Issues In Educational Research, 1(1), 1991, 23-30.

Research into curriculum dissemination in TAFE

Clare McBeath
Curtin University of Technology

Curriculum development within the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) sector exceeds that of any other sector of education in Australia. Thousands of different subjects are being updated at any one time according to rapidly changing industrial, technological and political demand. The process of development and implementation of curricula is virtually continuous and all TAFE teachers are affected by it. During the past decade it has become a sophisticated process. Amongst this array of development activities, however, dissemination as a formal procedure appears to have been neglected.

Curriculum developers in TAFE believe that more attention should be given to dissemination, but for various reasons little is being done. Furthermore, no serious study of the dissemination process has been undertaken in the TAFE sector.

This paper examines the issues in the curriculum dissemination literature and compares some of the factors against the experiences of teachers and curriculum developers in TAFE The findings of the study raise many questions. Further research is planned to better understand the process of curriculum dissemination in TAFE and to give direction to its increased efficiency in the future.


The output of formal curriculum development within the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) sector exceeds that of any other sector of education in Australia. One and a quarter million students are enrolled in up to 30,000 different subjects at any one time. These subjects are being constantly updated according to rapidly changing industrial, technological and political demand. The implementation of newly developed curriculum products is virtually a continuous process and all TAFE teachers are affected by it. Parts of this process have become quite sophisticated as a growing band of curriculum developers has gained experience in occupational analysis, course review, and the design and development of curriculum materials.

In this array of practices, however, dissemination as a formal procedure has been relatively neglected. This can be explained partly by the feet that TAFE study areas provide largely captive markets and teachers have no choice but to accept and implement curriculum change. Once a TAFE curriculum product is accredited, it is used. The examination system sees to that. Dissemination has probably never been considered officially as a problem, and specific funds, time or management systems are rarely devoted to its successful accomplishment. Also, in times of budget tightening, financial efficiency may be interpreted as cost cutting in immediate and high profile activities, such as staff development, a practice which greatly affects dissemination. Thus, in spite of evidence that effective dissemination saves costs in the long term, the lessons from research are ignored. Finally, and of some considerable importance for this research, no serious study of the dissemination process has been undertaken in the TAFE sector in Australia.

It is not difficult to find people in the TAFE system who believe that attention should be given to this important part of the curriculum change process. It is usually the ones who have read something about educational change and renewal who are most aware of the problems and anxious to do something about them. There is a general belief, however, that the lessons from research, largely schools related and American, are not directly applicable to the TAFE situation. As TAFE teachers and curriculum development officers become more aware of the shortfalls of curriculum change practice, the more important it becomes that a thorough study and analysis be made of the existing situation, and that improved processes be developed for the future.

Curriculum literature suggests that dissemination holds a central role in the change process. In this study an attempt will be made to describe and discuss the issues pertaining to the curriculum dissemination process in TAFE. Specifically it aims to identify the factors that influence the process and to indicate those necessary for improved future practice.

Rationale for the study

The research literature indicates that the effectiveness of dissemination has been studied in the primary and secondary school sectors, mainly in the USA and Canada. The main problem was identified early in the 1970s (Fullan, 1972) as something missing in the curriculum process, resulting in widespread misuse or disuse of curriculum materials in schools Researchers began looking for reasons for this dilemma and came up with a variety of personality, organisational and communication factors thought to be important for the success or failure of dissemination of new curriculum products.

Neither the basic problem nor the suggestions for improvement are completely applicable to curriculum dissemination in the TAFE sector. Some of the issues may be relevant but there are too many differences and too many local factors. Problems exist with curriculum dissemination TAFE, but they are recognisably different from those described in the literature and they need to be studied and analysed afresh in the TAFE context.

With more detailed knowledge of the issues which are important in the TAFE context, and of the factors affecting the level of success of dissemination, it should be possible to identify those factors which are more likely to lead to success and those which should be avoided. With knowledge of both positive and negative factors, should be possible to derive an ideal process or strategy of curriculum dissemination which could be adopted as part of the overall development process. The strategy would need to be tested and validated and adaptations made as necessary. Put into practice, such a strategy would not only reduce personal stress and conflict, energy consuming emotion and related time wasting, but it also would help teachers understand and accept new curriculum products more easily. The effect of this would be the enhancement of the curriculum implementation process. It would assist TAFE teachers to better perform the jobs they are employed to do.

Thus this research can be justified from the point of view of increasing knowledge about curriculum dissemination in the specific TAFE context, of improving the dissemination process in TAFE and, thereby, increasing the efficiency of its educative role.

