The Digital Age and Curriculum in British Columbia

I: The Digital Shock & Curricular Reinvention 

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race,” declared Clay Shirky in his 2008 tome Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (Shirky, 2008). In the intervening years we have continued to see an emphasis in curricular thought and reform which seeks to realize the potential of a dawning Digital Age. In blog posts and cable news investigations, parent-advisory council meetings and teacher professional development events, academic scholarship and TED Talk distillations, discussions about curriculum struggle toward consensus on what might constitute an education for the 21st Century. Such a time is fraught with both possibility and peril.

Simsek and Simsek describe the Digital Age as a time when “forms of information have changed drastically” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013), so much so that they are capable of inducing a state of shock:

“Information is an integral part of daily life in today’s society in order for individuals to survive against information-related requirements. Production of knowledge requires different skills than those necessary for producing goods. Thus, the concept of shock could be interpreted partly as the feelings of the confusions of people, being aware of not having necessary skills for the new literacies” (p. 127).

In contemplating the nature of shock as might effect curricular reform, it can be helpful to consider Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, wherein she presents the rise of neoliberal capitalism and its champion Milton Friedman’s ideas across the latter half of the twentieth century. Friedman, Klein observes, looked to the onset of crises and shocks as opportunities to radically intervene in the reform process, noting his admission that “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around (Klein, 2008).”

Looking toward the unique challenges presented by the Digital Age, David Perry recommends taking “note of the plasticity of digital forms and the way in which they point toward a new way of working with representation and mediation, that might be called the digital ‘folding’ of reality, whereby one is able to approach culture in a radically new way” (Perry, 2011).

As this ‘folding’ of reality administers structural changes across society, curricular reform lies at the center of digital reinventions of politics, economics, creative expression and collaboration, the natural sciences and perspectives on the nature of life and consciousness itself. However, such broad educational considerations are hardly novel, as Egan noted in 1978 that once started down the path of inquiry into the methodology of education, “there becomes little of educational relevance that can be excluded from the curriculum field” (Egan, 1978). Thus, the regeneration of our curricula to suit the Digital Age is something that ought be carefully engaged to ensure an authentic expression of society’s best intentions for education.

Ralph W. Tyler’s Principles of Curriculum and Instruction outlines a rationale for viewing, analyzing and interpreting an instructional program as an instrument of education. Tyler notes “no single source of information is adequate to provide a basis for wise and comprehensive decisions about the objectives of the school,” (Tyler, 2013), and advocates for a comprehensive discussion of curricular purposes from each of the progressive, essentialist, sociologist, and educational philosopher’s perspectives:

“The progressive emphasizes the importance of studying the child to find out what kinds of interests he has, what problems he encounters, what purposes he has in mind.

“The essentialist, on the other hand, is impressed by the large body of knowledge collected over many thousands of years, the so-called cultural heritage, and emphasizes this as the primary source for deriving objectives.

“[Sociologists] view the school as the agency for helping young people to deal effectively with the critical problems of contemporary life. If they can determine what these contemporary problems are then the objectives of the school are to provide those knowledges, skills, attitudes and the like that will help people deal intelligently with these contemporary problems.

“[Educational philosophers] see the school as aiming essentially at the transmission of the basic values derived by comprehensive philosophic study and hence see in educational philosophy the basic source from which objectives can be derived (p. 4-5)”

This paper seeks to examine the Government of British Columbia’s Education Plan (BCEdPlan) from each of these perspectives with the hopes of furthering discussion of the potential of curricular reform in the Digital Age within the province.

II: Principles of Curriculum and Instruction in the BCEdPlan

In 2012, the British Columbia Ministry of Education began consultations to bring about changes in the province’s K-through-12 curriculum. Guided by the Premier’s Technology Council 2010 report, A Vision for 21st Century Education (Council, 2010), the BCEdPlan was published in 2013 and shares the province’s vision for teaching and learning in the Digital Age, with reforms set to address curricular goals and assessments, graduation requirements, transitions to post-secondary learning, parent-communication, and even the physical time and place of formalized schooling (Government, 2013b). These changes are guided by the EdPlan’s Five Key Elements (p. 5):

  1. Personalized Learning for Every Student
  2. Quality Teaching and Learning
  3. Flexibility and Choice
  4. High Standards
  5. Learning Empowered with Technology

“While a solid knowledge base in the basic skills will be maintained,” the BCEdPlan admits that better preparing students for the future will require greater emphasis on teaching “key competencies like self-reliance, critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and technological literacy” (p. 4).

At the time of this writing, the Ministry of Education has begun posting draft versions of subject and grade curricula from grades kindergarten to nine. The intent of this section of the paper is to investigate the formally published BCEdPlan with the hope that this discussion might lead to a similarly critical analysis of subject curriculum as it comes more clearly into focus.


In its advocacy on behalf of student choice and flexibility, the BCEdPlan may be seen to embrace tenants of the progressive mindset. By looking to develop students’ passions, self-reliance, and personalizing the learning experience of each individual, the focus on role of the child in the schooling process is soundly rooted in progressive principles.

While the BCEdPlan does state its intention to prepare students to “realize their full potential and contribute to the well-being of our province” (p. 5), less well emphasized are the democratic traditions of the progressive movement. The words ‘society,’ and ‘democracy,’ do not appear in the BCEdPlan; however it does state as an objective for further action that “We will work with our education partners to identify the attributes of an educated citizen and how that will be articulated throughout the education program culminating in graduation” (p. 5). Curricular discussions in British Columbia might delve further into the progressive promise of student-centered learning characterized by John Dewey, who warned of the danger that increased personal independence could decrease the social capacity of an individual” (Dewey, 1916):

“In making him more self-reliant, it may make him more self-sufficient; it may lead to aloofness and indifference. It often makes an individual so insensitive in his relations to others as to develop an illusion of being really able to stand and act alone — an unnamed form of insanity which is responsible for a large part of the remedial suffering of the world (p. 42).”


Essentialists, meanwhile, may not see their approach as integral to the BCEdPlan, which cites as an operating premise the idea that “The world has changed and it will continue to change, so the way we educate students needs to continually adapt” (p. 5). The impetus for the education revolution in British Columbia and other jurisdictions around the world is an acknowledgement that the Digital Age has so fundamentally changed the nature of society that new skills and knowledge(s) are required for tomorrow’s citizens. And while it may include traditional values and legacies such as cross-cultural understandings and assurances that core knowledge and “basic skills” such as literacy and math will be preserved, the BCEdPlan looks to create and define new skills and proficiencies – e.g. “innovation” and “creativity” – which essentialists may view as components of a much lengthier cultural heritage.

