George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to "globalize." What this means exactly isn't universally agreed upon.

In major world markets, the business world globalized decades ago, expanding beyond domestic markets in pursuit of more diverse audiences and stronger profits. And while major players in business continue to experiment and find their way in markets whose culture and buying practices diverge from those domestic, the "field" of education has been slow to follow suit.

This is made all the stranger by the relationship between education and economic systems. If one goal of education is to prepare a "workforce," the more parallel the educational system is with the workforce, the less "waste" there might be. While industrialism, commercialism, religion and technology all reach out across political and geographical borders, education lags awkwardly behind.

So how do you "globalize" a curriculum? Certainly that means something different for educators everywhere, but where do you begin with an effort this ambitious?

How about starting small, with manageable ideas? Adapting to the learners, rethinking learning spaces and leveraging the role of play.

Idea 1: Adapt to the Learners

More often than not, educators select the technology platforms and tools (and thus the domain) of learning, and force the students to use them rather than understanding the needs of learners first, and then finding the appropriate tech to support those needs.

While you don't have to blindly adopt, you can adapt your tools, bias, language and platforms. But doing this also means that you must first understand the tools' strengths. Using Twitter, a Google+ Hangout or video games in a learning experience is only as useful as the nature of and reasons for that integration.

Beyond an initial credibility with learners or the buzz of a new tech toy, consider what is gained with the implementation. Technology is powerful. The question is, what is it doing powerfully? Promoting understanding, or distracting from knowledge-building?

Traditionally, formal education has required learners to come to the content via well-sequenced instruction, charismatic teachers or dogged determinism on the part of the learner. As learners have access to more diverse forms of informal collaboration through social media platforms, as well as access to motherlodes of information, this pattern must change in form and tone. It is now possible to place learners, learner pathways and learner collaboration on full display, removing institutionally-centered ideas of compartmentalized "content areas," teacher knowledge and staid "learning targets."

Classroom Strategies

1) Use powerful, relevant media forms -- music and video, for example.
2) Allow students to self-select their group members, create their own rubrics, source their learning materials, or even plan lessons.
3) Use feedback systems, grading, assessment forms and other aspects of instructional design toward which your students seem to gravitate. Often students resist not the content, but the form.

Idea 2: Rethink Learning Spaces

Reimagining a building's physical space as simply a physical meeting point can improve global awareness. This in and of itself -- if you can truly manage it in daily practice -- will enable countless other less visible but crucial adjustments to the learning process. In this way, through the application of technology, digital media and social media, the walls of all buildings become transparent.

Consider how you'd plan a learning experience if you had no classroom. How would it be different? Now, consider that you do, in fact, have to meet tomorrow morning in a small room with concrete floors. Where do you go from there -- if that classroom is just a starting point? A global curriculum can't be created or implemented sitting in a room, no matter the miracle of technology.

Classroom Strategies

1) Communicate in person with authentic audiences in the community.
2) Use project-based learning to literally deliver products and solutions that address "real time" local problems and issues.
3) Move to other classrooms to collaborate with other classes in other content areas.

Idea 3: Leverage the Role of Play

Learners are incredibly creative, curious, social and ambitious. The issue is often their application of these talents to resist the formal learning process. "Globalization" is first and foremost about awareness, then application. Creating informal learning "areas" for students to resist, reject, rebel, repurpose and rethink is every bit as powerful as even the best-planned instructional sequence.

Digital and social media benefit from so much "hands on" time that learning -- in one form or another -- is omnipresent. Figuring out where and how, and using this knowledge to your advantage, is the next step. What are "users" of information doing naturally without my express instruction? What is happening with processes and information when the teacher "isn't looking"? (And if the answer is "nothing," what does that tell us?)

Project-based learning also honors the concept of "play," where learning is not tightly sequenced and scripted, but organic, and learners begin learning to manage their own time, focus and intellectual and creative output.

Classroom Strategies

1. Use project-based learning that provides multiple potential learning paths, and that are open-ended.
2. Gamify your classroom or curriculum. Establish leaderboards, offer perks to unlock via task completion, and make otherwise subtle steps of the learning process more visible.
3. Use digital and social platforms for projects. These encourage students to "play" with tools and features that are natural to them.

