English   |   Español
Training Tools for Curriculum Development. A Resource Pack
Core Modules


Activity 1: Models for piloting

  1. Models for piloting

  2. Pilot design

  3. From pilot to policy. Mainstreaming innovation


Piloting is a broad term which can be used in the context of both curriculum evaluation, although it occurs a relatively early stage of the curriculum change process, and curriculum development.

Feasibility studies
When a new curriculum is proposed it is important to consider two questions – whether it will offer significant benefits and whether it can be implemented successfully. In answering these questions, educational authorities should consider the critical factor of how different it is from the existing curriculum with which teachers are familiar. In many cases of unsuccessful curriculum change, the key factor is the level of difficulty they present to teachers.

Other potentially decisive issues will include the social and political influences which may lead to opposition and the likely financial and other resource implications of the proposed curriculum.

Feasibility studies may be informal or highly structured evaluation exercises which analyst the proposals in great detail and seek the views of stakeholders in and beyond the education system.

Feasibility studies are particularly important in determining the cost of effective curriculum design and implementation. In some contexts, education systems suffer from “initiative overload”; teachers may be weary as a result of constant change and morale may be low. Under these circumstances, a feasibility study can effectively and efficiently establish the value of curriculum change and identify potential problems in implementation.

Piloting and evaluation
In recent decades there has been a growing demand for empirical data to justify new curriculum prior to wide scale implementation. The demand has arisen, in part, from the high financial cost of curriculum development and implementation. It is important that empirical evidence is gathered to demonstrate the quality of a curriculum and to test its practicality and utility in a “real world” setting. Piloting in this sense is a dimension of curriculum evaluation.

Lewey6 has identified three phases of curriculum “tryout”. Each phase will adopt successively more formal evaluation methods in order to provide more reliable findings:

  1. Laboratory tryout: The first phase may begin as formative evaluation very early in the curriculum development process in what is sometimes described as “laboratory tryouts”. Here elements of the curriculum may be tested with individuals or small groups. Responses of learners are observed and modifications to the curriculum materials may be suggested.
  2. Pilot tryout: A “pilot tryout” may begin in a school setting as soon as a complete, albeit, a preliminary version of a course is available. Curriculum development team members may take the role of the teacher. The purpose of this phase is to identify if it is possible to implement the curriculum, if changes are needed, what conditions are required to ensure success.
  3. Field tryout: When a revised version is completed based on the findings of the pilot tryout, “field tryouts” may be conducted by teachers in their classrooms without the direct involvement of the development team. This exercise attempts to establish whether the program may be used without the ongoing support of the team and to demonstrate the merits of the program to potential users.

Not all of these phases will be used formally or used at all in every pilot or evaluation. For example it is not uncommon for the third phase, field tryouts, to be used independently. Field tryouts are also often known as micro-testing.

Collaborative / “Bottom Up” Piloting
When understood as a collaborative or “bottom up” process, piloting as a strategy for promoting curriculum innovation offers significant potential benefits at a number of levels.
Ideally, the collaborative model of piloting will involve the participation of pupils, teachers, school principals, curriculum and subject specialists and officials from local and central government. Each group will bring a unique perspective on the complex task of curriculum change. Teachers offer their classroom and subject expertise grounded in daily contact with young people and the pressures of working in a school context. Principals or school managers are concerned with scheduling, financial and personnel issues. Curriculum developers provide technical expertise and insights into current educational research and broad curriculum goals. Policy makers are focused on broad policy goals, finance and the management of curriculum change and implementation. Each group will be required to work in new ways, in unfamiliar partnerships, and each will need to be supported by others at different phases of the pilot.
This model is often associated with a democratic style of working and is particularly suited to problematic, sensitive or controversial curriculum areas and issues. It requires also a high quality leadership to ensure focus and to allow decision-making in a commitment frame. The collaborative approach offers an enhanced possibility of a coherent and sustainable curriculum change process, effective at all levels of the education system.

Piloting and innovation
In many contexts there has been a tendency for curricula to be developed by curriculum or subject specialists and given to teachers to be delivered as a product. In these circumstances, the teacher may feel “de-professionalized” and disempowered, becoming little more than a curriculum delivery technician. This trend is well exemplified by attempts in some contexts to develop “teacher proof” resources.

Piloting may be used as tool for promoting innovation and curriculum change by directly utilizing the expertise of teachers and other practitioners and stakeholders. This model of piloting has been described as a “Collaborative” or “Bottom-Up” approach.

This model of piloting may subsume the functions described above under Feasibility Studies and Piloting as Evaluation. Additionally, a curriculum development team might create mechanisms to allow teachers to become directly involved in the curriculum design process through action research and school based curriculum development strategies. This approach offers possibilities of influencing policy by creating effective working curriculum models and of initiating quality improvement on the basis of proven effective practice

Action Research
Action Research is a self-reflective form of research carried out by practitioners with the intention of developing more effective practice

The role of the pilot team is to provide the necessary leadership and infrastructure frameworks within which work takes place. They support the pilot group by offering curriculum design expertise, needs-based training and effective links between schools, policy makers and other stakeholders. Experimentation, creativity and innovation are fostered and teachers test elements of their work in the real-world context of the classroom.

The involvement of officials from national or local education authorities is an important component of this model of piloting. It offers opportunities to develop:

  • Ongoing and effective systems for feedback from stakeholders (including pupils, teachers and parents) on curriculum content and methods;
  • Confidence in and ownership of change processes at all levels;
  • Multi-level partnerships involving pupils, teachers, academics, school administrators and officials;
  • The capacity of individuals and organizations within the education system;
  • An operating model of effective and implemented practice;
  • Develop transferable strategies for scaling up or mainstreaming curriculum innovation.

6 Lewy, A. (1990) “Curriculum Tryout”. In: Walberg, H.J. and Haertel, G.H., The International Encyclopaedia of Educational Evaluation, Oxford, Pergamon Press. pp 203-205.

Go to tasks >>