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date: 18 October 2017

Reconceptualizing Curriculum in Higher Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Conducting research on curriculum in higher education settings often results in confusion over just what curriculum is. Thus, simplifications occur and the research focuses instead on the discussion of the various structural reforms of units, courses, and programs. The tendency to simplify research on curriculum seems to be driven by traditional notions of knowledge production or transmission that shapes (limits and restrains) the epistemological spaces inhabited by students in higher education settings. Courses, units, lessons, textbooks, etc., are seen as vehicles of content knowledge rather than just part of the story. This notion highlights the transmissive nature and positivistic “Scientistic Paradigm” that permeates these Enlightenment institutions. However, as Colin J. Marsh and George Willis highlight in Curriculum: Alternative Approaches, Ongoing Issues, academics’ lived experience, student life histories, and the physical space of classroom settings also influence knowledge production. In the current neo-liberal, market-driven context, institutions are also developing curriculum designed to gain market share and enable work-ready students. Therefore, theoretical analyses of the curriculum occurring in the international field of Curriculum Studies are marginalized. In this global context, the study and production of curriculum should be internationalized and reach beyond and across borders and boundaries.

If we focus on the epistemological nature of “curriculum as knowledge production,” as Lisa J. Cary puts it in Curriculum Spaces: Discourse, Postmodern Theory and Educational Research, we can move this discussion beyond static understandings of content and knowledge production to a more fluid and complicated understanding of how we know what we know, which reveals exclusions and objectifications at work in educational settings. Elizabeth St. Pierre points out, in her article “The Call for Intelligibility in Postmodern Educational Research,” that it is time “to produce different knowledge, to produce knowledge differently as we work for social justice in the human sciences,” and it is also time to understand curriculum as whole-being experiences that broaden the existential horizon of educational life. The aim is to move towards a more complicated theorizing regarding the nature of curriculum in higher education. To do so requires starting with a critique of commodification of curriculum in higher education, going deeper to reveal the colorization of the curriculum and how it is demonstrated in interdisciplinary skill-based reform, and discussing the transformation of higher education curriculum, including shifting from knowing to becoming and from identity to relational dynamics in diversity curriculum.