Is the curriculum unethical?

Following on from an earlier post, “The fundamental educational problem?”, I have to ask the question:

Where a curriculum does not address the fundamental educational problem of moving between knowledge structures, or considering alternative perspectives, does it promote unethical practices? Is it therefore an unethical curriculum?

This formed the basis of a discussion that I had with a number of colleagues at the ECER Conference in Porto last summer. We were concerned that universities were addressing the question of academic integrity by looking at the symptoms rather than looking at any of the underlying causes.

If a curriculum takes a students-as-consumers view of the teaching environment, and feeds them with a single perspective view of the world, then doesn’t this fuel the persistence of passive students and the ‘market’ for plagiarism?

University responses to this are to offer marks for attendance (as a proxy for engagement), and to highlight the institution’s policy on plagiarism whilst investing in the use of software such as Turnitin to catch perpetrators. Both of these requiring considerable investment in time and resources, whilst student satisfaction with their feedback on assessment remains the perennial fly in the ointment within the National Student Survey. These seems to be like repointing the brickwork whilst the foundations are sinking in the mud.

Surely, a curriculum that takes a students-as-producers view of the teaching approach has to provide students with a more varied diet to support an active learning environment in which students are manipulating understanding to cope with multiple (and perhaps shifting) views of the world.  In this world, engagement does not need a proxy as it is integral to the curriculum, and plagiarism becomes a much more difficult approach to take – particularly if assessments are designed to gauge students’ navigation between knowledge structures and not the acquisition of a single structure.

The conversation I had with those colleagues in Portugal was leaning towards the idea that if you design a curriculum that (potentially) rewards plagiarism, then we shouldn’t be surprised if that is the option that students take. We then line up to punish them when they do. So  maybe it would be a more ethical stance if universities designed out the possibility of plagiarism when putting the curriculum together?  Inevitably, there will continue to be an arms race between curriculum design and curriculum counter-measures, but this might be put on hold if more students were actively involved in their learning rather than actively involved in developing avoidance strategies.

That is not to suggest that all students want to avoid hard work. Many students (perhaps the vast majority) are actively engaged in their own learning and may already be working in the ways that we would wish, making connections between ideas and constructing a personal view of the world. But does this then explain the general level of dissatisfaction with the standard of feedback they receive? If the students are acting as producers of knowledge, but their feedback is targeted at them as consumers, then we have a miss-match.

It seems like someone should sit down and map out the whole student journey to ensure coherence across all of the elements that make up the student experience. I feel a concept map coming on!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s