The aim of this part of the curriculum design process is to find the situational factors that will strongly affect the course. Environment analysis (Tessmer, 1990) involves looking at the factors that will have a strong effect on decisions about the goals of the course, what to include in the course, and how to teach and assess it. These factors can arise from the learners, the teachers, and the teaching and learning situation. Environment analysis is also called “situation analysis” (Richards, 2001) or “constraints analysis”. A constraint can be positive in curriculum design. For example, a constraint could be that the teachers are all very highly trained and are able and willing to make their own class activities. This would have a major effect on curriculum design as much of the format and presentation work could be left to the teachers. In some models of curriculum design, environment analysis is included in needs analysis.
Environment analysis is an important part of curriculum design because at its most basic level it ensures that the course will be usable. There are many factors that could affect curriculum design, so as a part of the procedure of environment analysis, the curriculum designer should decide which factors are the most important. The importance of a factor depends on:
- whether the course will still be useful if the factor is not taken into
- how large and pervasive the effect of the factor is on the course.
An Example of Environment Analysis
The important constraints on the special second language maintenance class were as follows.
- There was very limited class time and contact time with English.
- There would be a drop in the learners’ interest in learning English as they identified more strongly with Japan and being Japanese.
- The learners knew that they could communicate more easily with each other in Japanese than in English.
- There was a range of levels of English proficiency with some learners appearing to be very proficient for their age.
- The learners had been learning English in much the same ways as native speakers acquire their first language.
These constraints could have the following effects on curriculum design.
- Parents should be guided in giving their children some extra contact with English.
- The activities should be fun so that the children look forward to doing them for their own sake.
- Some of the activities should carry over to the next class so that the children look forward to continuing them.
- The activities should be largely teacher-centred rather than group or pair work.
- Most of the activities should be meaning-focused. Language-focused activities should mainly involve correction.
This would mean using activities like the following
- Listening to a serial story.
- Reading comics and other high-interest material.
- Listening and speaking games.
- Writing to be “published” or read aloud.
- Learners giving talks to the group, e.g. show and tell.
- Reading at home and reporting to the class.
- Diary writing to the teacher or a secret friend.
- High-success quizzes and activities with awards.
- Production of a newsletter where everyone gets a mention.
- Pen pals.
- Watching English movies and TV programmes.
- Playing video games that use English.
- Production of a play, etc.
The constraints faced by this course were very severe, and ignoring them would certainly mean failure for the course.
Sometimes it is necessary to consider wider aspects of the situation when carrying out an environment analysis. There may, for example, be institutionalor government policies requiring the use of the target language in schools (Liu et al., 2004), or there may be negative attitudes towards the target language among learners in post-colonial societies (Asmah, 1992). For example, the language curriculum in a situation where:
- the target language is recognised as one of a country’s official languages (the political and national context)
- there are relatively few native speakers (the language setting)
- there are relatively few opportunities to use the language outside the classroom (patterns of language use in society)
- majority-language speakers doubt the target language has contemporary relevance (group and individual attitudes)
will differ greatly from that in a situation where:
- the target language is recognised as one of a country’s official languages
- there are relatively few native speakers
- there are many opportunities to use the target language outside the classroom the target language provides employment and educational opportunities.
Understanding the Constraints
In order to understand a constraint fully, it is usually necessary to examine the nature of the constraint in the environment you are working in, and to examine previous research on the constraint. Some of the major constraints investigated by research and analysis include the time available, cultural background, the effect of the first language on language learning and special purposes. The following section looks at time as an example of an important constraint in the environment, and provides information that would be useful in helping to plan the length of a course. This investigation of the time constraint provides a model of the application of the steps in environment analysis that can be applied to other constraints.
The Constraint of Time
In many courses the time constraint is very important. The time may be severely limited, or the desired goals might not fit into the time available. The steps followed include (1) examining the local environment, (2) looking at previous research, and (3) considering the effect of the constraint on the design of the course.
1. Local information from the environment
Useful information to gather about the constraint is how much class time is available, how much time out of class could be given to learning, and what the goals of the course are
2. Research information
Useful research information would reveal what could be achieved within certain time periods. Pimsleur (1980), for example, presents estimates of the time taken to reach various levels of proficiency for learners of particular languages. The estimates are based on the idea that some languages are more difficult than others for native speakers of English to begin to learn.
3. The effect of the time constraint on the design of the course
An environmental constraint can be approached in two ways – working within the constraint, and overcoming the constraint. To work within the constraint the curriculum designer could limit the goals of the course to fit the available time. To overcome the constraint the curriculum designer might try to provide self-study options for work to be done outside of class time or if possible the time available for the course could be increased.
Steps in Environment Analysis
The steps in environment analysis can be as follows.
- Brainstorm and then systematically consider the range of environment factors that will affect the course. Table 2.1 can be used as a starting point.
- Choose the most important factors (no more than five) and rank them, putting the most important first.
- Decide what information you need to fully take account of the factor. The information can come from investigation of the environment and from research and theory.
- Consider the effects of each factor on the design of the course.
- Go through steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 again.
Environment analysis involves looking at the local and wider situation to make sure that the course will fit and will meet local requirements. There is considerable research data on many of the important environment factors, including class size, motivation, learners of mixed proficiency and special purpose goals. Good environment analysis draws on both analysis of the environment and application of previous research and theory. In some models of curriculum design, environment analysis is included in needs analysis.
Nation, I.S.P. and John Macalister. (2010). Language Curriculum Design. New York and London: Routledge.