Curriculum Development: What is it? Why do it? And, how is it done?

by Wendy Schiller, NCJFCJ

Karen Thorson engaged a large number of conference participants during this valuable session, given on the last day of the conference. The session was based on the work of the NASJE Curriculum Development Committee and provided judicial educators with some new definitions and perspectives.

The bottom line:

What is a curriculum?

  • An overarching plan of education for a target audience

Why develop an overarching plan of education for each target audience?

  • Provides a full spectrum of content for each and every learner
  • Ensures some level of content consistency with various faculty over time
  • Takes the next evolutionary step in judicial branch education

After a general overview, faculty focused on the last question in the session title—“how is it (curriculum development) done?” and described the difference between curriculum-based planning (i.e., course planning based on a curriculum; content will be repeated by different faculty over time.) and event-based planning (i.e., course planning based on a current need or due to accessibility of a particular faculty member; content generally is offered one-time only).

Ms. Thorson discussed three curriculum models and offered development steps for each. Each model has benefits and drawbacks that judicial branch educators should consider:

Model Benefits Drawbacks When to Use
List of Topics Short, efficient, room for innovation, limited maintenance, easily accepted Vague, reduced importance/attention, room for variance, no faculty resources When you need to be sure certain broad areas of content are delivered
Outlines, Guides, Templates Content consistency, manageable review, degree of faculty ownership, provides faculty with resources Potential for change in course content over time, moderate development time, potential expense When you need to be sure certain content is delivered with a degree of consistency
Series of Complete Course Designs Complete course consistency, full faculty resources, limits faculty time, high-level importance Limited faculty ownership, no adaptation, significant development time, potential expense When you need to be sure certain content is delivered in a specific way

Session materials are helpful in guiding judicial branch educators through considerations and decisions that need to be made before embarking on curriculum development.

DOWNLOADS: Curricula and Programs: The Basics

  • Stakeholder-Based Governance Model PDF
  • Relationships Model PDF
  • Model of Scope PDF