For example, the essentialist may view the advent of new communications technology as an opportunity to apply the lessons of past revolutions in reproduction and collaboration to contemporary curriculum. Providing an education in the background of the relationships between advances in technology and human creativity, for instance, could prove a valuable instructor for young people learning about literacy in the Digital Age. Bruner describes undertaking such a task as learning about “not only the role of tools or language in the emergence of man, but as a necessary precondition for doing so, setting forth the fundamentals of linguistics of the theory of tools” (Bruner, 1966).

It remains to be seen the amount of influence these and other cultural legacies will exert in the pending British Columbia curricula, however the tenor and intent of the BCEdPlan as stated casts its gaze decidedly toward the future, potentially at the expense of the vast cultural learning about the past.


The BCEdPlan adopts a sociological lens in developing curriculum that is part of a broader government agenda to confront the perceived needs of our historical moment. As part of its Jobs Plan (BCJobsPlan), the Government of British Columbia declares that it is “reengineering education and training so that BC students and workers have the skills to be first in line for jobs in a growing economy” (Government, 2013a). Within this broader context, the critical contemporary problems British Columbian curriculum intends to address come into clearer focus, as education is redrawn from the bottom up, in three stages:

  1. A Head Start Learning to Hands-on Learning in Our Schools that will “give [students] an earlier head-start to hands-on learning, so [they’re] ready for the workforce or more advanced training when [they] graduate” (p. 8);
  2. A Shift in Education and Training to Better Match with Jobs in Demand to [maximize] spaces available to provide the programs [students] need to compete successfully in the workforce” (p. 8); and
  3. A Stronger Partnership with Industry and Labour to Deliver Training and Apprenticeships to “better connect [students] with the on-the-job and classroom training [needed] to boost […] skills or achieve certification” (p. 8).

Sociologists may be encouraged by the consideration of such economic metrics to guide the creation of British Columbian curriculum. However, by viewing the BCEdPlan as embedded within the government’s more comprehensive BCJobsPlan[1], they might find the purview of this sociological study to be narrowly focused or to ignore altogether areas of potentially more pressing contemporary importance. “To make the most effective use of our education and training resources,” the BCJobsPlan notes, “we will rely on the best data and […] the most up-to-date labour market information […] to guide government decision-making and to determine spending priorities” (p. 7).

Further sociological study may seek to critically address 21st century problems such as inequality, environmental degradation, or the degree to which our education systems help actualize the democratic ideals enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada, 1982) or Multiculturalism Act (Canada, 1988).

Educational Philosophy

While the first of these three lenses might assert different resolute perspectives toward the creation of curricular purposes, the educational philosopher approaches the discussion in the tradition of the humanities, and is thus “committed to the concept of knowledge as interpretation” (Drucker, 2011), as well as the idea:

“That the apprehension of the phenomena of the physical, social, cultural world is through constructed and constitutive acts, not mechanistic or naturalistic realist representations of pre-existing or self-evident information” (par. 7).

Educational philosophers may be critical of the BCEdPlan’s reliance on “the best data and labour market projections” to direct educational resources at the expense of allowing a more broadly constructed view of education’s role in democracy into the decision-making process, as this data assumes a market-oriented solution to a perceived educative problem. Others may highlight the similarity between this practice and the economic project authored by Milton Friedman in the form of neoliberal capitalism, “the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action” (Harvey, 2005).

The educational philosopher may also challenge the symbolic representation and meta-messages about the nature or purpose of education communicated in the language and design of schooling, as Giroux has noted that the “survival-of-the-fittest ethic has replaced any reasonable notion of solidarity, social responsibility and compassion for the other” (Giroux, 2012).

Image by Alan Levine

III: Further Discussion

Analyzed through these various perspectives, the creation of 21st century curriculum in British Columbia can be seen to highlight aspects of both the progressive and sociological perspectives. While each of these lenses could be explored further, a more comprehensive approach to addressing essentialist and philosophical concerns would allow a more broadly constructed view of curriculum in the Digital Age. In implementing its notion of 21st century learning, the government of British Columbia should be especially willing to experiment with new technology in developing a curriculum reflective of the digital medium’s message (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967), lest our collective aspirations for the future be limited unnecessarily by perceived economic realities.

The ‘shock’ of the Digital moment provides an opportunity for both critique and the establishment of new myths surrounding education, the broader enactment of which Michel Foucault described as Enlightenment (Foucault, 1984), or critical ontology, something that should “be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating,” but rather, “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

Paulo Freire described a similar sense of enlightenment at the root of an emancipatory critical praxis, whereby “critical percep­tion is embodied in action, [and] a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations” (Freire, 1970). This emancipation constitutes an active citizenship that continues to transform reality, “and as these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts” (p. 99).

By applying such critical discourses to the negotiation and expression of societal interests with respect to curriculum, we are presented with one of the unique democratic opportunities presented by the Digital Age itself. Indeed, as Simsek and Simsek point out, “the free flow of information through new technologies is consistent with the requirements of deliberative democracy.” However, as the man largely credited with the developing the World Wide Web, Tim Berniers-Lee, recently noted, “Unless we have an open, neutral internet […] we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture” (Kiss, 2014).

In encountering the Digital Age, educators and those interested in constructing curriculum are well-served by embracing the spirit of the open and interconnected web, and playing what Jim Groom and Brian Lamb call for as “a decisive role in the battle for the future of the web” (Groom, 2014). They write, “It is well within the power of educators” to engage in this struggle, though admit that it “will require an at-times inconvenient commitment to the fundamental principles of openness, ownership, and participation.”

As the Ministry of Education continues to unveil its vision for the future of education in British Columbia, these and other questions, perspectives and concerns raised in the discussion of this paper are presented with the intention of further engaging an ongoing discussion of curricular purpose in the province.

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Giroux, H. (2012). Education and the crisis of public values. Peter Laing, New York.

Government, B. C. (2013a). BC Jobs Plan

Government, B. C. (2013b). BC’s Education Plan Province of British Columbia.

Groom, J. L., Brian. (2014). Reclaiming Innovation. EducausE review, Online.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism: Oxford University Press.

Kiss, J. (2014, March 12, 2014). An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web. The Guardian

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Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations: Penguin.

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission, 4(3), 126-137.

Tyler, R. W. (2013). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction: University of Chicago press.

[1] Where the BCEdPlan runs just under 8 pages, the BCJobsPlan measures just fewer than 50.

The Changing Role Of The Teacher In The Digital Age

In my latest #tiegrad class I was invited to discus the changing role of the teacher in the digital age.


