Curriculum innovation from a complex ecological perspective: a developmental physical education case study
Jess, Michael Chalmers
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With recent developments in Scottish education characterised by less prescriptive curriculum guidance, educators, and teachers in particular, are being presented with the opportunity to become more active participants in the curriculum innovation process (Scottish Executive, 2004). This thesis argues, however, that a more participatory curriculum innovation approach contrasts with the centrally-driven top-down curriculum projects that have held currency over the last 30 years; as such, the experiences of most teachers, and their managers, have not helped build the capacity to cope with and influence the curriculum innovation process. Following on, it is suggested there is an urgent need to develop curriculum innovation approaches that specifically set out to help educators construct these innovation-related capacities. The thesis proposes that a more participatory curriculum innovation approach may be achieved by extending concepts from current educational ‘change knowledge’ (Fullan, 1993) to include key principles from complexity-oriented theories (Biesta, 2010; Morrison, 2010). A complex ecological approach (CEA) is presented in which curriculum innovation efforts are portrayed as complex, self organising, emergent, non-linear and ambiguously bounded phenomena influenced by the ongoing interaction of contextual factors and personal capacities. The applicability of this complex ecological approach is explored by means of a case study focused on my personal curriculum innovation efforts in primary physical education (PE) over a twenty-four year period from 1987-2011 in two countries: England and Scotland. I provide a detailed retrospective analysis of the ‘Developmental Physical Education Project’ (DPEP) to explore the extent to which the macro, meso and micro contexts in which I worked and my personal capacities have influenced my curriculum innovation efforts over this twenty-four year period. In particular, the nature of my developmental PE innovation efforts, characterised as complex, self-organising, emergent, non-linear and ambiguously bounded is explored. Analysis reveals the important influence of different contextual factors on the nature of these innovation efforts, particularly the prevailing policy-making and policy-dissemination processes and the support of micro-level management. However, the most significant finding is the central role played by my personal capacities in shaping innovation efforts that, over time, are self-organising, emergent, ambiguously bounded and non-linear. In particular, the analysis highlights how six key capacities; reflection, inquiry, emotions, vision, knowledge and relationships, all played a key role in helping me cope with and influence the innovation process. Given these findings, the thesis concludes by proposing ways in which the CEA may help educators, and teachers in particular, better understand, negotiate and influence future curriculum innovation agendas.