Transforming Curriculum

It’s a little on the long side, but here is my final paper for my EDCI 532 course. 

Transforming Curriculum

The field of education has often been compared to a pendulum swinging. In the course of their careers, educators witness swings in pedagogy, methodology and curriculum from the academic, memorization side to the opposing open learning, open concept side. The pendulum of curriculum, however, has a new dramatic addition to consider. The digital age in which society now finds itself, is acting as a catalyst for major changes in curriculum the world over. The content rich, knowledge based curriculum of the past 100 years, is no longer fully applicable to the world students now exist in.  Beliefs about education that were first documented in the early 20th century are being brought into focus to help transform curriculum into a process oriented system, meant to keep up with the rapidly changing technology of the 21st century. The principles of education which are fundamental to all learners from K-12 need to be considered in curriculum changes. These principles include that learning requires active participation of the student, that learning is both an individual and a group process, and that people learn in a variety of ways, and at different rates (B.C. Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 12).

Curriculum is Student Centered

In 1929, John Dewey penned his Pedagogic Creed. Within it, Dewey repeatedly references the need for schools to focus on the interests of the student and on the priority to create real life learning for children.  Curricular changes in the 21st century should allow for these student interests to flourish, should transform the idea of the “More Knowledgeable Other”, and should teach the new literacies emerging from digital technologies.

It has been almost 100 years since Dewey made the connection between student interest, engagement and real world scenarios, yet the need for this focus remains today.  The Premier’s Technology Council report, A Vision for 21st Century Education, (2010) echoes Dewey’s thoughts by claiming “There is a great deal of evidence that students remain more interested in their education if the content is relevant and current. It ensures they are properly engaged in the learning process” (p. 15).  The digital world students are experiencing cannot be isolated from the school environment where they spend their days. Pre-Kindergarten students are already considered digital natives and are entering school with knowledge of digital technologies. Educators and curriculum cannot avoid using technology in classrooms while it is such an integral part of society. Students of all ages are interested in digital learning, and curriculum can no longer be blind to the digital age.

Curriculum, as it is being rewritten for the 21st century, also needs to change from a teacher directed, teacher led style of lesson to a more student focused and student directed style of learning. Vygotsky’s traditional idea of a “More Knowledgeable Other” being a teacher or adult standing in front of a group of students delivering wisdom, is transforming to one where students take pride in their expertise and share their knowledge with others. Technology is one way to aid this shift in thinking. Megan Cicconi (2014) wrote, “Technology now transcends its previous isolative barriers and acts as a conduit for collaboration learning –simultaneously transforming typical students into their peers’ more knowledgeable others” (p. 58). Technology aids students in becoming the more knowledgeable other by providing access to information and collaboration due to the availability and accessibility of the virtual world. It also provides opportunities for introverted or seemingly underachieving students to develop a voice (Attonacci et al., 2008, as cited in Cicconi, 2014, p. 58).

The change to a more student centered curriculum needs to address the new literacies that are being developed in the digital age. Traditionally print and media literacy has been the main source of information in schools. The digital age is creating a new type of literacy, often referred to as digital literacy, which helps to create digital citizenship.  The paper, New Literacies for Digital Citizenship (Simsek & Simsek, 2013) provides a variety of theories and skills considered to be digital literacies. Among these are “information literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, communication literacy, visual literacy, technology literacy” (Covello, 2010, as cited in Simsek &Simsek, 2013, p. 128). These new digital literacy skills must be included in curriculum to help all students understand the digital citizenship and responsibility which accompanies the digital age. Educators are tasked with helping to create responsible citizens, and that now extends to developing responsible digital citizens. As Faith Rogow (2002, as cited in Alper, 2013) writes,

     We don’t wait until children are capable of deciphering the intricacies of a Toni Morrison novel before introducing them to the alphabet. It makes no more sense to wait until children are developmentally able to fully comprehend media messages before introducing them to media literacy skills. To the contrary, if we see media literacy as vital to life in the “Digital Age,” then we should begin the acquisition of that literacy as early as possible. (p. 188)

Curriculum is Collaboration Based

There has been a renewal, in recent years, of the word collaboration in educational circles. The curriculum of the digital age requires a component of collaboration to support student success in life. As collaboration is often described as a process of working with others to produce or create something, students must develop their skills in socialization and higher order thinking

Many educators and curriculum guides stress the importance of socialization in early childhood programs, but as students grow, socialization and communication skills are given less teaching time. In our current digital age, technology allows for communication and socialization for all students, across all ages. One of the goals of the K-12 system is to have students “access and engage with their own content, at their own pace of learning and take an increasing role in charting a path best suited to those talents, interests and abilities”, (BC Premier’s Technology Council, 2010, p. 2). Although individualized learning appears very solitary, Alper (2013) notes, “as learning becomes more individual, it also becomes more social” (Weigel et al., 2009 as cited in Alper, 2013, p. 178). Students require a curriculum that allows the freedom to work with others in person, online and through a variety of means. Students who are introverted, have language deficits or anxiety may benefit from online interaction with peers rather than face to face. Blended learning environments in the future will allow for this type of online socialization to occur.