Three Distinct Relationship Changes For Teachers In The Digital Age


Richardson, W. (2012) understood the changing role of the teacher when he stated, “In this new story, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like – not just with a teacher and some same age peers, in a classroom from September to June. More importantly, it happens around the things we learners choose to learn, not what someone else tells us to learn.” (p. 1).


In order to understand the changing role of the teacher in the 21st Century, it is important to consider the historical role of the teacher. For centuries, direct instruction was the pedagogy of the day. The teacher held the position of absolute authoritative power and was the holder, and dispenser, of knowledge. Students worked to achieve curricular objectives designed and assessed by the teacher, and were given extrinsic motivators like grades and rewards as reasons to memorize information and demonstrate understanding of taught concepts. In contrast, the digital age represents an important time of educational change. The role of the teacher is evolving as new, digital, epistemologies form in an increasingly connected and networked world. In classrooms and schools around the globe, teachers are changing their methods to better suit the increased use of digital technologies available in education. Advances in technology have led to a more networked and connected world, and has given rise to a myriad of useful resources. Classrooms today are no longer confined to one specific educational theory, or limited by physical space. Education is no longer just about delivering curriculum in a way to actively engage the student in the room; it is about access to information. Active engagement and active learning have now become interactive learning. Teachers and students now co-learn across school districts, provinces, and countries. They share, collaborate and create information with a simple keystroke, click of the mouse, or via video conferencing available on their mobile devices (Thiele, Mai, & Post, 2014). The changing role of the teacher in the digital age can be characterized by three distinct relationship changes; between teacher and student, teacher and curriculum, and teacher and pedagogy.

Teacher with student

One fundamental change teacher’s face in the digital age is the change in the teacher-student relationship. According to Lemley, Schumacher, & Vesey (2014), “The 21st-century student will expect the 21st-century learning environment to provide opportunities creating a different role for the teacher” (p.6). In this version of school, the learning environment is flexible and dynamic. Learning is no longer restricted to the confines of the regular school day. It extends to the home, the community, and beyond. Learners prefer not to have education confined to the classroom, but want to have the freedom to be able to learn at any time and in any place (Rosen, 2011, p.5). Another shift between learner and teacher revolves around exploring curriculum together. Learning is a shared experience between teacher and learner. At one time, the relationship between teacher and learner was hierarchical in nature. The teacher was the dispenser of knowledge and communication between student and educator was one-way. That model no longer provides the best learning experiences for students. In the digital age, teachers are learning with their students through co-learning and collaboration. These methods form the basis of personalized learning.

Teacher with curriculum

Teachers are re-examining their relationship with curriculum and are moving from a teacher-centred perspective to a student-centred perspective. British Columbia’s version of this change in curriculum and pedagogy coined the BC Education Plan. Government of British Columbia (2013) states, “Our education system is based on a model of learning from an earlier century. To change that, we need to put students at the centre of their own learning” (p. 2). A move towards student-centred learning refocuses on the interests of the child rather than others involved in the education process. Teachers are making changes to their curriculum to include periods of inquiry learning. Exploring the path of inquiry learning with students follows a constructivist theory of education. Self-directed in nature, inquiry learning develops critical and creative thinking skills; skills learners will need in order to be successful in the future. Maiers, A., & Sandvold, A. (2010), talk about the importance of student-centred learning in The Passion Driven Classroom. They relate inquiry learning to finding learner’s passions and say, “It will be the passion that students hold, not for every subject, but for the ACT and PRIVILEGE of learning that will allow them to reach rigorous outcomes and excellence” (p. 6). When teachers move curriculum from methods of talk and show to methods of inquiry, they focus on each student’s passions, abilities, and learning styles; thus, allowing the teacher to move from a position of administering to facilitating learning. In addition, when teachers integrate inquiry methods in their curriculum, they honour the importance of student voice and recognise that it is central to the learning experience for every student.

In a student-centred classroom, students choose what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will assess their learning. Student-centred learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their learning. This aligns with Thiele, Mai, & Post (2014) findings in their research on learning in the 21st Century, “The implementation of technology can enhance learning by making the classroom more active and student-centered”(p. 1). In the digital age, teachers have a variety of tools and resources available to create curriculum with students, invite learners to discover the pleasures of lifelong learning, and open the classroom up to a global audience. According to the Government of British Columbia (2013), “Curriculum will increasingly emphasize key concepts, deeper knowledge, and more meaningful understanding of subject matter, and give teachers the flexibility they need to personalize their students’ learning experiences” (p. 3). Dewey, J. (1929) also realized the importance of student-centered learning in My Pedagogic Creed when he wrote, “The true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities” (p. 4).

Teacher with pedagogy

If pedagogy is the art and science of educating (Webb 2012), then the relationship between teacher and pedagogy has changed dramatically in the digital age. Assessment practices, professional development opportunities, and a stronger understanding of how students learn best are reshaping relationships between teachers and their craft. Assessment practices have moved from ‘assessment of learning’ to ‘assessment for learning'; from teacher-directed assessment to peer and self-assessment. All this points to the learner becoming an active participant in the learning process. Advances in digital technologies have created complex assessment experiences, such as game-based assessments and online collaborative problem-solving. A wider variety of participants are invited into the assessment cycle including peers and outside experts. According to Webb (2014) there is, “Increasing evidence that uses of technologies are producing persistent changes in children’s brains and hence changing their capacity and capabilities for learning” (p. 10). Neuroscience is growing rapidly, and teachers are incorporating the latest brain research into their practice, specifically to assist in developing self-regulated learning skills. New digital technologies allow educators to engage in personalized, professional development, strengthen pedagogies, and create learning communities that cultivate professional relationships outside of school buildings. Collaboration in the digital age enables teachers to reach out and connect with like-minded educators. Historically, teachers developed their pedagogy through a combination of curriculum documents, colleagues, workshops, and other professional development opportunities. The digital age has changed the way teachers develop their pedagogy. Networked teachers continue to develop their practice around traditional methods, but also embrace new technologies such as video conferences, social networking services, and online learning communities. Couros, G (2010) agrees with the importance of a collaborative pedagogy, “We must ensure that we are working together as an educator community to continue to move education forward.”


Relationships teachers have with their learners, curriculum, and pedagogy are changing rapidly in this time of digital enlightenment. Early educational theorists such as Dewey and Montessori understood the needs of learners and the constraints of curriculum. Digital technologies have allowed teachers to realize the dreams of early educational theorists. Educators no longer need to work in isolation. They have the knowledge and resources to facilitate learning by exploring curriculum with their learners. When teachers revisit their relationships with learners, curriculum, and pedagogy in the 21st Century, they create innovative change to the education system and encourage children to thrive in a dynamic and rapidly evolving world. They accept that students must be at the centre of a more personalized approach to learning and must be given the freedom to pursue their individual interests and passions in the classroom.


