Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Paper presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Conference, Dublin, 31st. May - 1st. April, 2015.


Curriculum and pedagogy are central to many contemporary debates on fostering a successful student experience, particularly in a massified higher education sector. These themes are evident in discussions from policy level to the staffroom in many countries. Attention has been specifically directed at the transition point from ‘second level’ to ‘higher/third level’ education, resulting in the development of many initiatives and materials around the ‘first year experience’ (‘FYE’). Central principles have been identified as curricula that engage students in their programme, modules and learning. Indeed the term ‘student engagement’ has evolved as a focal point of these debates as the search continues for a magic wand to tackle what are perceived to be problems of student disengagement and preparedness. Although a newer phrase in the Irish lexicon, first year experience programmes have quickly emerged which typically attempt to develop varying blends of academic and generic skills such as information literacy, student engagement, resilience and confidence, and preparedness for the workplace among others. Such widening of the curriculum has many potential benefits, but in reality, institutional and individual barriers, resistance and a lack of measurability can often result in frustrations and disappointments. Building connections, in terms of curriculum, people and structures is at the heart of a successful FYE programme. This paper will draw on the example of the “Get Smart!” initiative, which is a bottom-up approach to integrative curriculum developed in the School of Hospitality Management and Tourism, Technological University Dublin. The initiative sits laterally across modules and attempts to form an integrating mechanism. It also looks to extend the Orientation beyond the initial few days of a student’s commencement on their programme, using academic and quasi-academic elements. Over the six years of the initiative many challenges have emerged, including connecting the curriculum to the workplace, career preparation, securing staff and student buy-in, and the development of student resilience. Tellingly, the over-arching challenge of how the curriculum can be more than the ‘classroom’ remains largely unsolved. The paper further highlights the notion of “roles” adopted in the implementation of Get Smart! and whether these are typical of curriculum redevelopments. How can one person’s passion be institutionalised into a school or faculty-wide programme? How can ‘doubters’ become ‘do-ers’ and how can momentum be maintained as resources dwindle? Finally, the paper presents experiences of communicating the curriculum in the context of new learners. There is considerable awareness of the abilities and expectations of the tech-savvy ‘Gen. Yers’ and now ‘millennials’. The need to communicate differently should be driven more from the perspective that, if the curriculum is changing, shouldn’t the communication and conversation vehicles similarly be re-imagined? Get Smart! has used Facebook, Twitter, ezines and a bespoke app to communicate with students in language they understand. Difficulties and opportunities will be assessed, drawn from ongoing research carried out with students as part of the management of Get Smart!