Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Final Assignment Links/Peter Baker
Here's my list.
- 1 Context rather than Content is of primary importance.
- 2 Recursive Learning: Learning does not always happen in linear fashion.
- 3 Digital Divide: How long do we wait to implement these new technologies without waiting too long?
- 4 Who's Responsible? Who should be held accountable for making change happen? and Professionalizing the Teaching Profession: Teacher and Administrator Accountability and Effective Motivation
- 5 How School Policy Should be Influenced by Social Software
Context rather than Content is of primary importance.
In an era of accountability, content is being emphasized more than ever before. Students are being forced to learn concrete facts at the expense of abstract thought strategies. Likewise, teachers are forced to master the content of their specialty(ies) to such a degree that their other strengths are left out. Teachers don't get to hone their various skills, and students don't get the benefit of linking the diverse knowledge most teachers could offer in a better system.
The world is changing, (duh), and there is no way for us to predict with any level of certainty how the world will look when our students are fully-fledged members of the working world. Nonetheless, the system continues to force-feed its students arbitrarily determined content whose value is impossible to understand. The current focus on content reminds me of a "blind" wager in some gambling game.
The number one change issue in my book is context rather than content. As teachers, our first responsibility is to prepare our students for the world they will encounter after they leave our classroom. It seems to me that, since describing this future-world is impossible, teaching the students how to think and how to find information -- rather than exactly what information to know -- makes much more sense.
Recursive Learning: Learning does not always happen in linear fashion.
Today's education system, as we all know, very closely mirrors the education system of the distant past. Our society's scientific knowledge, on the other hand, does not. We are lucky enough to have vast knowledge of the human brain at our disposal. Likewise, our educational scholars have researched learning patterns and other pertinent areas of educational psychology and instructional methods to the point where best practices are no longer a matter of conjecture; educators know the right way to teach. Just the same, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and our educational system has followed this rule.
While many specific things need to change, one irrefutable fact stands above them all. This is my number two change issue -- learning is not linear. Learners need to progress at their own paces. A system which employs annual promotion or retention is irresponsible to our students, given all the knowledge the educational community has at its disposal. Another analogy, (since we all liked the last one so well): the current practices of the education system that ignore the fact that learning is recursive are a lot like, (but perhaps not quite as extreme as), principals handing their students cigarettes on the way into the building every morning!
If education leaders put the community's knowledge in practice once and for all, individualized learning programs would no longer be novelties but would be par for the course. Students could learn at their own pace. Specific reforms that come to mind are, as I mentioned before, a departure from the current model of annual promotion or retention, a modularized approach to knowledge mastery and a more flexible model of staffing and administering the schools. Learning theory has proved that learning takes place at different rates for different students. Once the community recognizes this fact, schools can begin to responsibly serve their students.
Digital Divide: How long do we wait to implement these new technologies without waiting too long?
Let me start by saying that I have no idea how to answer the question posed by my number three change issue. The digital divide is very very real, and I have no idea how to negotiate with it. I don't feel bad making this confession, because I get the distinct impression that nobody else knows how to deal with the digital divide either. We all know, to one degree or another, that it exists, but we rarely take the digital divide into consideration when it comes to decisions of technology implementation. In my work here at ODU, I've been guilty of the same negligence. Generally speaking, when educators get a bright idea for technology integration into curriculum, we do it without consideration of who may be disenfranchised by the implementation. The result has been that technology has not been used to its utmost potential in any educational setting. Likewise, students on the overwhelmingly rural, poor and non-white side of the digital divide go without the technologies the rest of us take for granted.
Some scholars claim that the digital divide is getting smaller. After all, more people have internet access today than they did five years ago. However, technological advances are outstripping these gains. New technologies are creating an equally intimidating new digital divide -- not between those with internet access and those without, but between those who can efficiently use technology and those who cannot. This is the divide which needs to be explored and traversed. As educators, we need to focus much of our resources on training young, newly "arrived" digital immigrants in the most effective ways possible. The world of the future is uncertain, but it is extremely likely that technology will play a very important role in this world. In order to give our students access to the opportunities they need and deserve, we cannot simply avoid technology. Rather, we must find ways to educate our students in and grant them access to sophisticated technology that is, at present, reserved for the wealthy.
My proposition is a common one. Many people make it, and no one has successfully made it work. We need to find a way to share our society's wealth. Welfare, as it currently stands, is not the answer. If society realized the degree to which the digital divide would shape the futures of its young people, more emphasis would be placed on this issue. My hope is that digital divide consciousness will bring about significant and wide-sweeping social change that our world has craved for centuries.
Who's Responsible? Who should be held accountable for making change happen? and Professionalizing the Teaching Profession: Teacher and Administrator Accountability and Effective Motivation
My number four change issue (like all my others) may as well be my number one. Accountability, even as it gains popularity as a buzzword, remains dangerously uncertain in the educational community today. It is unclear who is responsible for what, and as NCLB approaches its zenith, it's easy to predict some serious finger-pointing among some of the community's most powersful people.
As an individualistic American, I hate bureaucracy as much as the next guy, but I think that the educational community is in need of some. However, NCLB has proven that extrinsic regulation is not the answer. The answer seems clear. An organization of educational high-ups needs to be formed to develop some accountability system within the community. Teachers can no longer be blamed for bigger problems, and until an attempt is made to meet accountability head-on, such problems will be unavoidable.
On a more positive note, were accountability finally wrestled down, change could really happen. Passing the buck would no longer be tolerated, and real reforms could come to fruition rather than hanging in the vapor and eventually disappearing completely.
How School Policy Should be Influenced by Social Software
As social software becomes a larger part of our world (and that of our students), it becomes apparent that regulations will need to be adopted to ensure the safety of our students and to ensure the quality of their educational experiences.
Child pornography, digital bullying and identity theft pose real risks to all of us, especially our digital immigrants and children. These issues are being handled, but not quickly enough to effectively protect everyone at risk. Some major resources need to be geared toward figuring this issue out. On the other hand, schools have already limited student's access to various social software-type sites, and this censorship is creating a forbidden fruit mystique which may prove counter-productive. Rather than this type of reform, it seems to me that more thoughtful safeguards need to be devised. A spirit of shared responsibiltiy between the society and the schools would be a good starting point, but it goes without syaing that we are far from such a starting point, at least for now.
On the other side of the coin, social software presents us with many new educational opportunities. The wikis we've used here at ODU are prime examples. In an attempt to convert the nay-sayers (to cite yet another change issue), and in order to guarantee the quality of these new opportunities, research needs to be undertaken to address issues such as credibility and intellectual property rights. Without this research, social software will always be scorned by the conservative academics, and the potential benefits of social software can never be realized.