Abrami, P. C., Venkatesh, V., Meyer, E. J., & Wade, C. A. (2013). Using electronic portfolios to foster literacy and self-regulated learning skills in elementary students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 1188–1209. doi:10.1037/a0032448

Couros, G. (2010). The power of working together.  The principal of change: stories of learning and leading. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed. In I. D. Flinders & S. Thorton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34–43). New York: Routledge.

Government of British Columbia. (2013). BC ’ s Education Plan, 1 – 9.

Lemley, J., Schumacher, G., & Vesey, W. (2014). What learning environments best address 21st-century students’ perceived needs at the secondary level of instruction? NASSP Bulletin. doi:10.1177/0192636514528748

Maiers, A., & Sandvold, A. (2010). 1 Achievement gap or passion gap? The passion-driven classroom: a framework for teaching and learning (p. 6). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Richardson, W. (2012). Part 1: old school. Why School? How Education Must Change when Learning and Information are Everywhere (eBook) (p.1). TED Conferences. Retrieved from

Rosen, L. D. (2011). Teaching the iGeneration. Educational Leadership, 68, 10–15. Retrieved from

Thiele, A. K., Mai, J. a, & Post, S. (2014). The Student-Centered Classroom of the 21st Century : Integrating Web 2 . 0 Applications and Other Technology to Actively Engage Students. Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 28(1).

Webb, M. (2012). Pedagogy with information and communications technologies in transition. Education and Information Technologies, 1–20. doi:10.1007/s10639-012-9216-x.



Emergent Citizenship: Curriculum in the Digital Age


“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.” (Mitchell, 2008)

What is curriculum?

Kieran Egan begins his essay, “What is curriculum?” (Egan, 1978) by presenting the idea that schools and curriculum constitute a process by which “children are initiated into particular modes of making sense of their experience and the world about them, and also into a set of norms, knowledge and skills which the society requires for its continuance.” John Dewey presents a similar vision of schools that are “responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future of society” (Dewey, 1916):

“It is the office of the school environment to balance the various elements in the social environment, and to see to it that each individual gets an opportunity to escape from the limitations of the social group in which he was born, and to come into living contact with a broader environment.” (p. 20)

Dewey’s description can be seen in congruence with the critical ontology of the self that Michel Foucault described in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” (Foucault, 1984), which should: “be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating”:

“It has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

It is toward this ideal of enlightenment that we might apprehend the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada, 1982), or the Multiculturalism Act (Canada, 1988), which seeks “to promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society.” While Egan notes that “one symptom – or perhaps condition – of pluralism is the conflict and argument about what [the] curriculum of initiation should contain,” it should not be controversial to state that the mandate of education includes an introduction to (and the rehearsal of) the requisite skills which promote this “full and equitable participation” in the creation of our collective societal narrative(s) and identity.

This paper attempts to describe the nature of knowledge-creation in the Digital Age, and outline an approach to curriculum and citizenship that embraces an emergent sense of identity and culture.

Emergence in the Digital Age

The modernist conception of citizenship expressed in the Multiculturalism Act aligns neatly with possibilities brought about through the revolution in communication technologies that can be thought of as our Digital Age. Simsek and Simsek characterize the early stages of the Digital Age as a time when “the forms of information have changed drastically” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013):

“Information processing has been transformed from being passive receivers to active information processors, who must engage, construct, respond and act with information.” (p. 127)

“Our emergent digital times,” Nahachewsky and Slomp argue, “challenge the authority of any one author or teacher” (Nahachewsky & Slomp, 2009). However, envisioning a curriculum that might challenge the central authorial role of the teacher presents a number of difficulties, as Osberg and Biesta argue that such an emergent information landscape assumes that “Knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object that can be transferred from one place to the next[i]” (Osberg & Biesta, 2008). The emergent classroom is a place where

“Knowledge is understood, rather, ‘to ‘emerge’ as we as, as human beings, participate in the world.” (p. 313)

This view of knowledge is congruent with Simsek and Simsek’s description of the literacies required to actualize democracy in the digital era, which “differ from the previous ones, mainly due to their operational, interactive and user-based technological characteristics” (p. 129). Here we see that the emergent view of knowledge-construction, which presents a difficulty to institutional learning, may be supported by the advent of digital communications technologies.

Teaching and learning in polyphony

“If we hold that meaning is emergent,” Osberg and Biesta state. “Then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic” (p. 316). Sidorkin admits that “the tragic side of such a situation is that regardless of teachers’ intentions the relationship cannot become equal and truly dialogical” (Sidorkin, 2000). Despite one’s best efforts, the context of organized learning assumes orientation toward certain aforementioned goals and/or outcomes.

Paulo Freire confronted the student-teacher contradiction by prescribing what he called the “problem posing method” of education, whereby curricular content “constantly expands and renews itself” (Freire, 1970):

“The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem” (p. 122).

However this framework maintains the authority of the teacher to “re-present” the reality of students toward their emancipation and as such is deserving of Bruner’s critique (highlighted by Nahachewsky and Slomp) in that the student becomes a “performing spectator” who “does not invent the world, [but] uses it” (Bruner & Bruner, 2009).

Sidorkin looks beyond this dialogical model toward Bakhtin’s idea of polyphony (Bakhtin & Emerson, 1993), and proposes that “the problem of imbalanced relation is not to be countered with power sharing based on considerations of equality.” Rather, he says, it should be “addressed with polyphony, the principle of engaged co-existence of multiple yet unmerged voices” (Sidorkin, 2000). The literacies attending such curricular intentions can be seen to revolve around the realization of a critical awareness of one’s community, and an ability to articulate a unique perspective within it. And it is here we see the notion of emergence begin to exist in a dual sense, as it arises in a collective narrative of community, but also in the individual’s sense of themselves within that community.

Sidorkin argues that curricular authority in the classroom should aim toward the realization of mutuality in meaning-making, stating “The polyphonic authority creates mutuality, and only this kind of authority should be used in education.”

It is this invitation to mutuality that Nahachewsky and Slomp describe by noting that:

“If students are allowed, through openness in the curriculum and their teachers’ language, to become part of a negotiation, facts then are created and become interpreted understandings shared by teacher and students, rather than transmitted by teachers as predisposed ‘truths’” (Nahachewsky & Slomp, 2009).

The skills and competencies attending such collective meaning-making may well have long been essential to the democratic project, as Simsek and Simsek note that “democratic values needed for citizenship are not different for new literacies.” However, they present the Digital Age as an opportunity to realize further promise of the democratic project:

“Many democratic values could be acquired by new literacies. New literacies are prerequisites for digital citizenship. New literacies increase the availability of relevant and credible information and broaden the capacity of individuals to get, share, compare, and contextualize information by developing new skills” (p. 133).

