Review: JFF’s Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age

“Historically, most classrooms have been “curriculum centered” rather than “student centered.” David Rose, a Harvard developmental neuropsychologist, and Jenna Gravel, a doctoral student, open their recent paper Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age by summarizing the problem, “The core elements of the curriculum in most schools—textbooks and related print materials—are fixed, standardized, uniform, one-size-fits-all, but students, on the other hand, are anything but uniform or standardized.”
This awkwardly titled paper is part of  Students At The Center, a Jobs for the Future project.  (We recently reviewed 12 Findings on Mind, Brain & Education).  
The authors summarize the neuroscience, “Individuals are complex composites of variation in a great many different capabilities—not only within a single modality like vision or hearing but also at higher levels of integration, such as cognition, language, and memory. Variation is not only universal, it is ubiquitous.”
By page 8 you find out Rose and Gravel are pitching universal design for learning (UDL), a twenty year old framework from CAST, based on multiple means of representation, of action and response, and engagement.  Figure 1 on page 9 is the ‘magic table’ that summarizes the UDL advice with intended outcomes of “resourceful, knowledgeable learners; strategic, goal-oriented learners; purposeful, motivated learners.”  These are obviously all good things.
Another BFO, “No single tool, method, or path to success will be optimal for every student. Only by providing well-chosen options can we create learning environments that are effectively student centered for all students.“
Their comments on the advantages of digital media are accurate but predictable, “Not only do digital technologies provide better options for customizing presentations to meet the challenge of individual differences, those same technologies also vastly increase the range of concepts that can be conveyed for any student.“
The authors only contemplate adoption of digital media in otherwise traditional schools–they reimagine a traditional classroom but not the traditional school.
They note the importance of “graduated supports and scaffolds” that “calibrate and adjust them to the changes in skill and development that come with practice—a gradual release toward independence” But they don’t seem familiar with widely used adaptive assessments like NWEA, adaptive content sequences like Dreambox, or new combos like i-Ready.
In sum, Rose and Gravel suggest:

The student-centered classroom harnesses the flexibility of new media to provide a diverse range of students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. The student-centered classroom harnesses the flexibility of new media for the teacher, providing a rich set of tools and resources to elevate and differentiate teaching. In that rich environment, the teacher can be both a content provider and the classroom’s most experienced and savvy teacher/learner, a model of the kind of expert learner students can emulate.

This paragraph suggests that the authors appreciate some of the benefits of digital learning but continue to see its application in traditional setting.  Their recommendations don’t indicate much exposure to blended models–they focus entirely on classroom designs rather than school designs.
If you’ve been working with adpative technologies, you won’t find any new information here.  If you teach in a traditional environment, this would be a good paper to discuss in a professional development session, but pair it with The Rise of Blended Learning.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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