saudixpat’s Weblog

December 16, 2008

Changing Nature of Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 8:32 pm

Wow – my mind is spinning and I am having an epiphany. A Mind Bomb. I can see the education of the future, but instead of the future it is coming now. Buckle your seatbelts!

Articles from my Curriculum course included those by Huebner, Macdonald, and Apple, as well as earlier readings by Eisner, Pinar, and Kliebard. All have a dialectic which centers on who controls the model of education and the delivery of the content promulgated by that model. However, there is a new dialectic coming around the bend – and I am not sure if we are ready.

“The World is Flat” is a book by Thomas Friedman, about how a series of synergistic events have acted to flatten the world – the internet, workflow software, shared standards, google, wireless, virtual reality, and Web 2.0. are among the flatteners he discusses. This flattener effect to date has been largely economic, seeing any job that can be exported via technology or chopped up and the portions that can be done cheaper exported via technology to places such as Dalian, China or Bangalore, India.

I am not suggesting that teaching will be “chopped up” or exported using technology; however, as I progress through my courses and I work with my international project at and I read and explore more of the thinking in technology, I am beginning to see that the world of education and of curriculum and assessment (remember – all the activities associated with designing, delivering, and assessing student activities and learning) is going to be fundamentally changed.

Here is a challenge to you. Go into your school library. Ask to see the World Book Encyclopedia 2007. Oops – not there? Ask your librarian when they purchased their last encyclopedia set. If they have done so within the past two years I will be very surprised. The world is flattening and education is following along.

What will the political system do when it no longer fully controls the levers of education? Wikipedia is an example of this. Users share knowledge, this knowledge is vetted by a huge body of users with a vested interest in keeping the knowledge as accurate as possible, and it is accessed by millions of users every day. Do you know that globally Wikipedia is the 8th most accessed web site (Google, or its local version, is the number one accessed site in the world).

So what happens when textbooks become obsolete? What if instead of reading a textbook and anwering the questions in it, students were to research the information online (they do that now anyways) and post their understanding to a wiki, where other students in their class or in the class set at school then edit it to share their understanding and where students can discuss why they made the changes they did. What if our students’ understanding of a subject becomes a shared experience in which everybody’s voice has a chance to be heard? What if curriculum becomes a set of shared online resources rather than a textbook, teacher resource manual and reproducables and section tests?

Think it can’t happen? It is happening as we speak. Darren Kuropatwa, in Winnipeg, teaches high school math, mainly calculus and pre-calculus. His Pre-Cal 30S class compiled a blog using blogspot and assembled a directory of resources using, the social bookmaring site, to share common tags with the class. The class built a common curriculum centered around global resources available to anybody. The point is that learning became learner-centric and the teacher removed to the learning advisor.

How long have we heard about teachers moving to the “guide on the side” from the “sage on the stage” model? It was old when I was in university and that was quite awhile ago. However, at present, PATs (Provincial Achievement Tests) or other instruments make teachers accountable, meaning that if they aren’t great guides they better be super sages. That model is about to change again.

When the knowledge you need is online and not controlled by any one political or educational authority, who “slants” the knowledge to achieve the desired outomes in curriculum? Huebner argues that aesthetic and ethical value systems are important (but did you notice in the article, those were the two he implicitly said were NOT necessary, unlike technical, political and scientific?). In the age of online learning, ethics and aesthetics become more important. How do we teach students to make proper use of the information they find? How do we teach them critical reading skills to be able to interpret biases on web sites they come up against? How do we teach them to take the sum of knowledge and synthesize it into a thing of beauty, to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake? When knowledge and learning become part of the social environment, as well as the educational environment, I think we will begin to see a greater shift occur in learning. What outcomes will Alberta Learning mandate in the new flat world?

When we look at curriculum through the lens of Apple or Macdonald, we come across knowledge as the “product of an empirical-analytical methodology” (Macdonald, 1975, p. 286). Fast forward 33 years, and I think knowledge has taken on a new coat. Knowledge, while still maintaining its empirical-analytical thrust, is also folksonomical. In other words, knowledge has now become a shared reality bought into by a multitude of people linked together by common interest or interests.