While they are careful to not describe the revolution in communicative technology as a panacea in an era of anemic political engagement and accountability, the authors do note that such a summary of digital citizenship embraces the value of broad contribution to an emergent, collaborative constructed community. Optimistically, they note, “Digital citizenship could create a more transparent, connected and participatory democratic environment” (p. 132).

Curriculum as Identity

The advent of the Digital Age has led to an increase in the opportunities for individuals to contribute their voice to the type of polyphonic democracy suggested by Freire and Sidorkin. Simsek and Simsek characterize the Digital Age by highlighting the increasing ability and access individuals have to spaces in which they might cultivate a networked, public “identity.”

“Identity in the digital territory is seen as a higher construct of literacies, which enables the citizen to act as a person with culture and independence as well as with critical abilities and democratic values” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013).

When conceived of in this fashion, the society education serves intends to admit all voices in its chorus, and asks that schools provide learning in the conception and expression of individual and pluralist identities. This is a process that unfolds endlessly, as the One and the Many are constantly making each other (Follett, 1919), and it is toward this critical praxis that education must orient the student experience if it is to achieve Freire’s “critical and dynamic view of the world” by which we might realize what he considered the central human objective: “permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.” The progress toward this pluralist aim is the stated purpose of the Canadian Constitution, and should guide the continued exploration of curriculum in the Digital Age.

Bakhtin, M. M. M., & Emerson, C. (1993). Problems of Dostoevsky’s poetics: U of Minnesota Press.

Bruner, J. S., & Bruner, J. S. (2009). Actual minds, possible worlds: Harvard University Press.

The Constitution Act, 1982 (1982).

Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988).

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.

Egan, K. (1978). What is curriculum? Curriculum Inquiry, 65-72.

Follett, M. P. (1919). Community is a process. The Philosophical Review, 576-588.

Foucault, M. (1984). What is Enlightenment? . In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon Books.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans. 30th Anniversary Edition ed.): The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Mitchell, D. (2008). Cloud Atlas: A Novel: Random House LLC.

Nahachewsky, J., & Slomp, D. (2009). Sound and fury: Studied response (s) of curriculum and classroom in digital times. Beyond ‘presentism”: Re-imaginging the historical, personal and social places of curriculum, 139-151.

Osberg, D., & Biesta, G. (2008). The Emergent Curriculum: Navigating a Complex Course between unguided Learning and Planned Enculturation. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(3), 313-328).

Sidorkin, A. M. (2000). Toward a pedagogy of relation.

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission, 4(3), 126-137.

[i] See Biesta and Burbules (2003), Biesta and Osberg (2007), Cilliers (1998) and Osberg et al. (in press).

Self-Regulated Learning In A Changing Educational Landscape

Point Of View: The Importance Of Self-Regulated Learning In A Changing Educational Landscape.


The landscape of education is on the precipice of change.  Digital technologies have removed the need to follow an educational epistemology based on the pursuit of knowledge.  Montessori (1918) saw the need for change when she said, “We know only too well the sorry spectacle of the teacher who in the ordinary schoolroom must pour certain cut and dried facts into the heads of the scholars” (p. 28). In order to develop higher-level thinking skills, our youngest learners must enter an education system, which follows themes of inquiry and is learner-centred.  In order for learners to be successful in a system built on inquiry, they must develop robust self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies to take control of their own learning, and reach their full potential. Developing students’ self-regulated learning skills can demystify assessment, increase student engagement and motivation, and form the basis of productive collaborative learning communities.


Assessment can be a debilitating experience for many students.  Vaughan found that the four most common words associated with assessment were: fear, stress, anxiety, and judgment (Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. 2013). Self-regulated learners are able to control their environment, evaluate their work, and determine how to adapt their learning to increase performance.  They understand the assessment and feedback cycle, and use it to their advantage.  Self-regulated learners are also cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and can fully utilize instructor feedback, as well as engage in peer and self-assessment practices.  Digital technologies such as blogs, wikis, collaborative writing tools, and other social media resources can provide students with increased flexibility and communication opportunities to engage in all aspects of assessment. According to Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, and Garrison (2013), learners cannot observe, analyze, and judge their own performances on the basis of criteria and determine how they can improve without being self-regulated learners. Effeney, Carroll, and Bahr (2013) agreed when they said”Self-regulated learners… monitor their learning by seeking feedback on their performance and by making appropriate adjustments for future learning activities” (p. 774).


There exists in our schools today a motivation and engagement gap in learners.  This gap stems from a disconnect between how students learn best and how instructors teach.  Improving self-regulated learning skills in children from an early age can help bridge this gap.  Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012) found,  “The motivational components of self-regulated learning help students persist in the face of difficult tasks and resist other sometimes more tempting options” (p. 6). Developing the behavioural and emotional states of children is paramount before engaging in any other type of learning. In order for learners to engage with content in the classroom, they need to be present in the learning experience and be active participants.  Regulating behaviour and emotions can help learners to focus, enhance self-belief, and develop the grit they need to embrace success and failure on the way to achieving their goals. According to Clark (2012),  “SRL is predictive of improved academic outcomes and motivation because students acquire the adaptive and autonomous learning characteristics required for an enhanced engagement with the learning process and subsequent successful performance” (p. 205).  Explicitly teaching self-reflection and metacognitive skills to learners can develop higher-level thinking skills, which enhance motivation and increase engagement.


Self-regulated learning skills also form the basis of active collaborative learning communities, and can help develop a successful framework.  Organization, motivation, and collaboration are essential factors in the success of any collaborative learning community.  Borup et al. (2014) found, “Researchers have suggested that without adequate organization, online students will procrastinate, especially students with special needs” (p. 115).  Dewey (1929) says, “I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual, and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction” (p. 34). If learning is socialand involves interactions between learners, instructors, peers, and community, then it is important to prepare students with the emotional, responsive, and reflective skills they need to be successful in these areas.


In summary, if we want the next generation of students to be self-directed, autonomous, and life-long learners, we must instil the strategies of self-regulated learning into all areas of education, including assessment, motivating and engaging designs for learning, and across all collaborative learning communities.  Essential self-regulation skills such as metacognition, self-efficacy, and self-reflection combined with social skills such as regulating emotions, perseverance, and behaviour are key indicators for success in our changing educational landscape.  The increasing use of digital technologies arm the self-regulated learner with the tools, collaborative learning spaces, and resources to reach self-determined goals and targets, and take control of their own learning.



Borup, J., West, R. E., Graham, C. R., & Davies, R. S. (2014). The Adolescent Community of Engagement: A Framework for Research on Adolescent Online Learning. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 22(1), 107–129.

