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Curriculum design and delivery at Wawasan Open University


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This paper focuses on the design of new curriculum at Wawasan Open University to meet the differential needs of part-time adult learners, working professionals who have many years of prior work experience in the field, maintain full-time employment while earning their degree and use their employment setting for the field work practicum. Specifically, the author examines key issues in curriculum delivery including the needs of the learner, resources required and the assessment strategies. The depth of contents and engagement of the working adults in the learning process also presented.
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Curriculum design and delivery at Wawasan Open
Ghanshyam Kumar Singh
School of Science & Technology
Wawasan Open University,
Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah , Penang, Malaysia
Ishan Sudeera Abeywardna
School of Science & Technology
Wawasan Open University,
Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Penang, Malaysia
Abstract— This paper focuses on the design of new curriculum at
Wawasan Open University to meet the differential needs of part-
time adult learners, working professionals who have many years
of prior work experience in the field, maintain full-time
employment while earning their degree and use their
employment setting for the field work practicum. Specifically, the
author examines key issues in curriculum delivery including the
needs of the learner, resources required and the assessment
strategies. The depth of contents and engagement of the working
adults in the learning process also presented.
Keywords- Adult learner, Curriculum Design & Delivery, Learner
needs, Assessment strategies
Curriculum Design in particular touches every aspect
of an institution's core business from aligning its portfolio of
courses to its mission and vision, through market research and
product development to quality assurance, recruitment,
assessment, timetabling and how it distributes its funding
internally. The emphasis of the programme is on institutional
approaches to curriculum design with senior level commitment
to transformational change [1,2,5,7]. At Wawasan Open
University (WOU), programme development is governed by a
rigorous protocol with strict adherence to a set code of practice
for assurance of academic quality and standards. The process
involves several key stakeholders as illustrated in Figure 1
Figure 1 Programme Development Pathway at WOU
The process involves two distinct stages. Stage one begins
with the School setting up a Programme Planning Committee
(PPC) that comprises faculty members with appropriate
expertise from within (and outside the School as appropriate).
The PPC, in consultation with the Advisory Peer Group (APG)
that consist of external members from academia and the
industries, develops the Outline Programme Proposal (OPP) for
the new programme. The OPP contains the Programme aims,
objectives and learning outcomes, the proposed structure, the
component course curricula, delivery systems and assessment
strategies, market demands and provisions as well as resource
implications. Once completed, the OPP is tabled for
endorsement by the School Board. After endorsed by the
School Board, the OPP is presented to the Senate for
endorsement and subsequently to the Council for approval.
After the OPP has been approved by Council, a Detailed
Programme Proposal (DPP) fleshing out the detailed syllabus
for each course, the course presentation schedule, the resource
requirements and the budget proposals etc. is prepared and
taken through in succession the School Board, Senate and then
Council. Once the DPP is approved by Council, the proposal is
submitted to MQA and MOHE for the necessary approval. On
obtaining these approvals, courses that are required to support
the said programme are developed for presentation. Resources
for the development of individual courses are provided in the
University’s annual budget allocation process and administered
by WOU’s Education Technology and Publishing Unit
Learning outcomes are sets of competencies, expressing what
the learner will know or be able to do after the successful
completion of learning process [2]. Credits are obtained after
passing the appropriate assessment for each course. In WOU’s
ODL model, the role of lectures is replaced by providing
students with a set of course materials (in print or CD and
accompanied by textbooks as appropriate) that are designed
for self-learning. The development of course materials is
carried out using a team approach. Typically, a Course
Development Team (CDT) consists of the School’s
academics, Instructional Designers from ETPU, external
academic content experts (writers) and, where appropriate,
web designers/programmers as well as language editors. The
work flow process follows a well defined set of protocols.
External peer review is provided via an External Course
Assessor (ECA).
At WOU, learning outcomes, particularly at the course level,
are systematically discussed by the CDT taking into
consideration the level of study and the level of anticipated
cognitive skills as defined by Bloom (1956). The appropriate
learning activities for each course are then specified. In
determining learning outcomes, the following macro
considerations are taken into account:
A. Linking current demand of industry, workplace
knowledge and skills;
B. Linking course goals with larger or overall programme
C. Planning the course activities based on intended
outcomes and level of study;
D. Aligning the learning outcomes with the assessment
criteria and level of study in every course. Ensuring that
assessment tasks are designed to fulfill the outcomes of
the course.
The pathway is summarized in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2 The Learning Outcome Identification Process
To enable students to achieve the prescribed learning
outcomes, the following provisions and learner support are
provided to WOU students:
Quality course materials (print based or CD) that are
pedagogically designed to facilitate self learning,
study guides and laboratory instructional guides.
Quality student learning support that includes
o Face-to-face tutorials at regular intervals
o Face-to-face laboratory classes
o Telephone tutoring
o Additional posting of teaching and learning
materials on WOU’s own internet based learning
management system (WawasanLearn) that is
available 24x 7
o Online digital library resources that is available
o Pacing via regularly spaced assignments
o Support of Regional Offices including Internet
connected computer terminals
Assessment strategies that are designed to evaluate the
mastery of the intended learning outcomes
As a private not-for-profit institution, the development
and delivery of each WOU programme is very much driven by
market and societal demands. The Schools and the Marketing
Unit of the university regularly conduct market survey as well
as gather feedback from various channels. These include:
Feedback from WOU Council members
Feedback from members of the School’s APG
Feedback from Regional Offices of WOU
Feedback from public through market surveys and
road-shows conducted regularly by the Marketing
Dialogues with representatives of industries
Dialogues with professional organizations
All costs incurred in conducting these activities are borne by
the university itself.
