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More thoughts on curriculum

Extending my previous post on curriculum I wanted to explore the issues of who should define the details of what students do in school and the extent to which they should have a choice about whether to participate or not. This builds upon work in the Schome Park Programme, which used a wiki, forum and island in Teen Second Life™ to give hundreds of 13 to 65 year olds a radically different experience of what education could be like.

Within Schome Park most participants had free choice about what activities they engaged in (within the bounds of the responsible use policy for the project). This included taking part in one off sessions (run by someone else), joining a project (e.g. to make a machinima about the Hindenburg), or organising their own group or individual activities (e.g. a regatta). Later on a class within a school in the USA, who became known as the SpARTans, joined the programme. The SpARTans started off being taught how to build things in Schome Park by their teacher and then worked in pairs on projects. In the final phase some of members of Schome Park engaged in external competitions (e.g. The space experiment).

Members of the community made over 75,000 contributions to the wiki and forum and clocked up over 15,000 hours on Schome Park (the island in Teen Second Life™). What emerged from analysis of these data were observations about the impact of giving students a choice about what they did (curriculum definition) and/or whether they were going to engage with an activity (curriculum choice).

Curriculum definition

Curriculum definition dimension

The four categories of curriculum definition are:

  • Externally defined - the learner has no say in what they do (e.g. what traditionally happens in schools)
  • Externally constrained - the learner can decide what they do within some clearly defined boundaries (e.g. for the Space competition the students could devise any sensor or experiment they likes so long as it was a real sensor or experiment to fly on a satellite, weighed no more than 1kg and would cost no more than £100,000 to implement)
  • Freely negotiated - the learner can negotiate (with their peers and/or teacher) to do anything they choose (e.g. students in one of the USA classes worked in pairs on projects, they had to agree within their pair and with their teacher what their project was about)
  • Self-determined - the learner can do what they like (most of the individual activity within Schome Park was self-determined)

Curriculum choice

Curriculum choice dimension

The four categories of curriculum choice are:

  • Imposed - the learner is compelled to engage with the activity (e.g. what traditionally happens in schools)
  • Imposed choice - the learner has to do one of a number of options (e.g. the SpARTans had a choice between taking part in the Schome Park Programme or doing a design project in their classroom - they had to do one or the other)
  • Self-imposed commitment - the learner has a choice about whether or not to engage with the activity, but if she chooses to engage she is committing to completing the entire activity (e.g. participants in Schome Park could opt in to take part in the Space Competition, but if they opted in they then were expected to see it through to fruition)
  • Free choice - the learner could choose whether or not to engage and could change their mind if they wished (e.g. this applied to most of the individual activities in Schome Park)
The interaction of curriculum definition and choice

What seemed to emerge was an interaction between the curriculum choice and curriculum definition dimensions, which is illustrated in the figure below.

Interaction of the curriculum choice and definition dimensions

For most members of the community the most beneficial options - in terms of level of motivation and productivity - seemed to be the shaded area in the diagram (freely negotiated with Imposed choice or self-imposed commitment; and Externally constrained with self-imposed commitment).

For most people free choice about whether to engage was less productive - with activities being started but often not completed (with a small number of noticeable exceptions such as SchomerA who freely chose to engage in a large number of very successful self-determined activities).

More work is needed to to explore the interactions between these two curriculum dimensions - for example in relation to interaction between imposed choice with freely negotiated curriculum definition. However, based on the Schome Park Programme, it seems clear that learner choice is an important element when thinking about the curriculum.

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