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#rhizo15 week 3: The 'myth' of content

3 min read

I don't feel nearly as inspired by this week's topic as I did by last week's but I'll try anyway!

First, a warning that I don't have any interesting anti-content or un-content things to say. I saw this question to be about prescription, about top down curriculum development. There's been a lot of talk about negotiated curricula which would be a very learner-centred thing to do but requires a lot of the teacher -- breadth if not depth of knowledge, a well-developed capacity for self-directed learning, adaptability, willingness to admit that she doesn't know everything, identification as a learner herself -- the 21st century teacher?

So I'm circling back to heutagogy, which is characterised by 

  • Recognition of the emergent nature of learning and hence the need for a ‘living’ curriculum that is flexible and open to change as the learner learns;
  • the involvement of the learner in this ‘living’ curriculum as the key driver

The elements of a heutagogical approach are:

  • Learner-defined learning contracts
  • Flexible curriculum
  • Learner-directed questions
  • Flexible and negotiated assessment
  • Reflective practice
  • Collaborative learning  

Can we learn together but with each of us following our own curriculum? Could we design our own assessments? What assessment literacy/literacies are needed? What demands does this place on the teacher for their support?

An emerging theme in my own research is the completely obvious observation that the assessment of digital literacies requires digitally literate teachers. Similarly obvious: heutagogical learning requires heutagogical teachers (or facilitators if one prefers). And it's probably my own preoccupation talking, but it looks like assessment literacy is a big (missing) piece of the puzzle here. Can we expect learners to design their own assessments if they lack assessment literacy? Can we expect teachers to guide learners if they lack the same?

I've mentioned that I find 's conceptualisation of collaborative problem solving problematic. This CPS construct is the basis of their CPS developmental progression scale, which teachers can use to observe their students in the process of CPS, in order to assess their CPS development. I'll say more about this in my post tomorrow. Here I just want to make the point that this approach to assessing 21st century skills is not heutagogical. Even when not 'curriculum-based' as claimed, the curriculum or content here is in fact embedded in the assessment, and this is still top-down, because the learners play no part in developing it.

I am not making any claims to teaching heutagogically here. I'm still experimenting with ways of doing that within the constraints of institutions and the limited time I have with any one student (because university courses are so short). But it's certainly something to think about: how can I help my students understand assessment in the digital age by designing ours together? This semester my language assessment students and I were able to co-construct our assessment rubric and negotiate deadlines. Next semester (if I get to teach this again), could the students play a bigger role in designing the assessments and therefore determining the content?