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Reinventing Curriculum: The Underlying Challenge to Moving Education Forward

Mobile is just really beginning to have an impact in the K-12 classroom. While some schools still try to prevent students from bringing in their mobile devices, that is a losing battle, since as a 2015 Pearson study reports:

  • "In 2014, 44% of elementary school students use smartphones regularly, compared to 58% of middle school students, and 75% of high school students."

Schools banning mobile devices will be as effective as schools banning books.

Thus, even though mobile's future in K-12 — and everywhere, for that matter — is at the starting gate, we felt it was time for our blog to change its focus from "Being Mobile" to exploring the challenge of curriculum. Curriculum? Curriculum? Yes! Curriculum, teacher, pedagogy: Those three are key to a successful learning experience. Our blog will focus on curriculum since, as we argue below, curriculum — its development, its distribution and its use — is in a state of turbulence owing to the following three trends:

Trend 1:  The Demise of the Textbook

Dead-tree-based textbooks are out. But, they played a number of important roles in the classroom:

  • Textbooks, with their associated teachers' guides, provided teachers with guidance on what they were supposed to do on each of the 180 days of the school year.  
  • Textbooks typically were vetted at the state or district level; covering the material in a vetted textbook meant a teacher could feel confident that her/his students would know what they were supposed to know when they matriculated to the next grade and when they took the mandated standardized tests.
  • Yes, textbooks were out of date the moment they appeared; yes, they assumed one-size-fits-all with respect to reading levels; yes, they were bulky to carry. But, textbooks provided the core content.

What will now play those roles?

Trend 2: 1-to-1 is the New Normal

Chromebooks, for better or worse, are spreading like wildfire in K-12. A reporter observed that 30,000 new Chromebooks come online in K-12 — each and every day!  BYOD, with all its headaches, is still a policy in school districts. How could 1-to-1 not be the new normal when computing devices have insinuated themselves into virtually all human endeavors?

Trend 3: Teachers Searching for Lessons

Research suggests that 58 percent of K-12 teachers spend between two and five hours every week searching for lessons that they can use with their 1-to-1 classrooms. Such "supplementary" lessons might get a teacher through 1 to 3 days — but what about the other 177 days? Apparently, schools are expecting teachers to stitch together supplementary lessons found on the Internet so as to provide their students with a comprehensive, coherent, cohesive learning experience. Really? And, assuming that the teachers were willing to spend the time doing such stitching, where did teachers learn how to do that sort of curricular stitching?

These three trends all swirling together spell serious trouble for teachers and thus serious trouble for their students.

In our coming blog posts, then, we will still talk about the mobile computing devices. Indeed, we love to (ok, ok… ES loves to) prattle on and on about benefits of mobile devices — but it is just that: prattle. First teachers must be provided with comprehensive curriculum (old term: basal curriculum) for their 1-to-1 classrooms and provided with professional development on how to implement that comprehensive curriculum, and then a discussion of benefits of the various types of computing devices can ensue.

So, in the coming year, the focus of our blog posts will be in exploring the issues surrounding this need to reinvent curriculum in the post-textbook era. Please join us for what promises to be both a thought-provoking and practical journey! 


About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.

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