UP takes time to design

Tony Mays reports on a curriculum and materials development project recently completed with the University of Pretoria’s Distance Education Unit.

One of the key findings of the CHE investigation into Enhancing the Contribution of Distance Higher Education in South Africa (CHE 2004) was that in general, South African institutions’ investment in the design of programmes and materials seemed to be well below international norms. SAIDE was therefore delighted to be approached by the University of Pretoria’s Distance Education Unit to facilitate the reconceptualisation of the programme design and materials development for its ACE in Education Management.

The ACE in Education Management had already been scheduled for internal review in 2007 and needed to be redesigned to take cognisance of the HEQC Review and of the fact that the University is also a provider for the Department of Education-led ACE in School Leadership. With the ACE in School Leadership targeting existing School Management Team members with aspirations towards becoming school principals, it was felt that there was a need for an ACE in Education Management that would assist Post-Level One, Classroom-Based Educators to enhance their classroom management practices and to develop the competences that could in future assist them to play more of a leadership role in their schools, perhaps as lead teachers or as Heads of Department.

The process facilitated by SAIDE, through a number of workshops, was informed by the three levels of planning and development that have been advocated by the distance education community through the NADEOSA guidelines for Designing and Delivering Distance Education (Welch & Reed eds 2005). The three levels are:

  • Programme design; (for details of issues discussed at the workshops see attached.)
  • Course design; and
  • Materials development.

Some time was allowed after the first two workshops for further reflection and refinement of this thinking ahead of a third workshop that focused on the transition from programme design to materials development. During the time away from the workshop setting, the programme manager and module coordinators were busy developing revised module outlines that would break-up the learning experience into manageable and coherent blocks and modules of learning and teaching.

The third workshop provided an opportunity for module coordinators to present their draft revised module plans and to explain how they contributed to the achievement of the overall purpose of the programme. This discussion allowed the team to identify gaps and overlaps against the programme outline and to agree on a logical re-sequencing of the six modules into three blocks of learning, with each block of learning building on the work that had gone before. An opportunity was also provided for a critical engagement with the existing programme materials and examples of materials developed in other programmes that had been made available through the SAIDE Resource Centre. Key materials development activities in the workshop included development of draft assignments and in-text activities. Content required for the activities which demonstrated a clear link with the exit level outcomes of the programme, the module and the draft assignment was developed. Work was also begun on developing tutorial letters for students that would introduce them to the new programme design and the purpose and nature of each module. The workshop culminated in the development of an action plan for subsequent materials development/re-development.

The journey from programme design through to completed materials took 11 months, from April 2007 to February 2008. It required a lot of concerted effort on the part of all those involved but team members felt that the end result had been worth the effort. In fact, the UP Distance Education Unit have initiated similar processes for the redevelopment of both their ACE in Special Needs Education and their Hons BEd in 2007 and plan to replicate the process with all new programme development.

In March 2008, the new ACE in Education Management at the University of Pretoria received full accreditation from the HEQC.

Council on Higher Education (CHE). 2004. Enhancing the contribution of Distance Higher Education in South Africa – Report of an investigation led by the South African Institute for Distance Education. Pretoria: CHE.
South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). 2005. Guidelines for Integrated Assessment. Pretoria: SAQA.
Welch, T. & Reed, Y. (Eds.) 2005. Designing and Delivering Distance Education: Quality Criteria and Case Studies from South Africa. Johannesburg: NADEOSA.

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