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Broadening the curriculum

Toward liberal knowledge

Author - John Heywood


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In 1964 Volume I of The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was published on this side of the Atlantic (Bloom et al. 1964).[12] It made us think in terms of cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills and it gave a view of what these might be in the cognitive and affective domains. In the cognitive domain it defined six hierarchically ranked learning outcomes. These were knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (judgement). It was the progenitor of the ‘learning outcomes’ movement. The point to be made here is that a subject is seen to be more than a syllabus, it is supposed to help develop key dimensions of learning. In particular, The Taxonomy has led us think about Higher Order Thinking Skills which we associate with problem finding, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Recently we have begun to understand that in spite of all this work a large number of students fail to develop these skills adequately. Moreover The Taxonomy has caused us to appreciate that learning influences and is influenced by attitudes and beliefs and the emotional response to that learning, and as such influences personal development and relationships. Clearly ‘enlarging the mind’ is not only about knowledge acquisition but about the development of high level skills in the cognitive and affective domains. It is now understood that any attempt to define the aims of education must be holistic in the sense that it has to take all these dimensions into account. And that is why Newman’s oft-quoted purpose of university training is so apposite today. It is a statement of outcomes and it can be related to teaching and assessment practices that would bring about those outcomes.

By 1989 the authorities in the UK were beginning to think in terms of learning outcomes and some of this thinking was done in the Enterprise in Higher Education Initiative (EHEI). Its proposals certainly broadened the view of what higher education is about but only in respect of the skills in the cognitive and affective domains. Furthermore it focused on the transferability of learning.

The EHEI was undertaken by the Employment Department in the UK to respond to complaints about the quality of graduates made by some industrialists to the Thatcher government. These complaints suggested that new graduates lacked key skills particularly in what might loosely be called the affective domain that embraced such things as interpersonal relationships. A working group of the Initiative issued a statement of four broad areas of learning that should encompass the education of any undergraduate irrespective of subject (Appendix 2) [13]. Support for this view was found in a study of what came to be known as ‘Personal Transferable Skills’. These skills were derived from a study of what industrialists wanted from graduates as portrayed in 10,000 job adverts that appeared in a two-month period. The analysis showed the items could be grouped together into four generic or core skills.[14] They were (1) Management and Organising; (2) Communication; (3) Teamwork; and (4) Problem Solving (Creativity). Two groups of sub- skills contribute to each of these core skills. Thus in respect of Management and Organising the sub-skills involved are (i) interviewing, consulting, negotiating, and (ii) reviewing, contracting, chairing, (2) Communication involves (iii) explaining, presenting, oral, written, and (iv) confronting, being assertive, telephoning. Teamwork involves (v) collaborating, facilitating, leading, and (vi) delegating, supervising, monitoring. Problem solving (Creativity) involves (vii) integrating, hypothesizing, integrating, and (viii) data handling, critical thinking, synthesising. (ii) and (iii) also involve non-verbal communication and listening. (iv) and (v) involve self-disclosure, empathising and clarifying. (viii) and (i) involve opening and closing, questioning and information gathering. There are other taxonomies that embrace similar areas of skill. The Carter (1985) taxonomy following The Taxonomy in the affective domain highlights the importance of attitudes and values. However he includes a domain that takes into account personal characteristics. [15] The important points from the Sheffield study are that they embrace skills in both the cognitive and affective domains and are transferable.

The organisers of the initiative believed that the development of these skills could be achieved through the integration of action learning methods within each subject, as for example team project work in history. And the Sheffield Unit indicated how this might be done (Appendix 3). Notwithstanding the criticisms of industrialists if graduates are produced with these qualities there is the very real problem that many industrialists will not know what to do with such qualified people. Just as they are seeking changes in the products of the institutions of higher education so they will have to change attitudes and values otherwise there will be a dissatisfied professional workforce.

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