The Current Curriculum Of The Foundation Degree Education Essay

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This document will, in accordance with the rubric, attempt to evaluate the current curriculum of the Foundation Degree (FdA) Radio Production Course at Bournemouth and Poole College. This course has been running since 2007 with ninety two percent of students completing the course gaining an FdA award. (See Appendice A) The evaluation will be carried out using materials and research gathered during a series of class-based workshops sessions which took place in the months of October, November and December, 2009. It would appear appropriate at the outset to define what is mean by the term curriculum. It was discovered during the PGCE lecture sessions that there is often confusion between curriculum and syllabus. Kelly (1983) defines curriculum as "All learning which is planned and guided". Reece and Walker (1994) offer the definition: "A programme for learning and those factors which influence the quality of learning". The latter definition appears more in keeping with the feelings of the study group as it suggests the inclusion of not only of subject matter but also the environment in which learning takes place. When one speaks of a syllabus the inference is one of matter to be learned or passed on within the learning environment and as such distinctly separate from outside factors. This illustrates awareness of LLUK Standards AS1, AP1.1 AK 2.1.

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Because the term encompasses factors outwith the classroom environment it would appear relevant to examine what makes a curriculum effective and how an inappropriate application of these factors can adversely affect the teaching and learning experience. One such factor that encompasses and impacts upon the student experience is the geographical environments in which the academic institution is located. Research suggests that choice of location is a major part of the decision-making process among 17-19 year olds when choosing a university course (Bournemouth University Open Day Survey, 2009). This will now be discussed further in the context of Bournemouth and Poole College. The town of Poole itself is steeped in history. Poole was a small fishing village at the time of the Norman Conquest, but rapidly grew into a major exporter of wool, with trade links from the Baltic to Spain. By the start of the 18th century Poole was beating rival Bristol as the busiest port in England. Since then the town has established itself as a major tourist destination and is home to the main Sunseeker factory, Poole Pottery, Lighthouse Arts Centre and Tower Park entertainment site. The harbour is popular for water sports because it is sheltered and calm and is one of the largest centres for sailing in the UK (http://www.vrpoole.co.uk/) Eighty five percent of respondents to a quantitative survey among current students agree that the location of the institution was a big factor in choosing where to study. This confirms Reece and Walker's point (1994) that the curriculum is shaped by factors within and outside the traditional classroom setting. It is also important to recognise the presence of the radio industry within the region, and its relationship with curriculum planning, given the status of a Foundation degree. This two-year programme of higher education is defined as:

… degree level qualifications designed with employers and combine academic study with workplace learning to equip people with the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills to improve performance and productivity. (www.findfoundationdegree.co.uk, 2009)

A government initiative, Foundation Degree Forward launched in 2006 and was part of a strategic move to create new entry points to higher education learning. In practical terms, a Foundation Degree in Radio Production must develop links with industry, as outlined above. This is important to curriculum planning, development and course revalidation. An examination of the radio local radio industry in Bournemouth and Poole is useful to assess in this context. Regarding the curriculum of FdA Radio Production, the area is well served by one BBC Local Radio Station, five independent commercial stations and three community radio stations. This year the course has also introduced live radio onto the syllabus which offers students an opportunity to broadcast weekly to an audience of their peers. Teaching staff is made up of radio professionals all of whom have extensive industry experience. The thriving radio industry in the region also allows for guest speakers, radio station visits and masterclasses. This illustrates awareness of LLUK Standards AS1, AS2, AS4.

