Five steps for transforming your curriculum

Colourful steps
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Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Avondale University, NSW Australia, reflects on her keynote talk delivered at the recent Learning and Teaching Conference, and shares five steps to consider when planning and implementing a curriculum transformation. This post is part of the ‘Hot topic’ theme ‘Lessons from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2021′.

It was a pleasure to be part of The University of Edinburgh’s annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2021. I applaud the University community for investing time and energy in a conference devoted to the important subject of ‘Curriculum as a site for transformation’.

As we transition to a ‘post-COVID normal’ environment, Barnett’s notion of supercomplexity [1] is more pertinent than ever. In this supercomplex environment, the higher education undergraduate curriculum once again becomes a site for debate and contestation [2], as governments, industry, community members and students ask fundamental questions about the value of higher education and the relevance of university study. The tectonic impact of the global pandemic continues to have socio-economic and geo-political consequences. Universities are not immune from these vectors of change. The pandemic has been a catalyst for focussing the attention of university leaders on all aspects of their institutions, including the undergraduate curriculum. While curriculum renewal is not a new phenomenon, there is evidence of an increasing focus on the design and delivery of higher education curricula in a post-pandemic world.  This bears out the fact that the undergraduate curriculum is a barometer and a bellwether, reflecting shifts in sociopolitical priorities, labour market forces, institutional mission, strategy and business models [3].

Embarking on a curriculum transformation program is not for the faint-hearted.  Over the past 12 years, I have led whole-of-university curriculum transformation programs across three large public universities in Australia. Each transformation journey brings with it systemic and cultural challenges, along with many opportunities and rewards.

Five steps to consider as you plan and implement your curriculum transformation program are:

1. Start with a clear sense of purpose that aligns with your university’s mission.

In other words, understand and articulate why you have chosen to transform the curriculum. What does curriculum transformation mean for your university? Take the time to clarify and communicate your ‘why’ before going too far down the track of implementation.

2. Bring your university community with you on the transformation journey.

You’ll need to develop your own stakeholder engagement map, starting with students and staff, and progressing beyond the university walls to the broader community, alumni, industry, local government or equivalent within your jurisdiction.

Bringing the community with you doesn’t necessarily mean that all will agree with the approach you are taking, but they do need to understand the rationale. Take the time to explain what the transformation will look like and what will be different, develop a shared sense of purpose wherever feasible. The priority is to bring your university community with you each step of the way.

3. Identify your change champions.

Those who will be advocates for the curriculum transformation and who will bring others along with them. Importantly this includes students who will play a key role in influencing their peers. Academic staff who are most directly affected by the transformation will also become important change champions. Start small and progressively build your engagement strategy to achieve successful change.

4. Construct your curriculum transformation implementation plan with the input of your change champions.

Include milestones for review. Be willing to revise your approach, if warranted and based on evidence. Your plan should a rigorous approach to data gathering, milestone reporting and formative evaluation. Work with academic staff to develop a scholarly program of work underpinned by robust research on elements of the curriculum transformation process. Students may also be partners in these research endeavours. This will enhance your university’s efforts to embed curriculum scholarship into your institutional scholarship and research framework.

5. Develop an ambidextrous mindset.

In other words, play the long-game and set your sights on the future, while recognising and celebrating short-term successes to maintain focus and boost morale. Develop a culture of recognition so that students and staff have the opportunity to be part of celebrating achievements and milestones along the way.

The rewards of curriculum transformation are many, particularly for students and staff and for the culture of your university.

You can watch Kerri-Lee’s keynote talk ‘Curriculum considerations in supercomplex times’ on the Conference website.


[1] Barnett, R. (2000). Supercomplexity and the curriculum. Studies in higher education, 25(3), 255-265. Hayward, L., Higgins, S., Livingston, K., & Wyse, D. (2017). Living with supercomplexity. The Curriculum Journal, 28(2), 155-157.

Krause, K. (2020). Scholarship and supercomplexity: Policy implications. In L. Ling & P. Ling (Eds.), Emerging methods and paradigms in scholarship and education research (pp.263-283). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

[2] Krause, K. (2020). Vectors of change in higher education curricula. Journal of Curriculum Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2020.1764627

[3] Krause, K (2021). Curriculum as an ecosystem. HERDSA Connect, 43(1), 3. Available online:

Kerri-Lee Krause

Professor Kerri-Lee Krause (PhD, PFHEA, FSRHE, MAICD) is Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Avondale University. Prior to this, she held several senior university executive roles, most recently at The University of Melbourne. She holds the Ministerial appointment of Deputy Chair, Australian Higher Education Standards Panel She is an experienced academic leader with a track record of leading university-wide strategic change and organisational renewal, underpinned by a deep commitment to engaging students and staff through cultural transformation.

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