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205–249. doi:10.1007/s10648-011-9191-6

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: a natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002

Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.),
The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 34 – 41). New York: Routledge.

Effeney, G., Carroll, A., & Bahr, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning and executive function: exploring the relationships in a sample of adolescent males. Educational Psychology, 33(7), 773–796. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.785054

Montessori, M. (1918). A Critical Consideration of the New Pedagogy in its Relation to Modern Science. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (pp. 22 – 33). New York: Routledge.

Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Assessment (Chapter 5). Teaching in blended learning environments, AU Press, Athabasca University. [Retrieved from, July 17, 2014.]


Epistemology, Pedagogy and Democracy in the Digital Age Bibliography

The Virtual Self @nora3000 at #Brocku [visual notes]
The Virtual Self, visual notes by Giulia Forsythe on a talk by Nora Young at Brock University March 2013 (Learn more about Giulia’s amazing Visual Practice here).

It has been a treat to delve deeper into the web of scholarship that charts the intersection of so many different philosophical inquiries that concern pedagogy as a branch of the digital humanities these last few weeks. The metaphysical and epistemic questions that guide our social, ethical and political discussions around the larger purposes of curriculum cast an incredibly broad net, but are undeniably arising out of the digital revolution in communicative technology we are living through. And so my bibliography covers a lot of ground:

  • What is knowledge in the digital age? How is it attained, where does it ‘live’?
  • If in fact knowledge has changed, how should we go about teaching in this new era?
  • And how do these shifts in knowledge and social processes affect the nature and purpose of citizenship?

Answers to these questions lie in fields of sociology, philosophy, political science, and education, but I have tried to locate and share readings that plot the intersection of these topics as relates the narrower field of ‘curriculum.’

Andreotti, V. d. O. (2011). The political economy of global citizenship education. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 307-310.

Biesta, G. (2013). Learning in public places: Civic learning for the 21st century. Civic learning, democratic citizenship and the public sphere.

Biesta, G. J. J. (2012). Doing Emancipation Differently: Transgression, Equality and the Politics of Learning. Civitas Educationis. Education, Politics and Culutre, 1(1), 15-30.

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada, http://www. downes. ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012. pdf.

Feldman, S. B., & Tyson, K. (2014). Clarifying Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice in Education International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Social (In) Justice (pp. 1105-1124): Springer.

Garcia, J., & De Lissovoy, N. (2013). Doing School Time: The Hidden Curriculum Goes to Prison. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 11(4).


Khoo, S.-m. (2013). Between Engagement and Citizenship Engaged Scholarship (pp. 21-42): Springer.

Lentz, B. (2014). The Media Policy Tower of Babble: A Case for “Policy Literacy Pedagogy”. Critical Studies in Media Communication(ahead-of-print), 1-7.

MacGregor, J., Stranack, K., & Willinsky, J. (2014). The Public Knowledge Project: Open Source Tools for Open Access to Scholarly Communication Opening Science (pp. 165-175): Springer International Publishing.

Martin, C. (2011). Philosophy of Education in the Public Sphere: The Case of “Relevance”. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30(6), 615-629.

Monteiro, H., & Ferreira, P. D. (2011). Unpolite Citizenship: The Non-Place of Conflict in Political Education. JSSE-Journal of Social Science Education, 10(4).

Queen, G., Ross, E. W., Gibson, R., & Vinson, K. D. (2013). I Participate, You Participate, We Participate…”: Notes on Building a K-16 Movement for Democracy and Social Justice. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor(10).

Rice, J. (2013). Occupying the Digital Humanities. College English, 75(4), 360-378.

Schugurensky, D., & Silver, M. (2013). Social pedagogy: historical traditions and transnational connections. education policy analysis archives, 21, 35.

Sidorkin, A. M. (2010). John Dewey: A Case of Educational Utopianism. Philosophy of Education Archive, 191-199.

Sidorkin, A. M. (2014). On the theoretical limits of education Making a Difference in Theory: Routledge.

Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.

Talisse, R. B. (2013). Sustaining democracy: folk epistemology and social conflict. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 16(4), 500-519.

Willinsky, J. (2013). Teaching for a World of Increasing Access to Knowledge. CALJ Journal, 1(1).

20 Research Papers On Self-Regulated Learning

Within the context of k-12 schools, I used to think self-regulated learning was limited to regulating the behaviour and emotions of the students; However, thanks to the likes of Phil Winne, Allyson Hadwin, and Mariel Miller I realize it’s so much more.  In its simplest form, self-regulation speaks to the skills students need to become independent life-long learners.

Phil Winne from SFU Education on Vimeo.

In my latest #tiegrad class I was asked to compile a short bibliography of twenty recent (2013-2014) articles on the topic of my choice – self-regulated learning:

Belski, R., & Belski, I. (2014). Cultivating student skills in self-regulated learning through evaluation of task complexity. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(5), 459–469. doi:10.1080/13562517.2014.880685

Bjork, R. a, Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 417–44. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143823

Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (2014). Feedback and Self-Regulated Learning: A Theoretical Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–281.

Cheng, G., & Chau, J. (2013). Exploring the relationship between students’ self-regulated learning ability and their ePortfolio achievement. The Internet and Higher Education, 17, 9–15. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.09.005

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205–249. doi:10.1007/s10648-011-9191-6

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: a natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002

DiDonato, N. C. (2012). Effective self- and co-regulation in collaborative learning groups: an analysis of how students regulate problem solving of authentic interdisciplinary tasks. Instructional Science, 41(1), 25–47. doi:10.1007/s11251-012-9206-9

Effeney, G., Carroll, A., & Bahr, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning and executive function: exploring the relationships in a sample of adolescent males. Educational Psychology, 33(7), 773–796. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.785054

Friedrich, A., Jonkmann, K., Nagengast, B., Schmitz, B., & Trautwein, U. (2013). Teachers’ and students’ perceptions of self-regulated learning and math competence: differentiation and agreement. Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 26–34. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.005

Järvelä, S., & Hadwin, A. F. (2013). New frontiers: regulating learning in CSCL. Educational Psychologist, 48(1), 25–39. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.748006

Major, A., Martinussen, R., & Wiener, J. (2013). Self-efficacy for self-regulated learning in adolescents with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 149–156. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.009

Marchis, I. (2011). Primary school teachers’ self-regulated learning skills. Acta Didactica Napocensia, 4(4), 11–18. Retrieved from

Metallidou, P. (2012). Epistemological beliefs as predictors of self-regulated learning strategies in middle school students. School Psychology International, 34(3), 283–298. doi:10.1177/0143034312455857

Perry, N., & Drummond, L. (2014). Helping young students become self-regulated researchers and writers. The Reading Teacher, 56(3), 298–310.