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Within the curriculum we may recognize some other factors which affect curriculum planning. McKernan (1997, p.258) suggests courses require careful attention on several key issues. It is noted that these issues appear highly relevant to FdA Radio Production. The course design should offer a variety of teaching methods to incorporate the need for practical and theoretical assessment. The student voice is central to the curriculum; attendance of student representatives at programme team meetings mean students themselves play an integral part in the organic development of the course curriculum. The group size must be appropriate to the resources available. Many co-learners are aware how disruptive large class sizes can be to learning and teaching. Within FdA Radio Production the numbers are limited to correspond to the resources available which have resulted in some encouraging feedback. The way courses are assessed is central to curriculum development. It would appear important to establish new ways of assessment, grading and evaluation. This would also appear appropriate for tutors to maintain and update their ways of thinking during regular meetings. This way of thinking can also include what has become known as the hidden curriculum. This concept is now discussed further. From group classroom discussion it appears the "overt" curriculum has firm foundations within a political, social and cultural underpinning. Educational sociologist Haralambos (1991) appears to adopt a situational approach to his definition of the hidden curriculum, recognising it as "Those things pupils learn through the experience of attending college rather than the stated educational objectives of such institutions".

In the further development of curricula we may also consider factors such as transport links, housing and accommodation, local economy, demographics, resources, estates, staffing issues, student numbers, assessment, assessment methodology, facilities and perhaps, most importantly, funding; both for students and the institutions they attend. These "micro" factors also appear to fit well within what has become known as the hidden curriculum in that although they clearly affect teaching and learning they are exclusive from the syllabus.

Critical to an evaluation of curriculum is its link with quality and academic standards. This is now explored further in relation to Bournemouth and Poole College. The College itself operates a rigorous quality policy which clearly puts the student at the centre of its goals and aspirations:

"A quality assurance framework and support to staff to deliver a curriculum to meet the needs of the students and customers of the College. It will do this by continually reviewing the external and internal requirements and demands to provide high quality teaching and support to deliver a flexible and responsive education and training provision." (http://www.thecollege.co.uk/college/strategies_policies.php)

Within the curriculum there are also careful and well defined criteria for equality and diversity:

"The Bournemouth and Poole College is committed to the principles of Equality and Diversity for everyone. This commitment underpins and impacts on every area of activity and influences how the College works and what it does." http://www.thecollege.co.uk/college/strategies_policies.php

This illustrates awareness of LLUK Standards AK3.1, AP1.1, AP 3.1

These two statements outlined above lie at the heart of the institution's ethos and once again demonstrate how it has been attempted to design the curriculum with the student at the centre of its endeavours. The goals, mission and vision of Bournemouth and Poole College is communicated widely to key stakeholders such as potential and current students, parents and carers and further education schools and colleges via marketing literature. The vision appears on the College website, intranet and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and its goals are laid down in every student course handbook. Effective communication and distribution strategies of the key messages outlined above regarding quality, academic rigour and diversity is important for those evaluating and assessing quality within a curriculum framework.

Having established a working definition of the term, an examination of some of the current thinking regarding models of curricula is worthwhile before the introduction of qualitative and quantitative research undertaken. Armitage (2002) suggests there are four models, each of which he attributes to a different scholar: The "product" model outlined by Tyler (1971) is essentially a behaviourist model which focuses on the outcomes of learning, that is what the learner leaves with, having successfully completed their course of study. Hirst (1974) suggests a "content" model. This offers the idea that the curriculum focus should concentrate on what the course itself consists of rather than how it is delivered. The "process" model posited by Stenhouse (1975) concentrates on learning styles and how the learner is able to use and develop the content of the course to best suit their needs and aspirations. Finally, Lawton (2000) and Skilbeck cited Smith (1996) offer what they call a "situational" model. This appears to focus on how the culture of the institution delivers their curriculum. This, for example, appears to fit in well with well established seats of learning whose methods of curriculum delivery have been perceived as remaining largely unchanged. For example red brick universities; Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrew's.

