one additional module that was added later) are still used to teach thousands of
young people each year.
the information database used in this study is no longer available because of
Y2K concerns, an Internet home page http://AgExtEd.cas.psu.edu/FCS/4hfl/jsmenu.html
is now being
used with similar results. The review sheet has been redesigned several times
based on reviewer comments.
case study looked at electronic ways to improve the curriculum development
process and create quality materials in less time. Except for the minor issues
of the cost of printing documents by on-line reviewers and the alteration of
review forms, no other problems with the use of a database were reported. The
on-line process reduced confusion and kept meetings and paper revisions to a
no other comparisons of this type were found by the author, it would seem highly
desirable to replicate this study or—at the very least—to continually repeat
and fine tune the on-line process, especially in situations where context is
critical to the learning outcome (Leh, Sleezer, and Anderson,1998), and teacher
and student participation is highly valued (Jonassen, 2000).
as new technologies are created and as experts from around the globe are called
upon to solve problems and instruct students, the knowledge of successful
strategies to develop and transfer educational materials becomes increasingly
important (Baker, 1995). The ultimate challenge may be to convince colleagues to
try a new approach.
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