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Andrew Old's picture
Andrew Old
Teacher in England

Sorry, but all 3 of your suggestions were fashionable in the US in the 1920s, and in England in the 1960s.

If you are going to reheat old (and in my opinion failed) ideas from the tradition of progressive education surely it's absurd to call them "21st century" just because you mention social media when you explain them?

Terry Heick's picture
Terry Heick
founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.

Andrew--Thanks for the feedback. These three ideas function within a larger context--10 ideas total that help support the thesis that "globalization" is the natural macro consequence of meaningful micro placement. My main interest is to caution against rushing into over-reaching, and creating a curriculum that is imbalanced (i.e., one that is "global" just for the sake of being global).

It is inspired by the writing of Wendell Berry, an American writer who, among other values, encourages the honoring of scale, intellectual intimacy, and community. These ideas are relevant no matter what century you're in. The role of play is now more than ever accessible through the social media you mention, as are re-considered learning spaces. I can't comment on formal education in the UK, but I can say that in many districts here state-side, there is tremendous (and singular) push for proficiency based on standards--and of course these very strict, outcomes-based learning formats often necessitate for institutionally-centered learning experiences, rather than learner-centered experiences.

So then, it is insightful of you to recognize that these ideas may seem "reheated." Marrying prioritized, classic approaches to modern innovation was indeed the big idea here. I don't hold out much hope that we're going to discover some amazing innovation that is going to completely reshape all planned learning. What I do believe, however, is that as we are exposed to new ideas--tech, social media, PBL, etc.--previous traditions that may have seemingly lacked efficacy can be re-fashioned in new light, to new success.

Andrew Old's picture
Andrew Old
Teacher in England

The current American reform movement is a reaction to almost a century of the kind of ideas you are recommending.

You need to address the history that you are so keen to repeat. Saying "we have new technology now" is not enough, because we have always had new technology of one sort or another. It doesn't mean that change was always justified. Thomas Edison predicted in 1913 that textbooks would die out within ten years because of the invention of moving pictures. It never happened because being new is not enough, it has to actually be better for teaching and learning and it rarely is.

As for new ideas, they actually have to be new. PBL, far from being new, is about 100 years old. The only reason to pretend it is new is so that people don't find out that it doesn't really work terribly well.

Terry Heick's picture
Terry Heick
founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.

Thanks again for the comment.

Something to keep in mind is that these recommendations are not for general ed reform, nor are they meant to describe entirely new learning forms. Equally, they aren't intended as a framework, or as a delineated learning model to guide new directions or visions for learning.

Rather, these ideas are intended to speak to what a global curriculum does and does not mean. And their primary thesis--that a "global" curriculum can only occur through local action--is intentionally fundamental, though I appreciate your position that "none of these ideas work." I'd respond that these ideas--including PBL--are as effective as the art and thought that goes into their application.

Terry Heick's picture
Terry Heick
founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.

All that being said, I'd love to hear your ideas for globalization, progressive curriculum design, and innovative learning forms and models that work where everything else has failed. You can email me at terryheick at gmail dot com.

Thanks again for the communication. If everyone had conversations like these, the need for these kinds of conversations would be, well, different.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I particularly appreciate your recognition of the role of play in the work of learning. Since we know that, neurologically, people can't learn when they're afraid, it would stand to reason that being fully engaged and free to explore (to play) would lead to better levels of learning.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator & Trainer, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI #GoogleET

Rethinking learning spaces is a great one. I recently had the opportunity to design a classroom space from scratch. I inherited a gigantic space that had been used by a "regular" 4th grade classroom. I re-imagined it into a collaborative space for my K-4 Computer/STEMLAB and it's been working very, very well.




The kids love the flexible seating, I love having two distinct instructional areas, we have plenty of room to move around, explore and play. It's made a huge difference in my program. Before, I was in a traditional computer lab with 30 PCs and no windows. What a transformation!


Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator & Trainer, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI #GoogleET

Thanks Samer! Built it essentially by myself in 70 days in the summer of 2012. Good times...

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