13. Systematic Continuous Curriculum Development

One thing that I’ve always wondered is why do curriculums largely stay the same year after year? I remember textbooks that get passed on year after year, content that is decades old and largely irrelevant, but still taught due to tradition or lack of new content. Why is it that traditional school curriculums tend to stay the same and be so adverse to change? With the change around the world accelerating, curriculums should constantly be updating to stay relevant.
In the last two chapters, we explored real world and experiential learning, which ties deeply to what is happening in the real world and removes the barriers that separate the academia bubble with the rest of the world. With real world and experiential learning, there will be a large amount of curriculum development that needs to be done. Not only does most of this curriculum not exist in a digestible or trackable format yet, the curriculum will need to evolve as things change. It will also need to get localized, whether it be language or context. Additionally, as more information becomes available, parts of the curriculum content will potentially need to be updated to reflect the latest discoveries and current affairs. Much like Wikipedia, the curriculum content should be kept up to date.
There are currently schools that already have a flexible curriculum. Democratic Schools, or Sudbury Schools, are schools where the entire curriculum is defined by the students and teachers there. The curriculum is altered depending on the needs and wants of each student and students are allowed to play and explore during the majority of their time in school.
This is essentially how we want to approach curriculum and course development, but with a more systematic and rule-based structure so that the effort spent on developing a module or piece of the curriculum does not get lost after the project is done. There will also need to be significantly more work done to make the piece of curriculum courses available to be used in the digital portfolio.
To do this, course development needs to be treated like individual projects and uses the following steps:
  1. 1.
    The project starts off with a target or goal that the piece of curriculum wants to achieve for a student.
  2. 2.
    After that, students will take the course and give feedback on it with suggestions on how they might change parts of it.
  3. 3.
    The course is iterated upon and updated.
For software developers, this reads like open source software, which is absolutely correct. It is open source curriculum and course development. Systems are put in place to track the feedback and recommendations. The feedback and recommendations is then, in turn, used to design for the changes and updates to the course.
Courses will use version control to track changes so anybody can always review the historical changes. It also keeps the ability for students to take older versions of the course if the new one has changes that they don’t agree with. This also means that courses can be duplicated to design a similar course with a different methodology for learning the content, allowing for A/B testing of the courses and for certain versions better suited for different types of learners.
To maintain a high quality of content and courses, a recommendation system is used to collect votes and reviews by students who have taken the course. Initially, there would be a central planning community that would seed the courses, but the goal is to make it so that courses start getting developed by the school community and the best versions get voted to the top.
The best part about all this is that anybody can participate in the development of these courses. Teachers, students, professionals, or anybody that is part of the community can contribute, whether it be adding content, voting, or giving feedback.
Here’s an example of how this might work. Let’s say a group comprised of teachers and students want to create a course to promote environmental sustainability. They brainstorm on different ideas that can be hands-on and project-based. They decide on making homemade soap by recycling oils. The initial course becomes a basic text-based tutorial on making soap. Someone then connects a section on why waste cooking oils can be dangerous to wildlife if not dealt with properly. Someone else connects a section on the chemistry of how cooking oil and lye, or sodium hydroxide, reacts to create soap. A group of students take the course and decide to film all the steps and adds the video to the tutorial so that videos are now available. Someone notices that the concept of soap is never official described, so they add a section that describes what soap and saponification is. Someone in the group decides to add a small quiz that includes questions on everything that was brought up before. Someone else decides to create a questionnaire that asks students to help brainstorm other ideas on improving environmental sustainability
As bits and pieces get added to it, the course gets bigger and more complex. Students who take the course write reviews about what they liked about the course and what they learned. Likewise, students are expect to write what they didn’t like about the course and give constructive feedback and criticism so that others can review the course to see how it can be improved. And at some point, the course might get too big and complicated, so someone might decide to split it into multiple smaller courses that are connected instead.
A curriculum with an ever evolving and growing number of courses and content created by the community is a way to better connect academia and the real world. It is very possible that there will be too many courses and the system becomes overrun with content. That is why it is important to have a system in place that allows for continuous development while maintaining quality through active participants in the school community to explore and recommend the best from the pile.

A Self-Evolving, Real World, Experiential Learning

With the last few chapters, we have explored the importance of real world connections to academia as well as the importance of focusing on experiential learning. We end this section with this chapter where we explore a systematic way in which the curriculum can be continuously developed.
In summary, this is the basic premise behind a self-evolving, real world, experiential learning, where students are experiencing real world content that is able to keep up with the present that continuous to accelerate towards the future.