“Rethinking the Curriculum for Interesting Times”

I’ve just left the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery Programme meeting, a 2 day event held in sunny Manchester. Several people may post about the overall meeting, but I thought I’d post some of my thoughts about some of the issues I found interesting amongst the wealth of knowledge and ideas that were discussed, and to focus on one session in particular.

Today (Day 2) kicked off with a stimulating presentation: “Rethinking the Curriculum for Interesting Times” by Keri Facer, Professor of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University. Professor Facer is not directly involved in the Programmes, but was invited to discuss current issues and trends which may impact on the concerns focussed upon within the programmes. This session included a recent history and overview of children’s technology use and expectations, and how technology has become commonplace in all aspects of life. Prof Facer then went on to challenge traditional perceptions of using technology in education and discussed the informal and formal aspects and blurring of these boundaries.

One statement that perhaps resonated with many working in this area was the statement that there is often a missing notion of pedagogy in the introduction of technology in an educational setting– and gave an example of when those in a school were asked why they had bought several hundred mobile devices for students, the reply was “we just think it will be good.”!

Prof Facer pointed to the hugely complex education environment in which children are growing up, making the transition through various strategies and modes of delivery. Not many people are aware of aims of the country’s national curriculum or it’s key aims (which include nurturing responsible citizens, who are confident and effective learners). Also, with the role of parents and their input into education and supporting their children, she argued that we need to think about big picture; micro managing doesn’t work.

Prof Facer gave a whirlwind tour of the technological developments and some nuggets gleamed from her research about the pervasiveness of technology in the home and the differences in expectations and skills from the younger generation. She noted that there are now 2 almost wholly online schools in the UK, stating that ‘distance matters less, geography still counts’ and we need to be focussed much more on the individual rather than the institution.

I found of interest the statement that the “ability to think long term is correlated with socio economic status” – positing that the traditional model of careers guidance often doesn’t work and there is a need for effective mentoring that is lifelong and supports learners through various transitions.

Another stance that was novel was the idea of “Managing diversity as a resource rather than a problem” and I think the approaches to this will hopefully be refreshing and fascinating to see to say the least. Prof Facer argues that this is going to be critical; “Personalisation has huge drawback in that it allows you to exist in the world you already had, the encounter with new people can take you to new places” which may be tangential to statements about personalisation in the past. The new horizons should indeed be an exciting and engaging experience, and merely replicating the traditional models does not do justice to the potentials afforded by both the new technologies and any potential new pedagogies.

The presentation explored a number of approaches and ideas for the future of education, warning that We should think about what the ‘do nothing’ option would lead to. This includes the importance of critical thinking; perhaps school could be more about conformance and university more about higher thinking. We need to support thinking about issues and situations rather than content delivery. Non traditional learners may be a massive growth area; Prof Facer argued that there is a social justice in looking an non traditional university students rather than focussing on an elite few. She stated that education needs to rediscover the dialogue with which the community learning is focussed on, many lessons can be learned from such approaches.

One thought I had never heard articulated in such a context was that our model of adult-child relations is in question, that the current one has only been around since end of 18 century. In the last few years, this has been turned on its head. The traditional notion is that adults teach the younger generation and this focus has perhaps shifted and adults are not the knowledge source or mentor that they traditionally were, nor are children the ones with less knowledge – indeed, in terms of technology use and familiarity, they are often bounds ahead.

It was a session that I think certainly got people thinking (and as one person put it later ‘burst a few bubbles’) and was an excellent and inspiring start to the day, with participants ready to tackle some of the challenges Professor Facer posed. Indeed, it could be argued that no action is not an option.

“We are always focused on ‘how’ do we do stuff and we need to reclaim the right to ask ‘why?’”

Professor Facer’s presentation was video-ed so will no doubt be online shortly.

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