A Descriptive Study of the Design Influences and Role of Students' Needs on the Selection of Course Content In Higher Education

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Virginia Tech


College faculty are recognized as experts in their academic disciplines with a wide range of knowledge about their disciplines. As a manifestation of their academic freedom, they have assumed responsibility for folding that discipline knowledge into course design. Generally untrained as teachers, however, they have followed circuitous routes into the realm of course design. While scholars, peers, administrators, legislators, and the public have examined their delivery strategies in the classroom, little consideration has been given to the processes faculty use to select appropriate course content for their students.

Focusing on those selection processes, this study sought to describe (1) how faculty learn to choose content, (2) the place of students among the influences on their content selection, and (3) the processes they undertake in their decision-making about course content. The study involved a questionnaire and interviews.

The results of this study indicate that some faculty, albeit a minority, do focus on students as they choose content. They consider students to be a primary influence, and they collect data in an informal, intuitive manner about students. They may not know current principles of learning theory, but they seem to have a sense of what works for students. This sense has led to a practice of course design which is unique to individual professors, fluid, and isolated.

The majority of faculty are concerned with students, but are discipline-centered in their content selection. Across types of institutions and disciplines, their first loyalty is to the furtherance of the academic discipline. They do report an interest in learning about topics related to students, especially learning theory.

Faculty and administrators who are interested in enhancing the focus on students in higher education should find the study useful. They will want to search out those student-centered planners and begin to document their processes as a first step in identifying and transmitting effective steps in the content selection practice. They will want to plan development activities, perhaps rooted in the disciplines, and find ways to support faculty as they learn and practice relating needs assessments to content selection for their courses.



curriculum and instruction