Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Alternatives to the product/outcomes approach to curriculum

| 1 Comment

Alternative is one of my favorite words 🙂 I don’t like to be stuck with any one way of doing things, and I am always seeking alternatives and ways of mixing them up to create something new that fits my needs/interests right now. Then mixing them up later as I evolve 🙂

I will write a more detailed, theory-driven post about process-oriented and other alternatives to curriculum.

For now, though, I need to make these notes public (don’t ask why, I have a false sense of urgency about my blogging).

The key things for me about pedagogy/curriculum that focuses on process and not outcomes or content are:
1. It does not eschew learning goals. It shifts them around. The learners’ goals are centric, not the institution’s or the teacher’s, though the teacher can also have goals. I’d just recognize that learners’ goals might be different than mine as teacher.
2. It changes the nature of learning goals. Measurabiliy, specificity, all those words in the acronym SMART – these are not important. The most important things are difficult (if not impossible?) to measure. You can still have rubrics, but they can be learner-created, holistic, different for each student (yes! Try asking students to tag on a couple of criteria to their own project assessment) and involve peer and self assessment not just the instructors’
3. Focus on values: every choice of content or pathway is questioned on its value – will it help these students learn? Does it fit with the overall values of this group of people? (And if you go beyond process curriculum as conceived by Stenhouse, and towards a more critical approach, you’d also be asking whether your choices privilege some group over another, and how inequalities in society and the institution are reflected in the classroom)
4. It foregrounds teacher experience, and the on-the-ground experience and the context over any random learning theory or piece of educational research that some other person/group developed
5. It foregrounds teacher judgment – and that’s why it would probably suggest that educational reform starts with empowering teachers before anything else (or at least, that’s where my logic takes me).

To me, one of the most important things in taking a process approach is aligning the process of learning with outcomes(oops) values and broader goals. If I want my students to develop lifelong learning (my broad goal as a teacher), I can help them fulfil their own learning goals (e.g. Develop a website for other teachers) by giving them very loose guidance that will help them search for ways to make their website better. That way, they’ve learned about learning, rather than about creating websites.

Another example in my “educational games” module of the creative thinking course. I don’t want to prescribe to students how to design an educational game. I want them to use the creativity they developed in previous modules to create those games. So what I have done so far is play games with them about games, to remind them of games they love and enjoy. Then reflected on what it was about the game we played (or games we played about) that made them entertaining/fun or educational. I give them an idea about how we think about education, reminded them of what they thought was fun, and helped them brainstorm what “cause” they would like to create a game to spread awareness about. My goal: have them think creatively about designing a game and making it educational. Their objective? Create a game to spread awareness for a cause they care about. I am not choosing groups for them. But I had the discussion of “causes we care about” publicly in class, so that people could see who else in class cared about the same things… And work from there. My first class was a jeopardy “name the game”game which you can access here. My goal? Create community, have fun! That was the most important goal for me, and it made a difference (I only met them once since then).

I am also consulting with a group (I will keep details anonymous) working around the idea of building citizenship, and reminding them that if your goal is to build critical citizens, then your teaching style should not be prescriptive – it should be empowering participants to bring out the citizen inside them. It sounds overly dramatic like this, but it translates into details quite well.

One of the key things Barnett and Coate (2005) mention in critique of the technical model is that it approaches skill development in such a way as to promote “performativity” (I understand their use of the term to mean promoting a sense of learning something in order to perform some outward observable behavior) for instrumental ends (e.g. To be able to work) without developing the learner’s judgment, care or will to apply it in appropriate contexts.

This all reminds me of that First Aid course where we did our multiple-choice test to get certified. First of all, learning to explain what I would do if I found a lifeless body says nothing about whether I really can perform CPR. Second, and more importantly, it says nothing about whether I will have the courage or focus to actually act during an emergency. I came out of that course, and I cannot imagine anyone trusting me to save their life.

It also reminds me of how I feel about physics. I could solve the problems and get the rare “A” with the tough grader prof. I just haven’t got a clue about physics concepts outside that! For some reason, the profs didn’t know or notice that.

