Curriculum innovation as an educational technology trend

Came across this post titled “Five Trends to Watch in Education Technology” via Stephen Downes’ OLDaily. In particular, I was really drawn to trend #1 – the Curriculum. In particular, because it connects with some ideas that have burbling away for the least week or so sparked by some questions from a colleague.

Rob Reynolds’ take on Curriculum as a trend includes

Across education, the very notion of curriculum is changing in a number of ways. We are seeing a shift to newer literacies and are even beginning to entertain significant changes to what core content needs to be taught/learned. There is certainly a growing realization that curricula today must be more flexible and open, and that the idea of fixed/static bodies of important information to be taught no longer works.

I’m currently teaching a course that aims to help K12 teachers figure out how they are going to use Information and Communication Technologies in their teaching. It’s a fairly standard University course. It has a set textbook. A weekly schedule. A set curriculum. A couple of large assignments. A course website.

Within context/constraint there have been a few interesting innovations, but it’s all still constrained by the curriculum which is fairly set. It’s week 6 we must be covering “Topic X”.

I just don’t see this rigidity fitting nicely with the notion of a “more flexible and open” curricula.

Curriculum/student mismatch

It doesn’t help that the current curricula approach doesn’t really fit the needs of the students.

There are almost 300 students in this course this term. 120 of them entirely online. Around the same number are split between three different campuses. The next offering will have 100+ students, all of them online.

These students are split across a number of teaching specialisations, including: Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary (including various disciplinary specialisations), and Vocational Education and Training (VET). What it means to use ICTs in early childhood is entirely different in a VET context.

The students come with very different backgrounds in technology – ranging from ex-IT professionals through to “it breaks if I touch it” – and a broad array of ages. See the following graph that shows the age distribution.

age Distribution

In addition, the course is nominally a 3rd year course. Which suggests you can assume that the students have two years of study toward an education degree under their belt. Of course, this is not the case. With exemptions/bridging etc there are some students for whom this is their first course at University.

Given all this diversity it really isn’t all that possible to design a single path through a set curriculum that is going to be appropriate for all these students.

Double loop learning and constructive alignment

Current accepted practice within higher education courses is something along the lines of constructive alignment. I, as the expert, identify the outcomes the students should achieve. I then design assessments and activities that enable the students to develop and demonstrate those outcomes. As typically implemented this approach is the opposite of a “more flexible and open” curriculum. All students are expected to work towards the same goals, often using the same sequence of activities to get there.

Over recent years the Australian higher education sector – with its growing diversity of multiple campuses and alternate delivery modes – has faced requirements to demonstrate that all students are gaining an equivalent learning experience. The tendency has been for equivalence to be reduced to consistent learning experience. Further driving out any notion of a “more flexible and open” curriculum.

A couple of days ago I blogged about a talk given by Gardner Campbell. In it he references Naughton’s From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and his discussion of “double-loop” learning

it is not enough for managers to adjust their behaviour in response to feedback on the success of their actions relative to pre-established targets; they also need to reflect on the appropriateness, in the light of unfolding events, of the assumptions (the mental model) used to set up those actions and targets

Substitute “learners” for “managers” and you have some idea of what I’ve been thinking about. Is it possible/plausible/desirable for a University course to have a “more flexible and open” curriculum that seeks to encourage and enable double-loop learning amongst the students?

Is it possible to break university managers etc out of the viewpoint that “innovation” around teaching and learning isn’t just about doing the old curriculum with the new technology, but is instead about developing new conceptions of what curriculum could be?

7 thoughts on “Curriculum innovation as an educational technology trend

  1. David –

    This is why I look forward to your blogs. You are indeed a forward thinker. I can see some of the objections folks will make. “How can we assign grades when students are doing their own thing?” “It would make the instructor’s job impossible.” “The course design would end up a great big monster.”

    What you’re proposing, then, is the destruction of an entire milieu of current practices. Tough going, but I do believe it is eventually inevitable. As they say about Americans, we end up doing the right thing only after we’ve tried everything else.


    1. G’day Kevin,

      Thanks for the comments, though I don’t think that particular disease is limited to Americans. It’s taken me long enough to see some of this, recent experience has helped.

      Translating some vague ideas into action is a whole other question, but the context in which I find myself is probably as good as it gets. So we’ll see.


  2. What are your thoughts relative to teacher training? We have a lot of focus on the technology, however, educational tech and tech in general is becoming more and more user-friendly. The bigger challenge may be with the curriculum and pedagogical changes that teachers have to adjust to.

    1. Rhett, thanks for the question/comment.

      Not sure what context you are talking about in terms of teacher training. The teacher training that I know of hasn’t had much of a focus on the technology. In fact, the course I teach has only just been brought back into the program and from what I’ve seen of the students and their capabilities, it would appear to be needed

      That’s not to say the course is focused solely on the technology. Its purpose is more providing a space within which the pre-service teachers can figure out how and why they will start integrating technology into their teaching. The course is increasingly using the TPACK framework as a sense-making device for this. The focus on merging their technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge, or at least starting to.

  3. Pingback: Curriculum innovation as an educational technology trend | #classroomtech |

  4. Pingback: Curriculum innovation as an educational technology trend | One Change a Day

  5. Pingback: #Change11 #CCK12 Technology and design in teaching | Learner Weblog

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