Archive for June 14th, 2004

Human Need – A Curriculum Model?

Monday, June 14th, 2004

Yesterday I used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Need to suggest a way in which advertising works.

While writing that post I remembered that three years ago I used Maslow during a teaching seminar I was giving to colleagues teaching a Foundation course in Art and Design. The question we were discussing was “how do we keep students on the course, motivated, and attending regularly?”. I suggested that some of the reasons for poor attendance etc could be identified using Maslow – studios needed to feel comfortable and safe, the course needed to offer something they felt they currently lacked, the way the cohort was grouped needed to avoid making students feel threatened and so on.

It was a “top of the head” suggestion that actually went down well with those in attendance. The logic is plain to see – address base physiological needs first and then move on to the growth needs. I think many courses go straight for the growth needs, often leaving students floundering. The technique is sometimes known as GOFO – Go Off and Find Out (or FOFO, which I’ll let you translate). Ideally, of course, we want courses to facilitate growth, but what we do is miss out the “facilitation” bit, simply setting projects with no clear aim other than to fill a portfolio.

Looking again at Maslow I began to think that maybe it offers a skeleton of a curriculm model. The Bauhaus model looked primarily at the content of the curriculum:

But not so much the shape. In the UK we have “level descriptors” that suggest the cognitive level that should be aimed for at the end of each year of a higher education course, and subject benchmark statements that attempt to identify what different academic subjects are “about” (the art and design benchmark statement is here) but I’m wondering if Maslow suggests a purpose for education that avoids discussions of the curriculum content. I know people might get upset at suggesting content is not important but it seems there is so much argument about what should be taught, we don’t get round to discussing why, and even then it’s only for the good of the subject, not the good of the people.

So maybe our courses should be set up so that we first of all address students’ deficiency needs and do this not just in terms of skills and knowledge but in terms of how the courses are delivered and how the environment is set up. Then as the course progresses we introduce modules and projects that move up the scale. I’ve seen, for example, the deeper understanding that comes if students are allowed to teach other students what they know, or help one another on a project.

Anyway, just a thought to float on a sunny Monday morning. I might come back to it soon. Today, however, I have to catch a train into London. It’s quite depressing – we nearly beat France last night in the football, only to let two goals in during injury time. Ironically, there was no crowd trouble in Portugal, where the tournament is being held, but there were riots here! Even in my street, kids ran up and down kicking cars and generally acting like imbeciles. I just had another beer and switched over – far more sensible.