Defining dissemination

The term dissemination has not been constant in concept or definition in curriculum writing during the past three decades. In the sixties the word diffusion was introduced into education, in relation to the spread of curriculum innovation from developer to user, or from user to user. By the seventies the term dissemination had virtually supplanted the earlier word and the concept had subtly changed to include planned marketing and staff development strategies. During the eighties dissemination appeared to have lost popularity in the literature, becoming rather part of an umbrella term inclusive of processes such as mobilisation, adoption, implementation and institutionalisation (Miles, 1989; Berman & McLaughlin, 1978).

In this paper curriculum dissemination will be defined fairly broadly as the process of informing teachers a bout new or revised curriculum ideas, documents or materials, so that they understand and accept the innovation. This includes something of the concept and of the definition of both dissemination and diffusion.

It is not easy to separate the dissemination process from other stages of curriculum development. Every pan of the process can affect other parts. The hardest stages to separate are those associated with actually using the innovation, eg. mobilisation, adoption and implementation, a fact which possibly has seen these processes being grouped together in the view of dissemination common in the 1980s. We might normally think of understanding and accepting as occurring before implementing, but these two stages become blurred in the sense that often we cannot ascertain whether the innovation has been understood and accepted until we see the result of the implementation. Sometimes the teacher accepts the innovation and tries to put it into practice without fully understanding it. In this situation, as the teacher tries out the innovation, discusses it with fellow teachers, participates in staff meetings, reads and rereads the documentation and experiments further, implementation becomes indistinguishable from the dissemination process. Or a teacher may say that he or she understands and accepts it but has not in fact grasped the cultural meaning of the change. This could not be ascertained until the implementation had started. Teacher response to dissemination cannot be judged without looking also at implementation. Teachers can always talk more easily about their troubles or success in implementing a curriculum product than they can about how they found out about the product. In some cases they are unaware of dissemination having taken place unless they see it as a planned discrete process. Accidental dissemination, or diffusion in the accepted sense of the word, may pass by unnoticed.

The concept of user participation in the design and development stage introduces a further area of overlap, where dissemination strategies are the same strategies identified as those leading to successful implementation.

Thus it seems sensible to define the word as broadly as possible, looking at all the processes, or stages, through which dissemination may be seen and understood, as well as at the dissemination process itself.

Issues in the literature

In the 1960s the terms dissemination and diffusion were used virtually interchangeably, and referred to the spread of new knowledge or techniques. The words and the concept came originally from the study of innovation in the fields of agriculture and medicine (Rudduck and Kelly, 1976, p.11). Diffusion, probably the more commonly used word in the 1960s, was seen as "the spontaneous, unplanned spread of new ideas" (Rogers, 1983), and it typically involved a two way communication of information, effected by an exchange of ideas between individuals (Marsh, 1986, p.104).

Havelock, writing in 1969, was concerned more about the dissemination of knowledge than that of curriculum materials. He wrote about the characteristics of the change agent as well as attempting to explain how change occurred. He developed three models, the Research, Development and Diffusion model (R, D & D), the Social Interaction model (SI) and the Problem Solving model (PS), in an attempt to map the different ways in which new knowledge was spread to those who needed it (Havelock, 1969). Havelock later developed the concept of linkage, focusing on the user as problem solver (Havelock, 1973). The search for models continued early into the next decade, with Schon (1971), for instance, developing the Centre-Periphery and Proliferation of Centres models. Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) attempted to explain the working of superordinate and subordinate groups within the dissemination process, referring to a five stage model of knowledge, persuasion, decision, communication and action.

Interest in dissemination sharpened in the 1970s, particularly in the United States of America, when it became evident that, in spite of massive investment of time, money and ideas into innovative curriculum development, very little significant change had occurred at school level (Fullan, 1972; Marsh, 1986, p.133). Although researchers by this time knew something of the processes of dissemination and diffusion, in the world of practical curriculum development dissemination procedures had been ad hoc and limited in scope and duration, unsystematic or at times completely nonexistent (Dynan, 1983, p.62). The response was that during the following decade dissemination began to be seen as a specific marketing technique, with a narrow focus on tactics and guidelines. The word dissemination was increasingly identified with this process, while diffusion became attached to the concept of a gentler, less managed process.

Rudduck (1980), however, wrote that by replacing the earlier term diffusion with dissemination, we lost access to a theoretical framework which might have helped us make better sense of the process of curriculum change. We lost a cultural perspective, the concept of transfer of meaning of the product to the user, by which the user could understand and thus accept curriculum change.

Olson (1980) reported on some interesting concepts on the role of personality types the effectiveness of dissemination and implementation. The typographies he referred to were developed from change literature and may be hard to reinforce by field research. However, Olson stated that it would be far more useful to think of how teachers personally construed their work in relation to innovation. He said that the dissemination process should be sensitive to teachers' constructs.