Carr and Kemmis (1986) in Becoming Criticalmake this great point about critical thinking specifically:

“To say, for example, that ‘critical thinking’ is a desirable educational end, is to express a ‘procedural principle’ governing the kind of ‘educational means’ that are permissible. It is, in other words, to imply that rote-learning, memorization, passive instruction or any other teaching methods that impede critical thinking are inadequate as ‘educational means’. This is not the same as saying they are ineffective. More accurately, it is to say that they are unacceptable because they do not accord with the values implicit in this end.” (p. 78)

We all know that learning/teaching never really follow whatever we had planned in advance, or at least, if we insist on following the plan regardless of student responses, there’s something terribly wrong… Isn’t there? That’s why I don’t get the idea of video lectures. I don’t lecture, but if I did (for all of 10 minutes) how I pace myself, what I say, changes depending on my audience’s reactions. Even when I give talks to large numbers of people like in conferences, it matters if people won’t raise their hands when I take an informal poll, or don’t laugh at my jokes. I change my talk depending on who else had spoken earlier at the conference and I refer to them in my talk. It cannot be totally pre-packaged.

In the #blendkit2014 course reader this is called systems vs flexible/emergent design. Citing Siemens,

“By recognizing learning as a messy, nebulous, informal, chaotic process, we need to rethink how we design our instruction.”

Also from the blendkit reader: “Part of the plan is knowing that the situation will compel you to change your plan”. – Vella (2006)

I came across rhizomatic learning because I was uncomfortable with the formal instructional design approaches that are often used for online learning. As a faculty developer, I want to help faculty design their blended/online courses, but I cannot tell them to do what I do in my own classes, because it is based on my own teaching philosophy, my own context, my own learners, and it changes all the time. It takes a certain confidence in one’s own judgment (something a faculty developer isn’t necessarily capable of helping with but which I think most teachers can/should have). As Mike Caulfield says in a comment on his blog in response to my earlier post on curriculum:

“But I will say as a person who has to help design courses for the sciences, professional certification, the humanities, future educators, etc. that I find that it’s really hard to come up with a single approach that meets these divergent needs. I tend to use a tweaked Understanding by Design method where for the humanities we focus more on the Enduring Questions and for the sciences more on the Essential Understandings. And in some courses (remedial math, for example) we maybe lean a little more towards the Related Skills.”

(I am looking up Understanding by Design now)
A process approach is not really a “single” approach – it’s the outcomes and content ones that are relatively singular (but not single, obviously, because you can do them in different ways – the problems with them I described earlier – mainly that they are done outside the classroom altogether). Adding to the contextual issues Mike points to above (divergent learner needs, different disciplines), there are additional contextual issues of the learning environment, the sociopolitical environment, and many many more.

Again, from the blendkit reader:

Brent Wilson (1995), a pioneer in e-learning, has been cautioning online course designers about the downside of a systems approach for the past decade: An environment that is good for learning cannot be fully prepackaged and defined. A more flexible approach will open the doors to more possibilities based on learner goals and needs. However, as pointed out by Bates and Poole (2003), “a flexible approach requires a high level of skill to be effective”.

Note that high level of skill: that is the teacher’s judgment and their confidence that they can adapt to the uncertain, the unknown of the learning situation.

I also read this recently, Out with the Lesson Plans & In with Learning Experience Designs!, which cites a video by Connie Yowell. The idea is to move away from learning outcomes as central to our thinking, and instead focus on the experience of individual learners. A quote from the article:

“What if we set aside the traditional approach to lesson planning that starts with a few learning objectives? We don’t have to ignore them…just not start with them. What if we instead started with a thoughtful learner analysis, including careful consideration about the learner’s motivation, interests, need to play and wonder, their drive to experience and experiment? What if we start our planning with questions about how to engage each learner in rich and authentic experiences?

The truth is that amazing teachers already do this, but it is despite the broader outcome and standard-based system. What would happen if we re-imagined the entire school with such a mindset? Imagine the possibilities!”

Hey,this turned out to be a much heavier and longer post than intended! More soon!

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to the product/outcomes approach t...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: