Online Degrees Blog Heidi Hallman, Chair, Department of Curriculum and Teaching

Exploring Curriculum and Instruction with Department Chair Heidi Hallman, Ph.D.

14 March

Heidi Hallman, Ph.D., has always been concerned with the student experience and how instructors can work to meet the needs of diverse groups. Hallman, Chair and Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas (KU), is passionate about the evolution of the program to stay relevant for the sake of educators of all types. “We built this program in 2013 and 2014 and it was a great opportunity to think about program development and what teachers need,” she said, referencing the online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction which offers specialties in reading and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).* “I really felt like KU was innovative in creating these online programs and setting up students from all subdisciplines to get a lot out of them.”

Eager to improve education for all

Hallman started her career as a high school English teacher and became interested in students who were disengaged from or disaffected toward school. She returned to the University of Wisconsin, where she had studied as an undergrad, to earn both her master’s and doctorate degrees. “My dissertation was a study of the curriculum and learning at an alternative high school for pregnant and parenting teens,” Hallman shared, “I learned a lot about engagement and student motivation, especially for students who were considered not traditionally suited for the mainstream schools.”

Originally hired as a professor of English, Hallman continues to pursue her research interests like the sociocultural theories of language and literacy and social contexts of language and literacy development as the Chair of Curriculum and Teaching. For one of her projects, Hallman is currently collaborating on a book about creating equitable classroom practices in higher education for students. Hallman also serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Teacher Education, the premier journal of the field. Hallman says she thrives on the connections she develops from this work and enjoys reviewing manuscripts from all around the world learning about new teacher education programs and innovations. “I’ve always been interested in teacher professional learning and teacher professional development,” Hallman said, “Through this work, I've been exposed to some of these new developments and then can think about how to introduce those in my courses with my own students.”

KU’s well-rounded approach to curriculum and teaching

The University of Kansas Curriculum and Instruction program has three distinct tracks to choose from: a general track, a reading track, and a TESOL track. “I think each course really uniquely builds a particular aspect of classroom and school practice, and educators really grow in their abilities through these courses,” said Hallman. She extols the strength of the specialty tracks of reading and TESOL for students interested in those subspecialties but also praises the general track for its breadth and depth of content.

“Our general program is really interesting because I think it gives students exposure to a variety of topics and courses,” Hallman explained. One of those courses, Differentiating Curriculum & Instruction, is designed for educators interested in expanding their coursework to accommodate diverse learners in the K-12 classroom. “Differentiation is something that educators always do,” Hallman explained, “They have students of different abilities, students with different needs, and so they learn how to differentiate content and also the instructional delivery for different students. But sometimes they're doing this kind of tacitly, they're in their classroom and they know they're doing it, but they often don't have a foundation or a framework for thinking about differentiation,” she said. “I think this course ends up being one of the favorites of many of our students because it gives them a framework to think about differentiation, but also gives them the practical strategies to take back to their classroom.”

Merging theory with practice

The dual commitment to theory and application is the backbone of the entire KU curriculum and instruction program. “The KU online program is really built with attention to the theoretical foundation and frameworks of each course and each topic and each field of study,” Hallman said, “From there, there's a lot of practical application to the classroom or school context. Students are going to be able to see the connection between theory and practice in each course and develop that over the 30 credit hours.”

The curriculum and instruction master’s is for educators who want to dig deep and lead with intention and aren’t just looking for a quick fix to their students’ challenges. “We're not just giving educators a collection or a collage of techniques or classroom tricks or anything like that,” Hallman emphasizes, “We're meeting the students in the foundation in order to build the practices from there. In education, we think of the theory and practice merging, and this is really how I think of our courses, is that each course has a framework, a theoretical foundation, and from there students are encouraged to think about how practices engage with that foundation.”

“As a research institution,” Hallman explained, “KU is poised to give you the depth that you might seek in a course or a program of study. And that that depth really will prepare you to engage deeply with your own practice and ask questions about your practice that are not superficial or that have easy answers, but really are built on with a spirit of reflection about practice and a spirit that engages with current practices and knowledge as well as the foundations in the field of education.”