Out of this model we have things such as Apache server software. It is empirical, but it is also by design public domain and FREE for all to use and alter, provided that they keep the result in the public domain and free for all to use. In other words, knowledge knows no legal borders BY DESIGN. When knowledge is freely available to be gleaned and shared, more and more people will add to and distribute it. That is the beauty of a wiki, or of Wikipedia, arguably the meta-wiki.

Macdonald also gives us three models of curriculum development (Macdonald, p. 292). The first is the linear-Expert model, where curriculum is initiated by experts and tried out, feedback given to the experts, the instruments refined, field tested and then implemented. However, what happens when curriculum is implemented by learners to reinforce or replace an existing curriculum – so that it overlays the curriculum in place but expands it to better meet the needs of the students.

The example I used before, that of Darren Kuropatwa, is again a perfect illstration of this. His students have overlayed the regular curriculum with a ‘net curriculum gleaned from a myriad of websites. While at this point there is a central resource, will the “text” of a course be necessary if al all the pieces are in aggregate online? That is yet to be determined, but I can see a time coming when control over the knowledge of curriculum is shared between users worldwide rather than concentrated in a special group in a particular geographic location.

Macdonald’s second model is that of Circular-Consensus model, where the local staff of schools are developing curriculum with the experts on call. If this is a current model, the future model might well be local staff of a province developing curriculum using wikis as a development and refinement tool. When everbody can contribute and have their say, and the group mind moderates to correct for bias or inaccuracies, then you begin to have a truly global curriculum that better meets the needs of all practicioners and which certainly allows everybody a greater chance of mastery, which one would think could only improve student performance. Now what happens when “local” happens to be experts bound together by a common software program, a common goal, and shared outcomes, all relating to curriculum in a global sense? It is happening now in global collaborative education projects.

The last model is also more of a flat earth model, that of the dialogical. Leaders (teachers) would identify student leaders in Friere’s model (Macdonald, p. 293); however, based on what I see happening with my students in the Flat Classrom Project, student leaders would quickly self-identify themselves. Curriculum through dialogue on a global scale, as opposed to a local scale, will be an increasing trend of the flattening world.

All of these changes relates to what Apple calls the “deskilling of teaching” (Apple, 2003, p. 183). I argue that rather than “deskilling” the changing paradigm of teaching which has started will entrail the “re-skilling” of teachers. I can see the day coming when teachers hired for our school will be given a guidebook on using wikis, blogs, social networking, and RSS in education and be expected to utilize these tools in their curiculum. Teachers who can apply these tools to curriculum and attendant artifacts will be in demand; teachers who can’t will not.

As knowledge goes global, education must by necessity follow. The tools are available today – right now – but their application to education has only begun. The emergence of student-authored knowledge will make Apple’s insistance on the politic of the text book and whose reality is encapsulates a moot point or at the least ameliorate its truth. Control of textbooks will become more and more irrelevent as education curriculum moves away from that model and into the post-textbook world.

Rather than be scared by the emerging reality of teaching, I think it is a time to be excited. There is so much happening out there to change curriculum for the better and for the benefit of our students. This is an exciting time to be a teacher, isn’t it?

I am really looking forward to your thoughts on this. I know I haven’t expressed myself as well as I wanted to – but it is the message that is the real hook here. I honestly believe we are on the cusp of a fundamental change; one, incidentally, that will be embraced by government because it is a cost-cutter. Imagine being able to do away with physical textbooks, with the administrivia of dealing with textbooks, the physical component of storing textbooks, and finding the money to pay for textbooks.

Hang on – the ride has already started!

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  1. Hi Bruce,
    I enjoyed reading your impassioned thoughts on the changing nature of education. You’ve expressed yourself very well. I wonder how we’ll all manage to get through this latest financial crisis. Are textbooks not cheaper than computers? I can already hear the school boards’ belts tightening around educational funding issues. Hopefully this will not cause us to take steps backwards. Do those who control the finances really understand that we need to move education forward into the 21st century?