Early in the eighties several divergent streams of thought appeared. Writers began to develop Havelock's earlier concept of the diffusion of knowledge into new directions. A new journal entitled Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization, and later renamed Knowledge, appeared in 1979/80. This approach overlapped but did not replace work in the field of curriculum dissemination, dealing rather with the spread of new knowledge in education. It was an interesting direction, but did not become part of mainstream curriculum dissemination research.

A British study into dissemination in vocational education and training (White, 1988) saw dissemination as a means of increasing the effectiveness of educational research and development in industry training. Curriculum was seen as part of this research and development. White looked at ways of putting "good dissemination" into practice (p.30). He was interested in the concept of sharing information with vocational education and training, with labour markets, teachers, teacher trainers and training officers, and with curriculum developers. This is an interesting direction, especially from the vocational perspective of TAFE in Australia, but was also a digression from the mainstream interpretation of dissemination.

Fullan (1982) continued working in Canada in the wider area of change and its meaning. Miles and Huberman (1984) undertook a very detailed study in the USA, attempting to match four types of innovative change scenarios (salvaging, enforcing, overreaching and refitting) with four outcomes, ie., high outcomes from enforced, stabilised use; moderate-high outcomes from high mastery and low settledness; moderate-low outcomes from program blunting and downsizing; and failing or low outcomes from indifference and discouragement (pp.255-270). They used six ultimate outcome variables (p.189), ie. stabilisation of use, percentage of use; institutionalisation; student impact; user capacity change; and job mobility (pp.191-251). They found several paths to high outcomes and they were able to isolate some important factors present in all high outcome innovations. They concluded that attention needed to be given in curriculum innovation to the quality of the setting and to the actors involved in the project.

Miles, Saxl and Lieberman (1988) looked at the skills a change agent needed. A synthesis of their findings resulted in a list of 18 key skills for educational change agents, including general, personal, socioemotional, task and educational content skills.

The literature on curriculum dissemination is diverse and not very conclusive. It is full of interesting issues but lacks a strong theoretical focus. It covers a lot of ground in areas such as the dissemination process and, later, the qualities needed by the disseminator. More studies, however,. are needed in a variety of educational settings to add to the whole picture and perhaps to help establish a grounded theory in this area.

Pilot study

A pilot study of curriculum dissemination in TAFE was undertaken in 1989. A sample of eighteen TAFE teachers, study area leaders and curriculum development officers were interviewed. They were all involved in four relatively recent curriculum projects in Western Australia. The projects were Clothing Studies Certificate; Traineeships (Pastoral, Office & Secretarial and Local Government Operations); Screenprinting and Stencil Preparation Trade Certificate; and Electronic Engineering Associate Diploma.

The purpose of the preliminary survey was, firstly, to look briefly at what people working in TAFE understood by the curriculum dissemination process and what they thought its strengths and weaknesses were; secondly, to ascertain the need for further research in the area; and thirdly, to identify some issues and related factors to be tested in a later study.

Two significant points which came out of the pilot study were, firstly, that all of those interviewed believed that more attention should be given to improving curriculum dissemination and, secondly, that they tended to identify dissemination with communication mechanisms within the entire development process. The areas they identified as being necessary to improve dissemination can be summarised as

The interpretation of dissemination inherent in these suggestions is much broader than that in many of the school dissemination studies. These TAFE teachers and developers were not referring to a stage of curriculum development when, for instance, the finished design was delivered and explained to teachers so that implementation could begin. Their real life assessment of how they accepted and understood a new curriculum involved being informed throughout the development process. This is different from what may be found in schools. The opinion (and a very strong opinion in many of the interviews) that teachers would like effective communication links with industry throughout the development process is also distinctively TAFE based. It appeared as though they did not trust the developers to interpret the industry message correctly, but wished to keep an eye on the validity of industry/TAFE communication for themselves. This lack of trust is clearly an issue to explore further.

Other areas, where factors were identified which would not normally be associated with schools based dissemination research, included feedback from employers and students on what they thought of the course, and a mechanism for feedback from the teacher to the developer while the curriculum was being used for the first time. Interviewees did not identify the first run of the new course as something permanent, as the word implementation may imply, but as part of the accepting and understanding process associated with dissemination.

Conflict resolution also was a factor not referred to often in the schools based research literature. It came up in the pilot study in relation to two separate projects. In both cases it was rooted in the teachers' and developers' differing interpretations of the needs of industry, and thus can probably be dealt with under the first factor listed, communication between teachers and industry.