To further highlight the applicable learnings from the program, one of the final courses in the KU online master’s in curriculum and instruction is a master’s portfolio project that Hallman said allows students to synthesize the knowledge they gained throughout each course in the program. “It helps them to think about how they've changed, how they've grown, how their practice has changed, and maybe what new ideas they've come away with,” she said. “I find it very meaningful to see how students enter our programs at the start, and then they continue to learn and evolve in their understanding of practices that they can take to their classrooms and schools.”

At the University of Kansas, faculty including Hallman are committed to providing instruction with the same intentionality they hope their students will learn from the coursework. “We have faculty here who are well published, who have carefully built these courses to take into account recent developments in their field of study,” Hallman said, “We are looking at courses that are balanced in their presentation of materials to include not only the history of a field, but also how that history has shifted over time to include recent developments.”

Bringing best practices to online learning

The strengths of KU’s School of Education and Human Sciences reach beyond course content. Built by experts in pedagogy and conscientious educators, the online experience for students in the curriculum and instruction master’s is designed to meet the needs of working professionals while embedding them in a well-rounded academic experience.

“While asynchronous classes can be great for working educators, there's also opportunities for interaction built into our programs,” Hallman explained, “Students have discussions with each other, students post videos, create voice threads and post their responses for others to engage with in a way that really brings out a collaborative spirit with the cohort of students in the class. You're not just going to be doing the work in a solitary way for an instructor to read, but there will be opportunities to engage with your peers in learning throughout the program.”

As educators know, one of the best reasons to have peer-to-peer interaction is to learn from others and gain different perspectives, something Hallman says is a natural aspect of the KU curriculum and instruction courses. “It is not uncommon for us to have students who are at the beginning of their teaching careers, maybe in years one through five, who want to keep learning and developing their practice and add to that knowledge base,” Hallman explained, “But also learning alongside them are veteran educators who have been in their classroom for maybe 12 to 20 years who have tried and true practices, but they also want recent developments in the field. They want to reinvigorate their practice. Many of these students at different career stages are then able to share with each other.”

A unique benefit to online learning is not only to learn from professionals at different career stages but who teach in entirely different countries. Hallman said that KU often sees students who teach internationally, “Especially in our TESOL program, we've had students who work in unique settings, perhaps in schools in other countries where they're working with students where English is not their first language,” she explained. “These students are able to bring those unique learning experiences to bear in their conversations about curriculum instruction and just generally how the context within the country they're teaching in has bearing on their work. Through these discussions, we really see a richness grow within each person's ability to describe what goes on in their teaching context.”

“I think sometimes people have a connotation of online programs as very static or very solitary,” Hallman said, “But I think seeing the meaningful interaction in our online programs, actually makes me think that they can be in some ways more robust than face-to-face classes. We have educators of all backgrounds doing this together. So they're taking not only their experience, but they're listening to others and synthesizing how they can learn from others and take that back to their context as well.”

Choose a program that will make a difference to your career

What advice does Hallman have for any teachers considering furthering their own education?

“Think wisely about the quality of a program,” she says. “As educators we are often in a space where we're asked to make a lot of decisions quickly and execute those things quickly. But a program for a graduate degree really sets up your future career and your future success with your students. If you can engage with a program that's really built well, has strong foundations, has strong research included in it, you'll be set up to think about those things continually as an educator moving forward in your career.”

The University of Kansas School of Education and online Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction are both Top 20 ranked programs for a reason.1,2 Led by expert faculty who ground their practice in research, any path you choose with KU will help you grow as an educator and build a vast network of peers including experts like Hallman. For more information about the master’s in curriculum and instruction, schedule a call with an Admissions Advisor.

*The department offers an online Master of Science in Education degree in curriculum and instruction with three individual emphasis area options: general curriculum and instruction; reading education; or teaching English to speakers of other languages.