    I’m glad you’ve used fellow Winnipegger, Darren Kuropatwa, as an example of great things that are happening in schools today. Although I wasn’t fortunate to hear him speak live at our latest province-wide inservice, I did hear him being interviewed on the radio on the same day and I was totally blown away by the creative things he’s doing with Web 2.0 in his classroom. This is the type of education my sons would love. Unfortunately they are in a school where little engagement with technology is happening and it’s difficult to keep them fired up about going to school each day. My younger son came home today with a letter for me to sign to say that it was okay for him to take part in an digital storytelling “enrichment” activity that would take him out of class two periods a week. I feel sorry for those that weren’t asked to participate. Shouldn’t they all get the chance to develop their digital storytelling skills? Those that need it the most are probably the ones left behind. Sad to think but true.

    Thanks for an inspiring post.


    Comment by Jo-Anne — December 17, 2008 @ 5:56 am | Reply

    • Hi Jo-Anne,

      glad to see you are continuing to monitor the blogosphere since the course ended. Darren’ ‘imprint’ is all over the net and he has expanded what he has done with Web 2.0. I think that the interactive model with students ‘building’ support structures through the ‘net. It is so cool to see. As for the belt tightening, most schools have the equipment now to do what needs to be done. With computer penetration approaching 90% and the increased availability of computer/intrenet services at local libraries this is not as huge an issue as it sounds. You do not need anywhere near 1/1 student/computer ratio to pull it off. What you do need are tech-savvy staff, trianing (this is key) and the will to do so.
      I am fortunate enough to be in an international school where technology has come to the forefront and the belief in using technology and in training is very apparent. Lucky me. How sad about the fact that the majority of students cannot participate in the project. Perhaps the sponsor teacher or class teacher should be introduced to Voicethread? LOL I really like things such as that, because the ones whose voices never get heard finally have an equal chance. Communication also isn’t so writing-centered, which frees up students to focus on the message (voice, doodles, and video) rather than the form of the message

      Comment by sibertiger — December 17, 2008 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  2. I’m a retired teacher. Some of my students were very bright and self-motivated; divergent thinkers, if you will. I loved using the Socratic method w/ these kids, and when you describe the interactions that might take place if education got off its duff and challenged teachers to be creative, like the teacher you described (I’m writing from California), it’s almost comparable to a spin-off and improvement on the Socratic method, w/o the teacher being in charge, but who would ask the questions that then elicit students asking the questions. The teacher could function as a guide I found your posting to be mind-stretching. Thanks and please let your voice be heard.

    Comment by Eloise Haldeman — December 17, 2008 @ 10:32 am | Reply

    • Hi Eloise,

      interesting feedback. I am a big fan of direct questioning with student feedback to help them find their way to the answer. I think that teachers wil always be necessary (in Thomas’ Friedman’s eyes, teaching is a local resource that at this point is hard to outsource. As my friends point out, part of the role of education is socialization, which means a central facility and some shared activities/experiences. I am thinking that school might be downsized and the nature of what teachers do changing, except at elementary school). So there will still be teachers to ask questions and lead students through a process, but Ialso suspect that there will increasingly be an onus on students to ask their own questions within the context of the learning experience.

      I am still trying to wrap my brain around the model and what it looks like. It is just so dfferent in many ways than what we have done in the past, just as how the world works today is very different than the past (isnt technology amazing?).

      Comment by sibertiger — December 17, 2008 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t see education being much different at the elementary level. In fact, when I taught at a K to 9 school, it was the teachers of younger students who used the inquiry method the most. By the time students get to junior high (gr. 7, 8 and 9) there is a lot less inquiry-based teaching going on. Is this because teachers feel they have to cover everything on the curriculum so they don’t have time to let students develop their own questions? I highly recommend a book by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwanncalled “Q Tasks” which educates teachers on how to develop questioning skills in students. Her theory is that if students aren’t questioning, there is very little learning and thinking going on.


    Comment by Jo-Anne — December 19, 2008 @ 4:35 am | Reply

  4. Eloise

    I was clearly one of your ‘divergent thinkers’ and you changed my life! You ‘got me’ when nobody else did and it STILL makes a huge difference. I live in NYC now but come to LA every few weeks and would love to connect. my info is on…and I’m listed!

    Doug Denoff!

    Comment by douglas denoff — February 7, 2009 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

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