The development of higher level thinking skills should also be included in curricular change through real world scenarios and collaboration. In the mass media market students live in, critical higher level thinking skills are needed to “allow users of online information to understand that the biases of authors and the selection of appropriate sources play important roles in the validity of information” (Premier’s Technology Council, 2010, p. 10).  Through various apps and programs online and on mobile devices, students are encouraged to work together to create, analyze, and assess their own learning as well as the learning of their peers.  This can be done with students as young as pre-Kindergarten all the way to Grade 12.  Cicconi (2014) explains that the use of technology even in early childhood classes can demonstrate that “technology simultaneously ushers the tasks of creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying through collaboration into the classroom” (p. 64).

Curriculum is Active

Education systems have traditionally held the belief that students should be seated at a desk, table, or carpet area where they silently soak up knowledge from their teacher. In order for students to become knowledgeable regarding the process of learning, curriculum and methodology require a transformation to a more active, creative, process oriented classroom model. Curricular changes should embody the idea of encouraging the whole child, not just the academic, and must allow for students to ask questions and investigate their thinking.

Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED talk in 2006, declared that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy.” Students enter school with a wide variety of talents, passions and interests. Curriculum that seeks to stifle the creative side of students will inhibit their curiosity and their sense of inquiry.  In A Vision for 21st Century Education, (B.C. Premier’s Technology Council, 2010) the council observed that “the children of tomorrow, indeed the students of today, will have to be flexible enough to adapt to an incredible pace of change” (p. 7). Curriculum in the 21st century should allow for student growth to be messy and non-linear. Students are already using technology to create content rich videos, collages, and more to document their learning process outside of the school community. Curriculum must allow students the opportunity to “generate new ideas and concepts, to see information in a different way from others, and to approach issues from a different direction than others” (B.C. Premier’s Technology Council, 2010, p. 10). If education is to truly encompass the divergent nature of intelligence, curriculum must reflect the diversity. As Sir Ken Robinson states, “we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement” (2006). A curriculum that incorporates and encourages creativity will allow for innovative citizens.

Curriculum for all students in the K-12 system should reflect the importance of play based or inquiry based learning. A major focus in early childhood curriculum is the importance of play and, in the younger years, students are provided with many opportunities to explore their world. Educators of young students know that during active play, children develop communication, self-regulation and academic skills. Curriculum should include a version of play for all students in the form of inquiry based learning; this will look different for the various developmental levels of K-12 learners. In the older years, technological play within inquiry affords older students opportunities to use their creative talents to build on their “innate curiosity and sense of wonder” (B.C. Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 19). Inquiry based learning allows the development of many other curricular areas mentioned, including student interest, creativity, collaboration and higher order thinking skills.

The focus of curriculum for many years has been content oriented. Students learn facts for an exam, essay or presentation and then quickly forget what they have learned. In the information rich world of the digital age, the focus of curriculum should now be on the process of learning, rather than the content.  The idea that information is at the tip of one’s fingers negates the need to memorize mindless facts. Learning skills to succeed in the changing 21st century world is “important because the content relevant to a student’s interests is constantly changing and growing” (B.C. Premiers Technology Council, 2010, p. 15). Allowing students an opportunity to discuss how they mastered a concept or developed a theory gives them the chance to evaluate their own learning and to grow from it.

Conclusion

Three principles of learning are at the core of curricular change in the 21st century. The draft curriculum by the B.C. Ministry of Education includes the ideas that education requires active student participation, that learning can be individual or social, and that students learn differently. Each of these principles validates a use for technology in schools, as technology is part of the everyday lives of students. Technology acts as a collaborative tool, invoking creativity, socialization and problem solving skills for students of all ages and abilities. Educators need to prepare students to be responsible citizens and to embrace the fast paced changes of the digital world. The students of the 21st century must acquire the flexibility and creativity to thrive and succeed in an unknown future, for, as Jean Luc Picard said, “That is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are.” (Berman & Baird, 2002)

References

Alper, M. (2013). Developmentally appropriate new media literacies: Supporting cultural competencies and social skills in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(2), 175-196. doi:10.1177/1468798411430101

Berman, R. (Producer), & Baird, S. (Director). (2002). Star trek: Nemesis. [Motion Picture] United States: Paramount Puctures.

British Columbia. Ministry of Education. (2010). Full day kindergarten program guide. Victoria, B.C: Ministry of Education.

British Columbia. Premier’s Technology Council. (2010). A vision for 21st century education: Premier’s technology council. Victoria, B.C.: Premier’s Technology Council.

British Columbia. Ministry of Education. (2012). BC’s education plan. Victoria, B.C: British Columbia Ministry of Education.

Cicconi, M. (2014). Vygotsky meets technology: A reinvention of collaboration in the early childhood mathematics classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42(1), 57-65. doi:10.1007/s10643-013-0582-9

Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34 – 41). New York: Routledge.

Robinson, K. (2006, June). Sir Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission, 4(3), 126-137.

 

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One thought on “Transforming Curriculum

  1. jane okeeffe says:

    Well done, my friend. Love the Picard quote. We all need to focus a bit more on the creative aspects of learning, and making ourselves ‘more than we are’.

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