Australian Curriculum Theses
In addition to developing chronologies of school curriculum policy and identifying key curriculum documents for each state, we have also compiled lists of Masters and Doctoral theses concerned with curriculum in Australian schools over the four decades that are the focus of the study. The aim in compiling these lists was to capture something of changes of activity and interests in relation to curriculum, as well as debates and concerns about curriculum, across states and over time. In making this material available we also hope that it will provide a resource and starting point for further study by others – and we say more about this below.
Given the large number of education theses produced over this period, it was beyond the scope of the project to examine this data on an annual basis. Yet we also felt that the ten year intervals we have used as a basis for other parts of the project would sit awkwardly here, given that theses are normally produced over an extended time, so that theses produced in the years we have taken as the focus for policy analysis would not reflect directly the interest of that year but of an earlier year in which the thesis was commenced. As an imperfect compromise, given our very limited resources, we decided to produce lists of curriculum theses completed at Australian universities at five year intervals: 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005.
Of the 2926 education theses produced at these intervals, we identified 509 as relating to curriculum. The selected theses approach curriculum scholarship in a range of ways, including analysis of student learning in specific disciplines, curriculum change and development histories, student and teacher perceptions of changing curriculum and disadvantage and difference in terms of socio-economic status, gender, disability and ethnicity. A cursory analysis of the abstracts suggests that the period saw a shift from scholarship focusing on curriculum policy to a more student centred approach analysing student difference and student perceptions of their own learning. In the later years of review, greater numbers of theses were produced which analysed specific schools, school communities, teachers and students to test hypotheses, as opposed to previously favoured methods of policy and textual analysis. The period also saw a marked increase of curriculum scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s which has since declined, particularly in regards to masters theses. A selection of graphs representing the numbers of curriculum and other education theses is available here.
The theses selected offer some taste of changing interests and changing quantum of scholarly inquiry in this area, but a more refined sense of such changes awaits further more detailed research by others.
The problem of deciding criteria for what counts as a ‘curriculum’ thesis proved as difficult here as our earlier problem of deciding what counts as a ‘curriculum’ policy document. We initially excluded
- tertiary education
- early childhood education
- perspectives of beginning teachers
- 19th and early 20th century histories of Australian education
- studies of countries outside Australia
- studies of cognitive functioning (unless these were clearly in the context of questions about school subjects or curriculum provision)
- discipline and classroom teaching (again, unless it relates to a particular subject)
- principals and professional development
- in-service and pre-service teacher education (unless it is about the implementation of a specific curriculum or has a specific subject focus)
- stress management
- teacher or student perceptions (unless it relates to curriculum)
- motivation (again, unless it is say about gender and maths or something to that effect)
In the first few cases, decisions about exclusion were relatively clear cut; but with theses related to teaching and learning (and many Australian theses are studies of particular classrooms or particular schools), the issue is much more ambiguous. In these cases, if the title seemed to indicate some interest in the issue of what is being conveyed to students in schooling, they have been left in; while if they seemed to be primarily about effectiveness of particular pedagogies, or characteristics of particular students, they have been excluded. But these are not easy matters to judge from titles and short abstracts. We arrived at our lists by having Katie Wright and Lyn Yates separately categorize ‘curriculum’ theses from the overall lists, but it is not a neatly bounded exercise, and we would encourage others to do some more extensive systematic analyses of the theses that have been done in Education in Australia.
So we are not claiming that these lists are in any sense definitive ones. We see them as one starting point which you might use to see some changes or difference or kinds of interests across states and over time; but acknowledge the ambiguity of the task associated with our selection of what we are calling ‘curriculum theses’. We hope others might do further work on this area. For example, it would be interesting to look at all the theses being produced by principals and teachers actually working in schools over this period; or to look for directions of inquiry and theoretical commitments associated with particular universities or particular states. The issue of what Australian traditions can be discerned in our curriculum scholarship is one where we need to know more of our own history.
Anyone interested in undertaking PhD research on this area is invited to contact Lyn Yates. And we welcome your feedback on this as well as other parts of the project, including suggestions for additions and amendments, and links to other sites and projects.
We hope that this material provides a resource for others working in curriculum studies, but even more an inspiration to do further work on this area. We acknowledge the invaluable work done by ACER in compiling the Education Research Theses database and also thank ACER for permission to use this material. For further information on the Australian Education Theses Database, please visit the ACER website: www.acer.edu.au/library/theses.html