spirals, speed and viruses

by Paul Maharg on 10/06/2005

I think it was way back in the early eighties that I first came across the idea of a spiral curriculum, but it was only when I put together the first couple of versions of the Foundation Course that I began to appreciate how useful it was.  I also understood it needed more that a structure based on repetition: it needed a conceptual engine.  For us, this was provided by the tell-show-do-review movement, which helped to turn a flat cycle into a 3D structure of learning. 

There are, though, two disadvantages to the use of this strategy.  First, after the in the second and subsequent cycles, use of the same class format can become tedious.  For this reason amongst others, we created slightly different cycles in each skill.  The multimedia resources were designed with a similar strategy in mind.  Each of the units ended with a task to be performed by students; and this task varied according to the type of skill, the length of the workshops and the type of feedback that would be given by tutors.  In addition, the use of multimedia allowed us to create explicit ‘scripts’ for students that could facilitate their own practice and the interaction between tutors and students in the workshops.   This was particularly noticeable in the students’ use of the advocacy unit.  They studied the script closely for its rhetorical structure (which was described in the wraparound text in the unit), its courtroom register, and tried as far as possible to base their own first workshop motions upon this model.  Their second motions tended to be based less on the model as they began to edge away from it.  This was exactly what the Dreyfus model of skills development predicts, and we were happy that at this early stage students were beginning to achieve beyond the novice level with confidence

Problems though: first is centrifugal speed of the spiralling: too fast and students are just going through the motions without really understanding; too slow and they’re bored.  Second: transferability into the Diploma.  We’ve still to crack this thoroughly, and I think the concept of the viral curriculum is useful here — the idea that we want students to take with them into the Diploma the concepts and experiences they’ve picked up from the Foundation Course. 

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