Deep dialogue, rich reflection and authentic action needed as we move towards the Truncated Curriculum in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

With the necessary and immediate move by universities to embrace remote teaching and online learning, the COVID-19 situation forces us to reflect deeply on the ‘traditional’ taught Curriculum in terms of what can be taught and assessed in truncated chunks, as different online teaching scenarios surface to redress the impact of the virus and the havoc it has wreaked in all aspects of our lives. We are forced now to make educated decisions (and guesses) about what content might still be relevant, what needs to stay and what needs to go and how we are going to teach and assess the selection we make. 

The tension between temporality (time, pace, sequence) and spatiality (taken here to mean content breadth and depth, selection, foci, core aspects etc) is pronounced. We are forced to address the issue of taking a year long, even semester long curriculum and truncating it into a-6 weeks or less per term curriculum, to complete the academic year. How do we do this with wisdom and integrity, knowing that while it is critical that the academic year continues and students move up and through the system, for a host of financial and employment reasons, these choices need to also be pedagogically sound. We need to use years of educational knowledge, blended with pragmatic and operational concerns now, to render a holistic curriculum, truncated in time and space, but still rich, rigorous and valuable in depth and breadth. 

We have used many curriculum frameworks and theories thus far to inform and guide our choice of content, credits, notional hours, assessment strategies and so forth in our established curriculum. Which of these foci are now critical and relevant in the COVID-19 era and how do we decide how to shorten but still maintain the core content so that students can be assessed authentically and still earn their grades? 

In deciding what goes into a degree at year or programme level for a Truncated Curriculum, what informs our choices, selection and detail? Do we work backward and look at what graduates should know as professionals and what they should be able to do when they complete their studies? What should a student know after each year of study and how these aspects work incrementally towards a degree or diploma? Or is it about changing focus in our taught curriculum and equipping students with life skills and problem- solving methods to tackle global and local problems and crises, like the one we are in right now and likely to face in the future? Of course, all of this has to work within a frame of contextualised knowledge engagement and socially aware and just approaches. But how do we get the balance right, especially when faced with limited time and space to make the best choices? What then do we legitimate and value above all else and what counts as relevant knowledge for the degrees and diplomas we hope to award at end of COVID-19? 

I invite you to enter this discussion and reflect on what aspects of your/ discipline specific curriculum are important enough to stay; what will be excised; and what is the pedagogical rationale for these choices? Let’s take specific examples where we can and unpack these in light of questions raised above.

Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak (PhD)

HELTASA Chair and President
Obo the HELTASA Executive Team