In addition, the University also conducts formal dialogue
sessions with its students and tutors every semester. Although,
the main objective of such dialogues relates to service and
support provided to these stake holders, sometimes
suggestions are also received on the demand for new
programme that are of interest to them or their workplace.
WOU students are working adults who have made a conscious
decision to undertake study to improve themselves. They are
thus practicing lifelong learners. The ODL mode of study
requires students to take active responsibility for their own
learning. This approach calls for students to develop
independent learning, self discipline, good time management
practices and good active learning skills. As teaching and
learning are separated in time and space in the ODL mode, all
of the WOU courses have been developed using the learner
centered approach.
The knowledge-based economy that our nation is moving
towards demands that the graduates of Malaysian institutions
of higher learning are sufficiently equipped with a mix of both
enabling skills and specific knowledge [1,3,4] as illustrated in
Figure 3.
Figure 3 Range of skills and knowledge needed in a
competent knowledge- based workforce.
In WOU, the alignment of course learning outcomes to the
programme learning outcomes as well as the level of study
involves effort being made to ensure that the fundamental
objective of ensuring that its students are provided with the
appropriate functional and technical competencies in their
chosen area of study is accomplished. Generally, the
successful accomplishment of the learning outcomes of the
relevant suite of courses is taken as a demonstration that the
programme learning outcomes have been achieved. Figure 4
shows the course development process of WOU.
Other than the categories of ‘basic major’ and ‘core major’
courses that specify the technical content of a programme,
students have also to pass a set of LAN (National
Accreditation Board) and university prescribed courses all of
which have been designed to equip students with the relevant
‘soft’ skills such as ‘learning skills’, language and
communication skills and ‘basic computing’ skills as well as
develop in them a set of universal values relating to good
Figure 4 Course Development Process
Every course has clearly stated objectives and learning
outcomes and pedagogically well structured contents as well
as a set of well aligned assignments to enable WOU
students to take better control of their own learning at
anytime and from anywhere. Also, the diverse background
of WOU students ensures that discussions at tutorials are
enriched by the extremely diverse background experience
and views that the working adults bring. An additional
opportunity for enhanced level training in critical thinking,
problem solving, decision making and analytical thinking
also avails when students undertake their final-year research
projects during the last two semesters of their study.
As working adults, WOU students are in the unique
situation of having their learning of the course materials
reinforced by the practical learning that occurs at the
workplace. Theories learnt via studying the course materials
are often reinforced within a short period by real life
situations that they meet in the work environment.
Students of WOU usually practice a life style of self-
paced learning and working at the same time. This
combination allows them ample opportunities to apply and
integrate newly acquired knowledge with on the job hands-
on experiences. The situation lends itself automatically
towards attainment of knowledge and all round personal
skills in ways not readily available to full time
undergraduates studying in a conventional academic
Students of WOU come from all walks of life. They
include working adults of various age groups (21-71)
residing in different geographic parts of the country. Many
are married and frequently have experienced the
responsibilities of being parents. Generally, they prefer to
take full control of the types of co-curricular activities that
they pursue or intend to pursue. Some run companies while
others hold leadership positions in various bodies. Thus the
very important and desirable role of co-curricular activities
in the development of 19-23 year olds studying in
conventional universities is not so applicable to WOU
students. Nevertheless social interaction amongst WOU
students is promoted through optional recreational activities
organized by student associations established at the various
regional offices of the university.
During the initial development of the Programme OPP both
the APG and the marketing unit provides feedback on the need
for offering a particular programme as well as the likely
demand for its graduates a few years down the road.
WOU has also established close relationships with
academic peer as well as industry. MoU’s have been signed
with institutions such as the Penang Skills Development
Centre and Open University Malaysia. Regular dialogue
sessions with the members and the staff of these partner
institutions allow WOU staff to benefit from the sharing of
experience and incorporation of their comments and good
practices into improving our Programme during both the
development and the implementation stages. Likewise, the
participation of WOU’s academic and administrative staff at
local and international conferences etc. ensures that we keep
abreast of international developments and incorporate them
into our teaching and learning practices as well as programme
Distance learning is not simply a contemporary trend that
will fade away. When considering the future of distance
learning, it is important to look at many of the trends related to
learning that are already influencing current trends and
Key factors of a good Curriculum Design:
1. It explains and justifies the need for the programme;
2. It sets appropriate and achievable objectives;
3. The subject content is well scoped and defined;
4. It states who would be involved (key participants);
5. It outlines a realistic work schedule for achieving the
Having assessed the opportunities and challenges related to
the possibility of distance learning and due to development of
the Information and Communication Technology, WOU has
decided to pursue to reach to those who stand last in the
queue. The university is now planning to expand in the areas
of construction technology programme and not only in
computer or electronics programmes. With its strong network
of regional centers equipped with the latest technology and
modern resources all over Malaysia, WOU itself in a key
position to emerge as a major player in development and
delivery of distance education.
In creating a niche for itself in the huge market of distance
education, provision of B.Tech in Electronics, B.Tech in
Telecommunication, B.Tech in Computer Science, and B.Tech
in Construction may be both an opportunity and a challenge
for WOU as an institution. Internationally, various universities
of USA, Hong Kong, UK, South Korea and Europe already
provide accredited and non-accredited courses in distance
learning [1,6,8]. It will be a challenge for WOU initiative to
stay ahead in the competitive market of providing technology
based programmes.
The authors wish to thanks Prof. Wong Tat Meng & Prof.
Ho Sinn Chye of Wawasan Open University, Penang,
Malaysia for encouragement and support.
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