Changing conceptions of curriculum

A month ago, when we first began exploring the concept of curriculum, I put forth the metaphor of curriculum as a baby human. Both form the centre of your life, dictate structure, demand to not be forgotten, and can be simultaneously fun and full of joy, and hard and exhausting. Since then, questions and thoughts about curriculum have constantly been lingering at the back of my mind. It’s hard to say that my thoughts about curriculum have changed since the beginning of this course; it’s much more accurate to say that now, as a result of this course, I actually have thoughts about curriculum.

The Lived Curriculum

In the K-12 system, educators are provided with curriculum documents that dictate what they teach. Their classrooms are a blend of planned curriculum and lived curriculum- learning that happens through intention, and learning that happens as a by-product of that intention.

When I begin thinking about curriculum through the lens of student affairs, the concepts of planned and lived curriculum almost become flipped. At least in part, the idea behind a residential curriculum, or a student life curriculum, is that we are taking the lived curriculum, and intentionally planning it. We are taking experiences and interactions that we know students are already having, and turning them into intentional learning experiences.

Adding this intentionality to what had previously been a lived curriculum has benefits. Students don’t necessarily learn from the experiences that they have; they learn by reflecting on those experiences, by making meaning from them. The curricular approach to student affairs adds the meaning making pieces to a student’s experience. Instead of planning an event and then simply moving on to the next thing, the student is asked to reflect on the experience, think about what worked well and what didn’t, identify what they might do differently next time. They’re asked to explicitly identify what they’ve learned, so they can take that learning with them going forward.

Turning the lived curriculum into planned curriculum is also an area where you have to tread with care. Students want to live their lives, do things they enjoy, and have fun. It’s a fine line to walk to turn these experiences into learning opportunities without taking away the fun and enjoyment, without turning students off from participating in these experiences in the first place.

This idea also creates an entirely new concept: When you turn the lived curriculum into a planned curriculum, what does the new lived curriculum look like?


I have always been a big picture thinker. I hate band-aid solutions. I struggle when people come up with seemingly good ideas that exist in isolation. I think this is one of the main reasons why I’m so intrigued by the idea of curriculum in student affairs—it forces you to tie everything to the bigger picture. It creates a framework for all the work that we do.

As enamoured as I am by the idea of working within a larger framework, David Blades’ (1995) narrative about enframing is a constant nagging voice. The framework that curriculum can provide is extremely beneficial to creating a cohesive, developmentally sequenced learning experience. But a framework can also be problematic. The question about what, and who, we are including and excluding needs to be carefully considered. We have to be sure that the student voice is not left out. And for best results, we have to make sure that our framework isn’t too rigid, and doesn’t narrow our perspective and stick us in a box we can’t see out of.

In many ways, I think curriculum development in student affairs is better suited to respond to the issues brought up by Blades then curriculum development in K-12 is. The breadth of our curriculum is less, the stakeholders are fewer in number, structures are already in place to consult with students, and, while universities can definitely be bureaucratic institutions, reviewing and modifying curriculum on an annual basis is well within the realm of possibility. While changes to a student affairs curriculum may need to be championed to divisional and unit staff, as well as student leaders, that seems like a fairly simple task when compared to the teachers, students, parents, ministry officials, educational developers, university administration, professors and more who had to be brought on board with the changes to the Alberta science curriculum.

Revisiting the what and how debate

As I mentioned in my exploration of curriculum in the first assignment, Egan’s argument that both the what and the how are a part of curriculum has continued to be something I think about (Egan, 2003). And while I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the inclusion of the how within the definition of curriculum, learning about the curriculum model within student affairs, and Kerr et al.’s (2017) ten essential elements in particular, has definitely reinforced the idea that the how is intrinsically important to the learning experience.

One of the key elements of the curricular model is that student leaders shift from being asked to design learning experiences to, instead, facilitating learning experiences via lesson plans, facilitation guides, and guiding questions (Kerr et al., 2017). Knowledge of learning outcome development, learning strategies, pedagogy and student development theories is entrusted to professional staff members, instead of being left in the hands of students. To me, this demonstrates that Kerr et al. definitely see the how as being a part of curriculum.

This also highlights to me an intrinsic problem that Canadian student affairs may have with implementing the curriculum model; or perhaps more kindly, a shift that Canadian student affairs will have to make in order to do so effectively. Kerr et al. want us to leave the design of educational strategies to the educational experts (the student affairs professional); however, in many cases, entry-level student affairs professionals aren’t yet educational experts. They often aren’t yet familiar with learning theories, strategies, and pedagogy themselves, and only learn those things through their work (if at all). To effectively implement the curricular model, and to effectively deliver on the how of the curriculum, we as a field may need to shift how we hire, train, and support our entry-level professionals.

Revisiting the metaphor

Considering all the ways in which my thoughts about curriculum have changed in the last month, it’s worth considering whether my metaphor has changed at all. Is curriculum still a baby human?

The beauty of a metaphor is that you can almost always find a way to argue that it fits, and that’s the case with this baby human metaphor as well. All the original parallels that the metaphor put out remain true: both form the centre of your life, dictate structure, demand to not be forgotten, and can be simultaneously fun and full of joy, and hard and exhausting. My new and emerging thoughts about curriculum only add to the metaphor. First, babies learn largely through a lived curriculum. While there are ways to implement a planned curriculum (reading, introduction of new foods, demonstrating how to roll over, etc.), you need to walk the line of planned curriculum very carefully. Otherwise, you end up with a crying baby instead of a positive learning experience. Second, frameworks and structures are important to a baby’s life, especially if you, as a parent, ever want to get some sleep. However, the choices of what to include in that framework have a large impact on the results that follow, and keeping the framework flexible is important, because that baby may not always fall in line (it’s a baby!).


Working in a field where curriculum is not currently a foundational part of what we do, the last month’s exploration of curriculum has been eye-opening. Curriculum can be messy and complicated, but it seems it can be transformational too, and I’m excited to see the concept grow and take hold. 


Blades, D. (1995). Procedures of Power in a Curriculum Discourse: Conversations from Home. JCT, 11(4), 125-155.

Egan, K. (2003). What is Curriculum? Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 9-16.

Kerr, K.G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K.E., & Kimmel, D. (2017). Shifting to Curricular Approaches to Learning Beyond the Classroom. About Campus, 22(1),

Featured image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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