Samruayruen, B., Enriquez, J., Natakuatoong, O., & Samruayruen, K. (2013). Self-regulated learning: a key of a successful learner in online learning environments in thailand. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 48(1), 45–69. doi:10.2190/EC.48.1.c

Sha, L., Chen, W., & Zhang, B. H. (2012). Understanding mobile learning from the perspective of self-regulated learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 366–378. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00461.x

Shi, Y., Frederiksen, C. H., & Muis, K. R. (2013). A cross-cultural study of self-regulated learning in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment. Learning and Instruction, 23, 52–59. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.05.007

Stefanou, C., Stolk, J. D., Prince, M., Chen, J. C., & Lord, S. M. (2013). Self-regulation and autonomy in problem- and project-based learning environments. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14(2), 109–122. doi:10.1177/1469787413481132

Throndsen, I. (2011). Self-regulated learning of basic arithmetic skills: a longitudinal study. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(Pt 4), 558–78. doi:10.1348/2044-8279.002008

Tsai, C.-W., Shen, P.-D., & Fan, Y.-T. (2013). Research trends in self-regulated learning research in online learning environments: a review of studies published in selected journals from 2003 to 2012. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(5), E107–E110. doi:10.1111/bjet.12017

Wang, C., Shannon, D. M., & Ross, M. E. (2013). Students’ characteristics, self-regulated learning, technology self-efficacy, and course outcomes in online learning. Distance Education, 34(3), 302–323.

“Moments happen quickly, and changes come slowly.”

Summer school

The title of this post, and its contents are synthesis and reflection of my thoughts while reading James Nahachewsky and David Slomp’s book chapter “Sound and Fury: Studied Response(s) of Curriculum and Classroom in Digital Times,” originally published in Beyond ‘Presentism’: Re-Imagining the Historical, Personal, and Social Places of Curriculum (2009).

Similar to Borges‘ introduction, “like all men, he was given bad times in which to live,” we find ourselves in complex times that have yet undeniably coalesced into a present “moment” that might be described as a Digital Age. The arrival of these digital times has arrived with

“a shift in perspective that recently has thrown many modernist educational boundaries and underlying assumptions into doubt – including constructs of learner and teacher, and schooling itself (Gee, 2004; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). This shift is due, in part to young people’s own fluid, de-territorialized meaning-making afforded by the consumption and, perhaps more importantly, the production of digital texts.”

Nahachewsky and Slomp present the problem of how confronting these new realities of the digital age reveals a contradiction in that “digital texts, as created by young people become sites of action and agency [while] Arguably, brick and mortar classrooms are not.” The language arts, the authors note, are uniquely situated to reveal the particular opportunities such times present the study of pedagogy, as new media arise, changing the relationships between students, teachers, and even broader educative communities beyond our institutions. Using the shift brought to text by the digital age as a corollary, the authors begin to outline a structural transformation that is beginning to be seen in literacy education.

“The spaces of classroom and educational digital texts create complex dialogic ‘contact zones’ (Bakhtin 1981), where we may witness the representation of learner, teacher, and curriculum in interesting, complex, and non-traditional ways.”

Highlighting the example of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education, Nahachewsky and Slomp note that democratic governments have engaged the collision of the 21st century and its burgeoning technological revolution to provoke discussion around the revolutionizing of curriculum itself, though the section of the paper begins with a quote from Jerome Bruner’s Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986):

“Language- can never be neutral, it imposes a point of view not only about the world to which it refers, but toward the use of mind in respect of this world.”

Because while the governments of the western provinces strive toward a collaboratively determined common curriculum that will best prepare young Canadians for the digital and globalized 21st century, “The primary issue the Ministers [of education from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the North West Territories] identified in the agreement was the need to optimize the limited resources of the provinces in improving education [emphasis from the original].” The point of view “imposed,” and which frames the narrative of educational reform contextualizes the task as one of necessity rather than aspiration.

One needn’t suggest that fiscal responsibility shouldn’t constitute an aspect of educational discourse; but by beginning from this foundation, the “authors” of our curricular narratives – granted such voice by the democratic processes guiding public policy in Canada – limit the possible iterations of curriculum that might better contribute to education’s guiding purpose(s) than those created solely out of financial necessity. With the broad focus of literacy, the authors summarize the purpose of language learning expressed in the WNCP, which presents literacy as a tool:

“To facilitate thinking, define culture, develop personal identity, build interpersonal relationships, extend experience, facilitate reflection, contribute to a democratic society, construct and convey meanings, and facilitate metacognitive awareness.”

But while even optimists among us might appreciate these strokes of application that these democratic processes have sketched out on our collective behalf, the authors emphasize what is not included in this discussion of education’s future, what is not part of the narrative authored on society’s behalf: “the question, To what end?”

“…to what end do we use language to facilitate thinking or to construct meaning?”

In other words, what is understanding? And what is it for?

The affordances of new media in these digital times has further contributed to the disruption of the narrative of the singular author, a process that has been at work throughout the modernist period and which dates back to the Enlightenment period. Such philosophical movements are congruent with Bruner’s suggestion “that our use of language has a constitutive role in creative social reality and concepts of our selves.” 

To paraphrase Michael Wesch, our digital times present us with the opportunity to witness Marshall McLuhan‘s edict that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,” in real time, largely through the critical study and experimentation with different forms of texts encountered in the language arts classroom. Indeed, Nahachewsky and Slomp point out that “this has important implications for the culture of education and the concepts of self that teachers and students co-construct.”

As the revolution of text online has challenged the notion of a single authorial rendering (even of an original work or act), so too might the digital age present the opportunity to consider the direction and construction of meaning to be a collaborative act between students who are guided in this process by a teacher. However well intended, our present schools are places where

“students are seen as participants who are given a role as ‘performing spectators who play out their canonical roles according to rule when appropriate cues appear.”

Bruner notes further than “this role causes the child to only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” However much this framing might offer a shift in perspective to today’s educators, it has been more than one hundred years since Maria Montessori lamented that while “it is true that some pedagogues, led by Rousseau, have given voice to the impracticable principles and vague aspirations for the liberty of the child [...], the true concept of liberty is practically unknown to educators.” (Montessori 1912)

More than one hundred years ago, Montessori wished

“to direct the teacher to awaken in him[self], in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.”

However as we look to the educative narrative presented in Canada today, we might note the Federal Harper Government’s discussions of scientific discovery have similarly limited its scope to invest “scarce resources” in research that offers a practical return on investment, thus affirming the broader cultural narrative of perpetuating an infinite growth economy as our highest purpose.