The issue of the complexity or degree of radical change of the new curriculum material was raised by Fullan (1982) and Huberman and Miles (1984), but their interpretation of its importance as a factor in the success of curriculum dissemination was the reverse of the comments made by one TAFE teacher in the pilot study. This issue needs to be researched further in the TAFE context.

The findings of the pilot study coincided with the literature in issues like teacher involvement, staff development, meetings, feedback role and time needed to develop resources. Based on the importance of the role of the principal in supporting teachers through curriculum change, which is mentioned in school related research literature, the interviewees in the TAFE pilot study were asked who had played a significant role in helping them understand and accept the curriculum. The principal was not once mentioned, presumably because his or her role in TAFE is that of business manager rather than that of educational leader. There was little consistency in the answers regarding the roles of those who were significant in the dissemination process.

Individuals in the sample were asked to describe the things that concerned them most when they began implementing the curriculum. The interview schedule included some suggestions from the literature to prompt their responses, in the hope that some significant factors might be identified. Some of the factors identified in the pilot study as influencing the success of curriculum dissemination are listed below. Some comments are critical of the system, and others are contradictory to each other. They include

The preliminary study therefore indicates that there is some overlap between the issues mentioned in the research literature and those believed by TAFE teachers to have influenced the effectiveness of curriculum dissemination. Differences however are obvious and further research is needed to look closely at the main issues to determine which factors are most likely to influence the success or failure of curriculum dissemination in TAFE.

Conclusion

The pilot study produced a wide rang e of answers to the issues which concern curriculum users and disseminators and they have been compared briefly with some of the issues raised in the literature.

The next part of this research will aim to ascertain in detail the most important factors for disseminating curriculum change effectively in TAFE. A detailed research instrument and a wider sample of curriculum writers, disseminators and teachers will be needed to identify the specific needs of users, and to compare these needs with the intentions and expectations of those involved in the planning and administration of curriculum change. The research will need eventually to determine the meaning, significance and importance of each of the identified factors and test them with a real curriculum project.

It is hoped that this research will lead to a better understanding of the process of curriculum dissemination in TAFE and give insight and direction to its increased efficiency in the future. In these times of increasing financial stringency and public accountability, it is important that ways be found to develop greater effectiveness at each stage of the curriculum development process. The evidence suggests that curriculum dissemination is, and will continue to be, a significant part of that process.

References

Berman, P. & McLaughlin, M. W. (1978). Federal programs supporting educational change, Vol. 8: Implementing and sustaining innovations. Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.

Dynan, M. B. (1983). Dissemination of curriculum innovations: Where are we heading? Curriculum Perspectives, 3(2), 60-65.

Fullan, M. (1972). Overview of the innovative process and the user. Interchange, 3(2-3), 1-46.

Fullan, M. (1982). The meaning of educational change. Canada: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Havelock, R. G. (1969). Planning for innovation through dissemination and utilization of knowledge. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Center for Research on Utilization of Scientific Knowledge.

Havelock, R .G. (1973). The change agent's guide to innovation in education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

Huberman, A. M. & Miles, M. B. (1984). Innovation upclose: How school improvement works. New York: Plenum Press.

Marsh, C. (1986). Curriculum: An analytical introduction. Sydney: Novak.

Miles, M. B. (1989). Workshop. Perth: Murdoch University.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hills, California: Sage.

Miles, M. B., Saxl, E. R. & Lieberman, A. (1988). What skills do educational "change agents" need? An empirical view. Curriculum Inquiry, 18(2), 157-193.

Olson, J. K. (1980). Teacher constructs and curriculum change. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 1-11.

Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations, (3rd ed). New York: Free Press.

Rogers, E. M. & Shoemaker, F. F. (1971). Communication of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

Rudduck, J. (1980). Curriculum dissemination as planned cultural diffusion. Paper presented at AERA Conference Boston, USA.

Rudduck, J. & Kelly, P. (1976). The dissemination of curriculum development. Hove, Sussex: NFER.

Schon, T. A. (1971). Beyond the stable state. London: Temple Smith.

White, M., with I. Christie, & S. Johnson (1988). Making connections: Disseminating R & D for vocational education and training. London: Policy Studies Institute.

Author: Clare McBeath was a curriculum developer for TAFE in South Australia and Victoria then a research and development officer at the TAFE National Centre in Adelaide. In 1986 she moved to Curtin University of Technology in Perth to lecture in curriculum studies. She researches and publishes mainly in the field of TAFE curriculum development and is currently doing a PhD in that area. Her recent publications include Open learning and new technology: Conference proceedings (coedited with R. Atkinson) and Curriculum decision making in TAFE, (2nd ed).

Please cite as: McBeath, C. (1991). Research into curriculum dissemination in TAFE. Issues In Educational Research, 1(1), 23-30. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/iier1/mcbeath.html


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