Service-Learning as a Responsive and Engaging Curriculum: A Higher Education Institution's Response to Natural Disaster

Article excerpt

Introduction

In higher education, a curriculum is often described as a prescriptive set of courses that contain content. The Latin translation of curriculum is "a course to run", which has been symbolically described as a "racecourse" (Bobbitt, 1918; Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1995). The traditional educational translation of curriculum is the idea that the racecourse is predetermined and through the completion of it, the students will attain intended and desired knowledge and skills. In addition to the course itself, the delivery of it in the form of pedagogy is also a predetermined design in order to support students' attainment of the knowledge and skills. Usually, the content and delivery of a curriculum is developed and maintained in a vacuum with little regard to external influences such as current events, demographic changes or even findings from educational research.

What happens if the local context where a higher education curriculum is being delivered shifts in a dramatic and undeniable way? Would or could the curriculum and pedagogy be adapted to address that shift? If so, how and for what purpose? These questions will be addressed through a brief review of relevant literature on responsive curriculum and a case study of this approach at the University of Canterbury (UC) following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Review of literature

This review is a representative summary of the literature; for a more detailed review of literature on these concepts, see Perry (2011).

The rationale for a responsive curriculum

Information technology and its influences are developing at a rate that exceeds the capacity to know it all by an exponential factor. According to Henry (2001) as cited in Puccio, Murdock, and Mance (2007), in the past 200 years there have been "25 technical and social inventions (e.g., airplanes, antibiotics, cloning, computers, credit cards, internet) that have dramatically altered human history. Compare this to the fact that from the building of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt (2100 BC) to the Principate of the Roman Empire (27 BC), which is over 2,000 years of human development, there were a 'grand total of ten technical and social inventions (e.g., irrigation systems, number systems, coinage)' (p. xi). Furthermore, the following facts from Fisch, McLeod, and Brenman (2009) about accelerated information growth provide a further context for content's insurmountable lead on cognitive absorption:

* 1,000,000 books are published every year

* in 10 years Wikipedia has accumulated over 13 million articles in 200 languages;

* the top ten jobs in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004

* the US Department of Labor estimates that today's learner will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38

* it is estimated that a week's worth of The New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century

* the amount of new technical information is doubling every two years

* for students starting a four-year technical degree, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study (Fisch et al., 2009).

Considering this context, perhaps the curriculum or "racecourse" that is supposedly preparing students for survival and success within it needs to be more nimble, flexible and adaptable to the times. With events literally being heard around the world on a daily basis and real-time information and current news available to shape in-time decisions, there should be ways for the curriculum and pedagogy to reflect this responsiveness. And that is just for the everyday curriculum, without regard to extraordinary local or global events. Might there be a role for curriculum and pedagogy when a significant event occurs?

Charles Fritz, a renowned disaster sociologist, stated that, "disaster provides a form of societal shock which disrupts habitual, institutional patterns of behavior and renders people amenable to social and personal change" (1996, p. …