As it is in education, the question To what end? is not included in the discussion of why we ought pursue scientific discovery (if not to achieve predicted economic outcomes), and the omission represents an abandoning of principles around which our cultural, social, artistic, political and moral traditions each originate and continue to revolve, those traditions which coalesced and were articulated during the dawn of the era of mass-printed texts.

Following the invention of the printing press, Europe witnessed the transformation of its public sphere(s) (Habermas 1991), with paradigmatic shifts visited upon religion, politics, science, philosophy and the arts. The ability of greater and greater numbers of people to encounter and freely share new ideas delivered a cataclysm upon the singular narratives of public affairs constructed with absolute power by monarchs and churches, and is the overarching arc of justice which guides foundational schools of western philosophical thought to this day. Broadening the base of authorship in the creation of a collective narrative led directly to the transformation of the existent structures of the preceding paradigm.

We might learn from these events, as the advent of our modern, digital technologies presents what may constitute an analogous ‘moment’ of cultural revolution where the discussion of what might be is at least as relevant for discussion as the prospects of what must be. In fact, we have learned much from those who sought to uphold the mantles of chalice and crown throughout the various Enlightenment revolutions employed various arguments to make their case, and should proceed skeptically with those who would tell us what “must be.” With the traditions of scholarship and tools we have acquired in the age of empiricism, the test to establish what “must”…

must be of the strictest rigor.

In the meantime, it is equally important that modern educationists explore and discover what can be, as it is central to the task of creating a fuller perception of nature and humankind which the traditions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy demand of us.

Précis: A Critical Consideration of the New Pedagogy in its Relation to Modern Science

Dr. Montessori in the garden of the school at Via Giusti. Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Maria Montessori presents a critical consideration of the “New Pedagogy” (1912) by discussing the advent and implementation of the “scientific pedagogy” that took root in Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Montessori’s critique focuses on the shortcomings of scientific pedagogy to address the human subjects (and observers) involved in the study of teaching and learning.

In establishing her critique, Montessori finds fault with an overemphasis on the instrumentalization of pedagogy which comes at the expense of a more authentic manifestation of the spirit of learning. This spirit of learning is connected throughout her argument as part of the same pursuit of knowledge that has sustained human progress since the beginning of civilization. She cites examples of rigid student desks and behaviourist means of doling out rewards and punishments as elements of “scientific pedagogy” that run counter to the spirit of discovery that is central to learning.

For a new pedagogy to emerge within this context, Montessori argues that teachers ought to be prepared to engage the act of teaching as one oriented toward “a conquest of liberty” that provides an education in which pupils are seen as future agents of human regeneration. To this end, she proposes educationists elevate the study of pedagogy to that of its own scientific exploration: part of the larger narrative of human progress that is embedded within the histories of science, technology, and the broader humanities, and yet informed by its own unique contexts and possibilities.

Montessori, Maria George, Anne E. (Trans), (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied child education in “The Children’s Houses”, with additions and revisions by the author. , (pp. 1-27). New york, NY, US: Frederick A Stokes Company, xlii, 377 pp. doi: 10.1037/13054-001

Curriculum as Black Box

Image from

“…a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings.”

In conducting an inquiry into curriculum, the black box may prove a useful metaphor to consider possible avenues of discussion or research. In his essay What is Curriculum? (pdf) Kieran Egan introduces Cicero’s use of the Latin curricula “to refer to the temporal space in which we live; to the confines within which things may happen; to the container, as opposed to the contents.” By applying the metaphor of the black box, we can appreciate the discussion of curriculum as being concerned with educational inputs and outputs, and the black box itself representing the individual experience of the learner.

With the advent of Enlightenment philosophy, society began to orientate itself toward the actualization of a pluralism that assumed an infinite diversity of human minds; here we see the shift of inquiry away from inputs and outputs, and toward the nature of the black box itself.

Egan presents this awakening thus:

“traditional curriculum questions about what should be taught can no longer stand as a distinct question in the fact of discoveries about individual differences. Questions of method are unquestionably relevant to curriculum decisions.”

“The difficulty,” he adds, “in admitting the question, how, into curriculum matters is that there becomes little of educational relevance that can be excluded from the curriculum field.”

Indeed. And as we have become subsumed in a preoccupation with how, we have suffered from what Egan calls “a general failure of nerve, of vision, and of direction.”

“To know what the curriculum should contain requires a sense of what the contents are for. If one lacks a clear sense of the purpose of education, then one is deprived an essential means of specifying what the curriculum should contain.”

B.C. launches Skills for Jobs Blueprint to re-engineer education and training

And so we find ourselves surrounded by curricular initiatives that describe at exhaustive length the hows of learning in the 21st century: game-based, play, outdoor, experiential, collaborative, critical thinking, and various apps, hardware, and learning media aggregate to serve a purpose that is discussed as a forgone necessity. Notions of what should be taught are often presented in platitudinous photo-opportunities operating within the premise that the future will so paradigmatically different from the present or past that any discussion of curricular contents can only be looked upon with the most pragmatic or utilitarian perspective.

In building the altar of how, the means of delivering curriculum have become the ends: we have become singularly focused on what education must be in favour of what it might become. 

Egan would agree:

“This manner of stating the problem exemplifies the failure of nerve: it suggests we have no control over the future; we cannot make of it what seems best to us.”

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In considering curriculum as a black box problem, we might be guided by Schroedinger’s cat thought-experiment. Originally conceived to highlight the paradox at the root of quantum mechanics (basically the uncertainty principle), a simplified look at the analogy finds Schroedinger’s cat inside a black box with a vial of poison that will alternatively be delivered, or not, depending on the state of a subatomic particle.

Until the box is opened, there exists potential for either eventuality to exist: that the cat is still alive; or that it has expired. And so until a definitive measurement or observation can be made, the cat might be thought of as being both alive, and dead.

In our own practice and research, ‘opening the black box’ of individual learning experiences is similarly limited and may be seen to require such a dualist response. “Focus on either how or what at the expense of the other,” Egan writes in his conclusion, “is improper.”

He writes:

“Proportion and good sense demand that we turn our attention increasingly to what questions and present strong arguments for or against specific curriculum content.”

In resembling the black box, our discussion of curriculum traverses the knowable entities of inputs and outputs, and seeks to investigate the opaque nature of individual experience. In this inquiry, as soon as measurement and observation are able to record new points of knowledge they unfold into new inquiries toward an ever-retreating horizon.

As a symbol, the black box represents paradoxes that are at the heart of learning and knowledge, and aligns with Egan’s characterization of bringing about authentic curriculum as a struggle to “summon the nerve to believe that we can make the future what we want and better prepare children to deal with it.”

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