The Importance of Questions Part 3 – Curricular Implications

Among his many talents, my father is a carpenter. He is the one from whom I first heard the advice to ‘measure twice, cut once’. While this may have immediate applications within the world of carpentry and cabinet-making, it is equally insightful when planning to implement new programs. The time spent planning beforehand is well-spent when it comes to the point of deployment. The previous postings in this series on key questions have focused on ethical and practical considerations for deploying technology. I started with these because the technical considerations are usually straightforward (from an IT perspective). Ethical considerations are a little more complex in terms of their practical applications when planning technology deployments. The answers are a little less clear. This is even more true when it comes to curricular implications associated with a technology deployment. Today’s questions are aimed at helping to focus the curricular justifications for new projects and deployments.

Question 1: Why are we considering the innovation?
The answer to this question isn’t always self-evident. Sometimes, the answer may lie in deep curricular thought. That thought may not always be the concept that is brought to the forefront during a discussion and decision on whether to deploy a new system. My assertion is that curricular thought needs to be at the forefront of all decisions that impact on the classroom and its environment. Therefore, the question above should be read as: From a curricular point of view, why are we considering this innovation? The question also pre-supposes that there are significant discussions that occur prior to a decision being taken to move forward. The additional questions given below seek to clarify this first, and most basic of them.

Question 2: What do we expect will be different about the learning that happens for students as a result of the innovation’s implementation?
Often, when discussing a possible implementation, we are presented with pictures about how the students will be learning differently. Either their work will be done in different locations, at different times, or will be completed in a different format. Granted, each of these changes may result in improvement to students’ level of engagement, and motivation to complete the work itself. But, this question doesn’t focus on the work, but rather the learning. When I speak about learning, I focus my own thought on how the cognitive process for students in the classroom will be different and, by extension, better as a result of our significant investment in time, effort, and financial resources. My basic premise is that our investment in innovation must have a corresponding change and improvement in the overall ability for students to intellectually succeed within the subject matter under study. 

Question 3: What steps have been taken to thoroughly research the innovation, including the curricular approach that it encourages and supports (both explicitly, and clandestinely)?
Within education, we take our cues from experts who have assured us that the research supports one particular approach (sometimes over another). Often, educators will take these claims in good faith and at face value. However, within the realm of educational research, it is generally acknowledged that the quality of the research (and the conclusions which are drawn from it) varies. While potentially time-consuming, I believe that there is value in investigating the claims associated with an innovation, including investigating the quality of the research that informs the innovation. Are those claims reasonable, and have they been reproduced in a reliable way from other sources? If not, then the approach under consideration ought to be considered, at best, as experimental. Further, once we’ve delved into the research, does the innovation support approaches to curriculum that we value and wish to encourage for our students. This must also be thought of in terms of both the explicit curriculum, and the unanticipated (sometimes known as ‘hidden’) learning that comes with an approach. This is not to say that unanticipated learning is necessarily bad, but we should think about all implications so that we can make an informed decision about an implementation before moving forward.

Question 4: How would the locus of control over the learning agenda shift in the classroom as a result of the innovation’s implementation?
Admittedly, this is a values-laden question. I believe that in the modern age of learning, we must move away from adult-centred (meaning teacher-centred) approaches to learning. I believe that the locus of control in a classroom must shift ever-more from the teacher to the students as the age of those students increases. If we are educating students to be empowered, self-sufficient, critical thinkers, our instructional models must support those goals. Of course, if this isn’t what you believe, then other instructional models would be more appropriate. One of the promises of technology is that it puts a significant amount of power into the immediate reach of a student. I believe that for students to take full advantage of what this power offers, the deployment of innovative technologies must also accompany the introduction of learning approaches where there is a power shift within the classroom. This doesn’t mean that we give up on the idea of orderly management of the classroom, or on organized approaches to learning. Under this model, there is a move from control to collaboration. I believe that if this is done well, management of the classroom and organization of the learning improve.

Question 5: What staff development is necessary in order to facilitate the transformation of the teaching model that is associated with the technology’s deployment?
If we expect the innovation to result in different teaching and learning, then the key people in the equation must be supported. In my view, a technology’s deployment must presuppose a teacher’s willingness and ability to undertake significant shifts in their approach to teaching. Under the best of conditions, these kinds of shifts are very challenging. They involve teachers moving out of their current comfort zones regarding their own practice, and moving into a zone of proximal development. By definition, this is an intellectually uncomfortable place to be. If we expect teachers to operate in this zone in order to shift their practice, we must support them with sufficient staff development and moral support to assist them as they manage their transitions. If a proposed technological innovation isn’t accompanied by a well-considered and targeted staff development strategy, I would recommend that we hold minimal hope for its success in transforming students’ learning experiences.

If we start thinking along these lines with regard to an innovation, I’m sure that there are many considerations that are left off. What would be your key curricular questions when considering a technology innovation?

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