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Curriculum Development in Higher Education


The rapid changes in society today are largely driven by the shift in resources. One of the aspects in which such changes can be reflected in education. Curriculum, as well as curriculum delivery, is constantly explored, looking for new and effective methods. Accordingly, the rationale for updating the content of the curriculum can be seen through the occurrence of new information, the amount and the complexity of which grows exponentially. In that regard, the present paper provides a review of literature on the topic of curriculum development in higher education, analyzing four scholarly articles devoted to the topic of course development and delivery in higher education in the context of health education.

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Curriculum Development and Evaluation

One of the major components of successful course development can be seen in establishing efficient tools for its evaluation. One of the methods traditionally established for curriculum evaluation is students’ rating of courses. In nursing, such ratings for evaluation include “pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and post-graduation employment rates for basic undergraduate programs (Billings & Halstead, 2005). Such a method cannot be sufficient for a comprehensive evaluation of the curriculum. In Spiel, Schober, and Reimann (2006), a study was conducted to assess different evaluation methods of curricula. The authors argue that an ideal evaluation of curriculum can be described in five phases: 1) identification of strengths and weaknesses of current curriculum, 2) evaluation of the concepts of the new curriculum, 3) evaluation of the implementation process of the new curriculum, 4) summative evaluation comparing the results of the new and old curriculum, 5) “impact evaluation of the new curriculum’s results in terms of long-term consequences” (Spiel, Schober, & Reimann, 2006, p. 431).

Analyzing the first phase of evaluation, Spiel et al (2006) identified several challenges which are specifically important in the context of medical education, where such aspects were outlined as data on students’ behavior, focus on the acquired skills of the graduates, and the time between exams and evaluation. Such phases can be paralleled to the phases identified in Sikma (2009), where a project of curriculum development was initiated to enforce and strengthen the geriatric component of a nursing program. The identified phases were: 1) the identification of community health nurses in the specialized area, i.e. geriatric, 2) development and cross-validation of competency statement, and 3) the development of the curricular model (Sikma, 2009). The inclusion of the natural setting in which the curriculum will be evaluated can be seen as an important factor, where for example, the curriculum for young physicians should include the analysis within the setting of patients’ diagnosis and patients’ therapy as one of the outcomes (Spiel, et al., 2006, p. 446). The example of geriatric enforcement in a new curriculum, indicated in Sikma (2009), also included the clinical setting in addition to classroom experiences. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that such evaluation within the natural setting might have certain disadvantages in terms of costs, as well as the difficulty of integrating certain aspects into the workplace, e.g. testing information literacy and accessibility of technology in the natural setting (Barnard, Nash, & O’Brien, 2005).

Curriculum Outcomes

The relation between the outcomes and the development of the course can be seen through one of the challenges identified in Spiel et al (2006), where the authors argue that the objective of the development and its realization should be connected together, where the realization should correspond to the outcome of the curriculum (Spiel, et al., 2006, p. 436). Additionally, outcomes of curriculum should have certain attributes that correspond to occurring changes, including increasing diversity and “technological explosion in the sequence of learning experiences that will prepare the graduate to survive within the workforce” (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 98). One of the aspects that can be attributed to the latter can be seen through focusing on such lifelong learning competencies as information literacy. In Barnard, Nash and O’Brien (2005), the focus on information literacy as an aspect of the curriculum can be seen through that many universities consider lifelong learning as a graduate outcome (Barnard, et al., 2005, p. 4). Diversity, in a curriculum context, can be seen through such aspects as disciplinary variation. According to Lueddeke (2008), disciplinary variation can be seen as an important aspect that might provide more opportunities to integrate research and teaching as well as stressing students’ critical perspectives, “value student interaction and oral/written communication” (Lueddeke, 2008, p. 3).

The Role of Educators

The role of educators, external groups and other stakeholders is important in the process of curriculum development and assessment. It is argued that the key change group within a particular educational institution should involve key faculty members, “who understand the problem and can effectively evaluate strategies for problem-solving” (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 100). At the same time, the evaluation of the curriculum might pose a challenge in terms of mobilizing the same faculty members with their different educational beliefs and perceptions into a team that shall work together (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 99). The identification of the group that should be responsible for evaluation was also mentioned as one of the challenges in Spiel et al (2006), where the baseline phase of evaluating present curriculum was considered. The challenge in the context of medical education was translated into such problems through the evaluation period as short time and identification of the participants of the assessment (Spiel, et al., 2006). Several strategies were proposed to overcome such problems including delivering students’ assessment along with their course works as well as avoiding bias in selecting participants responsible for curriculum reform to be other than those responsible for its evaluation. The latter is not concerned with the curriculum as a whole, but rather with its certain part, e.g. differentiating between those participating in the evaluation of the theoretical subjects with those responsible for its development (Spiel, et al., 2006, p. 440). The role of educators was also outlined in Lueddeke (2009) who emphasized the role of teachers as researchers, establishing a connection between the education and the research communities. In Lurillard (1994), cited in Lueddeke (2009), it was stated that “[t]eachers need to know more than just their subject. They need to know the ways it can become understood, the ways it can be misunderstood, what counts as understanding; they need to know how individuals experience the subject” (Lueddeke, 2008, p. 6).

Curriculum Change as a Response

The main reason for a change in the curriculum design can be seen in responding to the needs of the society. Within the nursing profession the needs of the society can be seen through the needs of the current health system (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 145). The geriatric enforcement project, outlined in Sikma (2009), is exemplary of the way changes in the society drive changes in curriculum designs. In such example the changes can be seen through the aging of the baby boomers and the availability of online health information was reflected into that the design of the nursing curriculum was adapted to support the self-determination of older adults and promote best practices in geriatric community health nursing (Sikma, 2009, p. 574). The example of including information literacy, on the other hand, demonstrates the response of the curriculums’ design to the current need for the nurses to “have the skills ‘to access, appreciate and apply pertinent research findings to their practice” (Barnard, et al., 2005, p. 3). In such a way it can be seen that the main reason for change in curriculum is being flexible and responsive. In the context of nursing, the aforementioned examples conform to that curriculum models are created and changed to reflect contemporary needs (Billings & Halstead, 2005, p. 145).


The present paper provided a review of literature on the topic of curriculum development in higher education. The paper focused on such topics as the phases of curriculum evaluation, the challenges of curriculum evaluation, the relationship between programs’ outcomes and development, the role of educators, and the reasons for curriculum design change. It can be stated that curriculum change is an essential aspect, especially in health education, which enables effective responses to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the health system. Accordingly, the articles examined in the paper conform to the theoretical framework on nursing curriculums.

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Barnard, A. G., Nash, R. E., & O’Brien, M. (2005). Information literacy: developing life long skills through nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education, 44(11), 505-510.

Billings, D. M., & Halstead, J. A. (2005). Teaching in nursing : a guide for faculty (2nd ed.). St. Louis, Mo.: Saunders.

Lueddeke, G. (2008). Reconciling Research, Teaching and Scholarship in Higher Education: An Examination of Disciplinary Variation, the Curriculum and Learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(1), 11-11.

Sikma, S. K. (2009). Supporting self-determination of older adults in community health settings: a curriculum development project. Journal of Nursing Education, 48(10), 574-578. doi: 10.3928/01484834-20090917-01

Spiel, C., Schober, B., & Reimann, R. (2006). Evaluation of Curricula in Higher Education. Evaluation Review, 30(4), 430-450.

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