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?

It’s better at home: One contributor to why ICT integration in schools sucks

I’ve come home early today from my new job within a Faculty of Education at a University. Entirely because the quality of the technology I have at home far exceeds the quality of the technology I have at work. The following suggests that this little anecdote highlights one of the contributing factors as to why the quantity and quality of ICT integration in schools is less than good.

Some consensus?

There seems to be broad consensus that the quantity and quality of the use of Information and Communication Technologies within schools (and I’ll add universities) sucks. Sure, there are some really brilliant work being done by a lot of talented educators, but those contributions form but a very small percentage of the overall education system.

There is also broad consensus that the quantity and quality of ICT integration must significantly improve. The Australian government is apparently spending $2 billion dollars to achieve this, a not insignificant amount. We have to be ready for the digital world.

The wrong end of the stick?

As part of that funding Australia has the Teaching Teachers for the Future project.

aimed at enabling all pre-service teachers at early, middle and senior levels to become proficient in the use of ICT in education

As always there are some good people doing some good work in this project.

But it also seems to be fundamentally flawed.

I’ve heard the rationale for the TTF explained this way:

  • It’s obvious that ICT integration in schools sucks.
  • It’s obvious that new teachers (as well as existing ones) are somewhat sucky at using ICTs.
  • Hence there must be flaws with the preparation new teachers are receiving at University.
  • So, we need to fix this

    by building the ICTE capacity of teacher educators and developing online resources to provide rich professional learning through exemplar packages. The project involves all 39 Australian teacher education institutions.

I don’t deny that there may be some flaws with the preparation new teachers are receiving at University. In fact, I’m likely to create some of those flaws in my new job.

But having a special project with additional funding to create exemplars is not going to create a long term transformation.

Limitations of the school/university environment

One of the reasons it won’t create long-term transformation is that it will do little to change the environment within the institutions. An environment within institutions which is struggling to keep up with what is happening outside.

For example, I’ve just been employed as an academic in an Education faculty. I’ve been employed with a focus on ICT integration. I’ve been employed at a time when the Government is spending $2+ billion dollars on the Digital Education Revolution (including the TTF) and when my new university has a mantra of “digital first” (i.e. when designing learning experiences think about digital experiences first, rather than on-campus etc first).

Given this context, you might expect that the ICT resources provided to academic staff would be designed to engage with the demands of the broader context.

But no, the technology I provide myself at home is better than what is available at work

  • At work I have a Windows Desktop PC with a MOE that includes an out of date version of IE. I can only work with this machine in my office.
  • At home I have a Mac Powerbook with all the latest software and all my papers, data, software etc. It goes with me whenever and where ever I need it. Including to work where I use it instead of the Windows PC.
  • At work I have a network connection for which the Twitter URL shortener (http://t.co) is blocked. Hence I can’t easily follow all the useful resources my tweeps share.
  • At home I have a network connection that is as fast as the one at work, but without the filtering.
  • At work I make do with 17″ Dell monitors that struggle to output a horizontal resolution of 1200. It’s an ergonomic nightmare when the monitor at your eye level has a worse resolution than your laptop screen below eye level. You either make do with restricted screen space or a cricked neck.
  • At home I have a 24″ Apple Cinema display that will do a horizontal resolution of 1900. Something that makes all the difference when you’re reading and writing papers, websites, blogs etc.

When such a gap exists between what is happening within an educational institution and what is happening outside, it must have ramifications.

If ICT integration is so important, why do I have better tech at home?

Better provided tech or a paradigm shift?

The “solution” to this problem doesn’t necessarily mean that the mean stingy university should give me better technical tools. This might be an indicator of a change in paradigm. Rather than assuming that the university has to provide me with all my technology, perhaps it’s time for the university to work with the technology I already have.

I don’t think that the paradigm shift has happened yet, but the whole BYOT/BYOD movement is starting to be suggested of one likely future.

Either way, there appears to be a gap.