Evaluation of curriculum change at RMIT: experiences of the BELP project

Sarah Holdsworth, Sarah Bekessy, Ian Thomas

Abstract


This paper evaluates the process and outcomes of an action learning research project undertaken during 2005 entitled ?Ǩ?eyond Leather Patches?Ǩ?? (BELP), which aimed to embed sustainability principles in non-traditional disciplines at RMIT University, Australia. The BELP project drew on the insights of previous attempts to address education for sustainability at RMIT and sought to achieve lasting change in organisational structure/operations and curriculum content. The academics who participated in the project were involved in curriculum audits, workshops, and renewal of their curricula and a culture of open collaboration and reflective practice were actively encouraged.

The project resulted in several tangible outcomes including 16 new and revised courses in a range of discipline areas, and the development of a flexible change framework to assist the establishment of sustainability content into curricula. However, despite obvious enthusiasm from individuals involved in the project, transforming isolated innovations into embedded practice has not been particularly successful. Attitudinal surveys of the staff involved revealed that
  • Identifying and retaining staff with sustainable development knowledge and skills is difficult
  • Educating for sustainable development can act as a vehicle for the improvement of teaching and learning practice and the linking of research to curriculum development.
  • Understanding of disciplinary culture and practice is crucial to creating curriculum change.
  • Management and collegial support is necessary to ensure curriculum change programs address the many barriers faced by staff.
  • The relationships developed by those working with staff are crucial in determining the level of success of the project. These relationships are shaped by factors such as status, presence and personality.
  • Curriculum change projects for sustainable development education need to allow for the exploration of disciplinary and institutional assumptions that shape definitions of sustainable development. This is essential to avoid the development of shallow and simplistic interpretations of sustainability and its place in the curriculum.

This study highlights the need for a greater understanding of the theory and practice of organisational change to achieve long lasting curriculum change for sustainability.

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Editor-in-Chief: Prof Norbert Pachler
UCL Institute of Education, University College London
ISSN 1746-9082

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