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Divergent Curriculum

Donald G. Perrin

Tonight I took some time out for internet videos – specifically John Taylor Gatto at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ogCc8ObiwQ entitled State Controlled Consciousness; and Sir Ken Robinson at http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html explaining how schools kill creativity. Both had a common message – about schools, conformity, and standardization. John Gatto equated it to excessive control; Ken Robinson equated it to draining the creativity out of children and making them afraid to make mistakes. I suddenly realized that almost everything I do in distance learning is designed to emulate what is done in the existing system of education, resulting in the same kinds of educational product.

Then I visited Stephen Downes Groups and Networks, at http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=-4126240905912531540&q=downes&total=
(a visible link is included in case you are working from a printed copy). The technical quality is poor but the ideas are outstanding.

Downes compares groups and networks. Groups are designed to develop unity, not diversity; coordination, not autonomy; closed membership rather than openness; distributive (one-to-many like television and publishers) rather than connective (like Skype, podcasts, and blogs); and privatization of knowledge rather than equal access. The Internet does not have to be a closed group activity. It is more democratic. It is an opportunity for openness, sharing, and creativity.

If online learning is attempting to emulate the old group method, it is failing, in many instances, to capitalize on its capability as a network.

Going back to schools and curriculum, the standardized curriculum is confining and convergent. It is built on theories of control that date back to the 1840s. It does not reflect the modern world or future jobs. It is a bastion on conformity, not creativity. The question, then, is how to foster creativity, to develop a relevant and divergent curriculum, and how to use the ultimate network – the Internet - to replace conformity with creatiity. We need an educational system that will serve the needs of a rapidly changing world where everything is accelerating at light speed, whether it be social, economic and political changes, or science, technology and engineering.

Taking the words from The Trends Journal, 2007 p.6, the United States

“will require a recapturing of its lost attributes of entrepreneurial spirit, free thinking, professed morality, civic courage and the “can-do” pioneering zeal that once defined the nation’ spirit.”

A divergent curriculum seems like an oxymoron. Perhaps we need a different word. Just as the confining term “audiovisual” was changed to an expansive term “instructional technology”, we need a word that will encompass the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that we need now and in the future. Distance and flexible learning is already making some changes. We talk about learners, not students; observable and measurable performance objectives, not learning objectives; interactive activities rather than lectures; and new forms of personal communication such as social networks and mobile learning. We need to put together the best of the old and the new with a clarity of purpose and an eye to the future.

It is time to change this editorial page to a dialog. The editors need help to build databases, bloglines, and wikis and stimulate research of a new kind to support a expanding networked world.


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