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Curriculum and Technology

Donald G. Perrin

Instructional design is like a jigsaw puzzle. Many pieces are required to prepare a successful course of study. It includes a gamut of curriculum content, interactive and dissemination media, materials, experiences, participation, and human support. For many years curriculum was a verbal list of content and skills for the teacher to interpret and implement. Teachers produced most of their own teaching materials, supplemented by “visual aids” - realia, films, filmstrips, and gramophone recordings – where they existed. Companies developed “aids” and sold them to schools and teachers; other materials were sponsored by companies such as coca-cola.

The launching of Sputnik showed American education to be lacking in science, mathematics, and technology. Federal funding through the National Defense and Education Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Higher Education Act, and Vocational Education Act spurred reexamination of curriculum and teaching methods. It was found that textbooks were outdated and even inaccurate. And schools did not have the necessary apparatus and materials for instruction.

National curriculum projects were initiated in a range of disciplines –Physical Sciences Study Committee, Biological Sciences Study Committee, and there were many more. President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon “before the decade is out” created a new urgency for perfecting, dissemination, and adoption of these new materials. There was no budget to retrain every teacher, so materials were designed for students to use with the assistance of their teachers. In this way, the new curriculum could be rapidly implemented. A second problem was that new materials and equipment was needed for instruction. Ingenious solutions included simple devices that could be improvised from available materials such as tin cans and string. Often the students could fabricate what was needed for the lesson. There was a paradigm shift in what was taught and the way students learned. Until that time, the materials to support a new curriculum came years later. The idea of integral development of complete teaching-learning systems was born.

In this same period, experimentation with new media supported a second paradigm shift – from mass or large group media like films, television and filmstrips, to individualized media such as language labs, teaching machines, and computers. These provided interactive experiences and paved the way for individualized educational programs and distance learning. These new tools were effective in learning situations where individual differences made traditional instruction ineffective and impractical.

The architects of instructional design realized there were different kinds of learning – cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Traditional instruction was aimed at knowledge and comprehension that ws easily measured by multiple choice tests and short essay questions. Instruction and testing for higher levels of learning was poorly represented in teacher training, curriculum development, and in classroom teaching and learning. Researchers such as Bloom and Mager introduced behavioral objectives that described outcomes and set benchmarks for every level of learning. These were later modified to performance objectives with rubrics to assess progress toward the criterion. In the hands of instructional designers and instructional technologists, teaching and learning was enhanced for an increasingly broader spectrum of students.

Unfortunately, student differences were amplified by the Civil Rights Movement –integration of cultures and levels of society that were previously separated. Bussing, and mainstreaming of students with disabilities into regular classrooms moved us from homogenous grouping to heterogeneous groups with a great diversity of cultures, languages, and educational preparation. The social objectives of these programs were a major step forward, but special training and resources for teaching and learning with heterogeneous groups were not part of the implementation plan. As a result, teachers were over-burdened, schools were stressed, budgets were reduced, and blame was shared by the entire education establishment. These problems were greatly exacerbated by the recent downturn in the economy.

As in the period of Sputnik, the relevance and value of curriculum and education programs are facing scrutiny. Is the curriculum – knowledge, skills and experiences - relevant to the world into which students will graduate?  Government regulations that once protected schools and students now constrain realistic solutions for today’s problems. Charter Schools, outsourcing to industry, and alternative models of teaching and learning are being tested, but results are mixed. Major policy decisions are being made by politicians, parents, and PTAs (parent-teacher associations) that overrule the advice of educators, researchers and practitioners. There is a continual tug-of-war between back to basics and moving forward. Everyone seems to have a different solution. The result is chaos.

The world has undergone a number of paradigm shifts that are yet to be reflected in our educational systems. Like the economic collapse, it provides an opportunity to make necessary changes and make the system more responsive, efficient, and relevant. Do we have all of the tools, people and ideas to shape the educational systems required for this millennium?

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