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Massage Therapy Education: Rethinking Curriculum Revision

Kevin Pierce, an experienced massage therapist and educator, recently presented the session "Reviewing Your School's Curriculum: Why and How" at the AMTA 2011 Schools Summit. Below, Kevin has provided a recap of his session with some key points for re-thinking your own curriculum. You can also view the handouts from Kevin’s session here

Massage Therapy Education: Rethinking Curriculum Revision

By Kevin Pierce

The main goals of my Schools Summit presentation were to help attendees establish best practices to effectively evaluate and revise their own program curriculum. My aim is to raise awareness of critical thinking, detailed analysis, structure, goals and outcomes of curriculum.

Below, I’ve explained what "curriculum" really means and outlined the steps your school can take right now ensure you are successfully reviewing and revising your own curriculum. 

What is curriculum?

Before looking at the process of evaluating and revising curriculum, it’s important to establish a fundamental understanding of what curriculum actually encompasses. Curriculum is an educational plan that spells out the goals and objectives to be achieved; topics to be covered; and the methods to be used to learn, teach and evaluate class work. Curriculum defines and describes a program of learning--it should include philosophy, content, approach and assessment.

In his book  Curriculum Renewal (ASCD, 1987), Allan Glatthorn identifies six types of curriculum:
Recommended curriculum: Curriculum which some individuals or organizations consider to be ideal.
Written curriculum: This curriculum is produced by an organization or school and includes guides, scope of practice, and programs of study. It's often called  "official curriculum" because it is developed to control the instructional program of the school.
Taught curriculum: This refers to what is taught in the classroom, usually based on written curriculum and individual assessments.
Supported curriculum: Supported curriculum is usually found in the textbooks, computer software and other materials available to teachers, including the teachers' own experiences.
Tested/assessed curriculum: Curriculum that is revealed in the tests and other assessments given to students.
Learned curriculum: This is what Glatthorn calls the "bottom-line" curriculum; it's what students actually learn at school, whether from direct instruction or from their experiences with the school's informal programs and practices.

When revising curriculum, it's critical to remember that consistency is key. Focus on what you want your students to learn as you begin the evaluation and revision process. Curriculum plans must reflect career outcomes, present standards of the profession, and future expectations for the profession. All staff and instructors must understand and support the components of the plans.

Why revise curriculum?

Some key motivators for revising curriculum include updating statistical data, introducing new modalities, adding new classroom tools and technology, upgrading current instructional format, and needing to comply with accreditation standards or regulation changes.

There are different approaches to revision:

  • Editing: Revision that is based on structure, accuracy and grammar.
  • Non-substantial changes: Changes to internal format, delivery, text editions, assessments and current content that does not change the overall course description (i.e. “housekeeping”.)
  • Substantial Changes: Changes to large-scale format, the content and structure of the course and/or program. Substantial changes significantly change the course and result in a change in the course description and syllabi.

The approach you choose will depend on the depth and complexity of your curriculum revision.

Do I need a plan? Do I need to involve more staff members?

Yes! Establish an action plan. First, determine the goals of the revision. Are there going to be new courses, new assessments (exams), new formats, and new activities introduced? What kind of results are you looking for from the revision? Then, put together a focus team for the revision. It is recommended that you have a central writer or editor and contributors. Don’t try to do this alone.

I have a team and a plan, now what?

1.Perform a self-evaluation or needs assessment. Determine structural design, content, assessments, instructional methods, learning styles, and the materials and resources currently available to the instructors and the students.
2. Evaluate current curriculum  Use a Program, Course, Unit evaluation approach.
Program: Does the revision fit into and benefit the program as a whole?
Course: Does the revision fit into and benefit the course structure?
Unit: Does the revision fit into and benefit the unit?
3. Use development tools to evaluate needs: Use the instructional design process.
4. Establish a time line.  Attach dates and goals to each step of the process.

Plan for Improvement, not just replacement.

It is not always just about content. You must address the higher levels of interaction, in addition to adjusting the content. These include:

  • Instructor / Faculty training: The leadership roles of teachers are becoming more prevalent, more dominant and more demanding. Instructors need to be able to lead, inspire, control and guide their students; many of these skills that are not taught in the massage therapy field. Massage therapy education must come from a mature approach to learning and focus on the needs of the adult learner.
  • Critical Thinking: Studies demonstrate that most college faculty lack a substantive concept of critical thinking. Consequently they do not (and cannot) use it as a central organizer in the design of thier instruction.
  • Substantive Learning: If we understand critical thinking substantively, we not only explain the idea explicitly to our students, but we use critical thinking to give order and meaning to virtually everything we do as teachers and learners. Substantive learning informs how we conceptualize our students as learners. It enables us to understand and explain the thinking that defines the content we teach.

What guidelines do I have to follow?

We have to work within some parameters. There is a lot of discussion about minimum standards, program hours (what is the “right” amount of hours for an entry level massage therapist). For now, let’s just focus on what the current standards and regulations are for your individual state. Start there.
Take into account your state's guidelines, accreditation guidelines and professional standards.

What resources are available?

As we develop and revise out curriculum, these are the current resources and guides that are both required and recommended.
• States Criteria for License / Certification / Registration.
• MBLEx – Exam Content
• Accreditation Standards
• NCBTMB – Exam Content
• MTBOK – Schools Checklist

Why are we doing this in the first place?

Here is some food for thought: In 2004, 33 states had regulation in place for massage therapy licensure in some way. Today, there are 43 states with regulation in place. These statistics alone demonstrate the need to improve the level of education that massage therapists receive. Education is the key to our professionals staying current with present standards and enhancing the perception of massage therapists as legitimate health care and wellness practitioners.

View Kevin's full presentation from the 2011 AMTA Schools Summit.

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