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Using the four models outlined above, a research methodology was constructed to examine and evaluate the existing curriculum of FdA Radio Production. Two methods were chosen: qualitative and quantitative. Two questionnaires have been designed. The first is a qualitative survey which attempts to delve into how students feel and perceive their curriculum. The second is a quantitative survey designed to create a more tangible and measurable impression of how students themselves perceive the curriculum of FdA Radio Production. It would appear appropriate at this point to explain the thinking behind the quantitative survey to demonstrate its relationship with the qualitative method. The initial nine questions were created and designed to quantify students' perception of the course, using themes of how policy makers formulate curricula. The questions are designed to take into account the micro factors associated with the hidden curriculum as well as the perception of success and employment within the radio industry. The final question is designed to discover students' perception of how the course is delivered according to Armitage's four pronged model. There is a Pie Chart illustrating the findings attached as Appendice B. It appears worthwhile to note that nine out of sixteen respondents perceive the curriculum as a process model. The remainder are evenly spread over the remaining three options. This suggests students perceive the curriculum as being primarily vocational with an emphasis on creative thinking. Of the four options this response supports the qualitative responses and offers a strong correlation that the curriculum is delivering a learning experience perceived by the students to correspond with their expectations upon joining the course. The candidate is well aware that the sample is by no means representative of the entire Creative Industries department within which these students are based but offers an accurate representation of the small cohort of Level C (first year) students within FdA Radio Production. Another interesting piece of data is that fourteen out of sixteen students strongly agree that their parents support their decision to attend . Upon closer questioning following this discovery it became clear that ten of the respondents were attending University due to the specific wishes of their parents. These respondents were adamant that their parents were not concerned with the curriculum, only that their children attended a university course. It would appear from this piece of data that a concentration on effective marketing of student engagement within all aspects of the academic, pastoral and social experience of University is beneficial. However, additional marketing messages to parents highlighting those factors that are perceived important to parents, notably pastoral aspects, such as student welfare and support and campus / town safety, are also useful in ensuring that the relevance and suitability of the course can be assessed by both stakeholders (students and their families). This illustrates awareness of LLUK Standards BK1.3, BP1.2

At first glance the data collection results for both qualitative and quantitative surveys appear encouraging to the curriculum makers. The statistics gathered for enrolment, retention and completion are well within target range as illustrated in Appendice A. However this year's intake contains only one candidate with A level qualifications compared with sixteen candidates last year. Despite the reasoning that FdAs are designed to incorporate new entry levels of study it should be noted that a certain degree of academic ability be stipulated in order that the candidate has a realistic opportunity of graduating onto the top up section of the BA Hons. Course which is ratified by Bournemouth University. The data suggests there has been a noticeable fall in academic achievement of students accepted on the course, however this effect has been offset by the introduction of more practical based tasks. It remains to be seen if the change in assessment methods affects overall performance. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that almost half of the respondents to the questionnaire were in agreement that the course entry requirements should be higher than they are. This data can be interpreted from two viewpoints; Students may feel unable to satisfactorily complete the academic components of the course and feel they should have been forewarned about these components, conversely a new found confidence has instilled motivation which overpowers their former feelings of inability. This demonstrates issues of status and peer groups, given the entry points on other degrees. For example, most Foundation Degrees can be 'topped up' via a one year programme in order to convert the course to a full honours degree, such as the BA (Hons) Radio Production course at Bournemouth University. Encouragingly fifteen out of sixteen respondents strongly agree that they have made the right choice in education.

From the responses to the questionnaires it is heartening to note the many positive aspects which the responses evidence. Name some of these positive responses. However, of major concern is the subject of funding which remains high on the agenda. Returning to the positive aspects revealed in the survey, one of the main changes students would make to the curriculum is to include more practical time in the studios. The facilities at Bournemouth and Poole College are certainly adequate to deliver the curriculum, however the maintenance of the technical equipment must be carried out by competent staff trained in broadcast technology. The breakdown of equipment is a constant spectre and the inability to receive service from the IT department is a source of frustration for staff and students. This is a matter of funding. The government withdrawal of funds for a new build last year has caused a major ripple effect throughout the college and indeed the University. Students report an air of malaise and discontent with their surroundings. The current resources which are important to continue the delivery of such a demanding curriculum are regarded by students as adequate although limited. It is apparent that everyone involved in the College - staff and students - would benefit greatly from the cash injection required to restore the college curricula to a "more" than fully acceptable state.