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"Imagineering" the Curriculum

Written by Christina Cantrill
November 03, 2012

a beautiful collection

In a curriculum theory journey I’ve been taking recently, I have spent some time connecting digital media and learning to curriculum studies and history by following the work of Ben Williamson, currently at the University of Stirling and formerly a research fellow at the University of Exeter and FutureLab in Bristol, England. I became familiar with his work via DMLCentral.

In this blog post, Wikirriculum: Curriculum in the Digital Age, he writes about “imagineering” the curriculum, tying together ideas of imagination and engineering which I think are exciting and prompted my initial interest. He claims that “participatory youth media ought to be considered when imagineering the curriculum” and then points to a report that is a review of literature across digital youth media studies, curriculum development theory and history, and theories of knowledge: Curriculum Development and Youth Media.

In both the blog post and the report, Ben speaks about ways that network structures and the related “death of the center” (or centrifugality) impact thinking about curriculum. He describes two ways that curriculum is affected. One is a switch in thinking about governance, ie. a focus on who controls, manages and funds curriculum, along then with a focus on who/what are the switchers or connectors within those networks. In this way, he writes “curriculum design is … becoming the focus for decentralized network enterprise.”

The second way that curriculum is being affected is the way that knowledge itself is considered and decentralized. “In short,” he writes, “there is a shift being proposed from centralized knowledge management to decentralized knowledge production.”

This reminds me of a recently published Digital Is collection by colleagues of mine Antero Garcia and Cliff Lee called Popular Culture 2.0 where they describe that popular culture is not just something that youth (or any of us, for that matter!) consume but something that we now also produce. This idea brings me back to an early piece by Antero called Redefining Romeo and Juliet: Reclaiming the Ghetto. In this resource he states “is not an option to include materials that exist outside of the original text; it is an imperative part of understanding the text” and then shares research his students did that surfaced content created by other youth that then became part of a larger critical analysis in their own writing and retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

As a class, my students are thinking about how they can create videos that respond critically to the samples they’ve seen, accurately reflect a nuanced understanding of their neighborhoods & worldviews, and express thematic interpretation of the canonical text.

Here we see how youth production becomes part of the curriculum, in both research, analysis and production (as well as dissemination). Ben writes that many in the DML community will recognize this way of thinking of production and knowledge as part of curriculum development and theory since it also part of discourse around digital and media literacies (see connected learning)..

Therefore, to me, a particularly exciting part of what Ben writes is that “curriculum innovations such as these [ie. decentralized knowledge production] … position teachers and learners as authors and editors of curricular content based on their own authentic cultures and patterns of participation.”

He includes examples too; including The New Basics in Australia, Q2L in New York, Enquiring Minds, Learning Futures, and Young People’s Geographies in the UK. He writes that these “are all illustrative of a centrifugal trend to allow alternative knowledges into the curriculum and to switch those networks together with school.” I would say that Youth Voices is an example of this kind of curriculum and knowledge development too.

On October 24, 2012, Paul Allison — one of the founders of Youth Voices — gathered a group of us together on the weekly Teachers Teaching Teachers hangout to look at and “remix” a K12 Online Conference presentation called Visioning New Curriculum by Karen Fasimpaur.

Karen’s work is informed by her work on K12 Open Education Resources, and as you can see in this video she pulls in learning and curriculum examples across a diversity of situations and opportunities as a means of helping us envision the possibilities of open processes and sharing (as well as content) in education. All of which center curriculum around “what students actually make.”

To wrap up this post, Ben Williamson often reminds us about the potential dark-side of centrifugal school and decentralized curriculum, which I also believes creeps into the picture especially when we think about network enterprise and governance. A critical area that I’d like to dig deeper into myself and that Ben writes about more here too: Wikirriculum: The Promises and Politics of an Open Source Curriculum and Programmable Pedagogy: Reconfiguring the Future of Learning.

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