The Hidden Curriculum – Definitions and Uses

Kevin Block-Schwenk, Associate Professor of Liberal Arts (Economics & Math)

At BTOT 2016, Professor Jennifer Beauregard (Liberal Arts (Science)) and I gave a presentation about the Hidden Curriculum. Below is our presentation, with commentary.

The concept of the Hidden Curriculum dates back a full century to John Dewey, but the phrase was coined in 1968. The concept of a hidden curriculum is in line with its name. This is what is not listed on a course syllabus, but students end up learning.

The Hidden Curriculum exists whether or now we want it to, but by being aware of its existence we can use it to achieve desirable ends.

Students see their professors as models to emulate. As such, are we worthy of that? Do we act in a way that we hope students will act? Do their music faculty show active interest in new music? How do we engage with the larger world?
One thing I personally feel strongly about is that students should never be graded on a curve. Grading on a curve means that a given student does better if their classmates do worse. Students figure this out, and see each other as competitors. To help foster cooperation and build community spirit, I encourage students to work together on every piece of graded work other than their final exam.

Beyond building community, I find it helpful to let students know that they’re important. For me, this included keeping the class flexible and being willing to do in different directions based on student questions.

Very often, supposed “neutrality” or “objectivity” can convey stronger opinions (and no always in a good way) than openly stated points of view. Do we give all ideas, evenly seemingly-absurd ones, full consideration?
Very often, we can put a good message into what we teach depending on what we choose to use. For example, in my math class I can give percentage questions based on how much energy is saved by recycling. Many songs have excellent lyrics with good messages, and these can be used even if you’re only analyzing chord progressions.

The second half of the presentation involved people breaking into small groups. The discussion went well, with never every person in the packed room coming up with something they intended to do, from a BoCo Dance Professor discussing her experiences with pain avoidance to meta-discussions within people’s classroom. (One thing I’m learning is to take better notes, as this write up is happening over 3 months later.)
Hopefully you, the reader, got something out of this as well!
Featured Artwork:
Sieger, Dieter. “Untitled”, Kaerntnerland. 2013. Wikimedia Commons, / CC BY-SA 4.0.