The possibilities for educators to remix traditional content in new and exciting ways have never been greater. Recent releases of content creation/curation platforms like iBook Author and MentorMob, among others, have opened the door for desktop textbook publication and online teaching material creation in ways that were not even being imagined five years ago. There are many reasons to think about digitally remixing the curriculum in both K-12 and higher education, but there are also significant obstacles and considerations that need to be examined.
Benefits of a Remixed Curriculum
- Making Free Education Free – There is such a wealth of information and learning resources currently available online that there is no reason that most of the content of a public school curriculum cannot be free (Education Week, Feb. 8, 2012). Initiatives like Khan Academy and CK-12 Flexbook, as well as other formal and informal options are exploding across the Internet and providing both the small pieces necessary to create a custom curriculums as well as fully developed options. This trend is not confined to K-12 education though. While it may be more challenging to find free college-level resources in some areas, there is a growing movement towards publishing free content online. Some organizations are even creating and sharing entire college-level course curriculums for free online. This is the case with Washington State’s Open Course Library, which contains free or low-cost content, resources, and lessons for 80 of the most common community college courses.
- Interactive Design – Another great reason for remixing the curriculum is the flexibility and creativity that is possible through digital media. Digital books and other resources allow students to move beyond text to learn in new and exciting ways (Cairncross & Mannion, 2001). The iBooks2 platform, for example turns the textbook into a multimedia learning experience by incorporating video, animation, simulations, and graphics that students can manipulate to better understand how different variables interact. Beyond the book metaphor, the web itself and the power of sites like MentorMob, Khan Academy, and Udacity allow students to be actively engaged with their own learning by controlling the pacing of instruction and the paths that they take to reaching objectives – in other words, it allows for "flipping" the classroom.
- Broadening Horizons – Pulling content from a wide variety of sources helps a (potentially) more inclusive world view to enter the classroom. For example, allowing teachers to pull their curricular content from a variety of sources located around the Web and around the world, rather than from a single, giant textbook publisher necessarily provides a greater breadth of perspective on a given subject. Pairing traditional information sources, such as encyclopedia entries, with on the ground reporting from sites such as Ground Report or WikiLeaks, and information from government agencies can engage students in up-to-the minute learning, while still providing a historical perspective – all for free.
Obstacles to Remixing the Curriculum
- Time is of the Essence – Even though the promise of remixing the curriculum is great, there are still substantial obstacles and concerns to be addressed in making it a reality. The most crippling obstacle to remixing the curriculum is time. In most schools, there is little time for teachers to actually create or curate their own materials. In some cases, the knowledge, tools, know-how, and support for making it happen are not present. One model that is working is in the Open High School of Utah, a charter school which gives teachers a full year to compile their digital materials prior to implementing them in the classroom (Education Week, Feb. 8, 2012). Not all schools have the luxury of providing such extensive course development time, while some do not have teachers who are comfortable doing the development themselves. Another solution that some districts are turning to, according to the Education Week article, is to hire curricular experts who compile or create the resources for teachers.
- Crossing the Divide – The learning benefits and potential cost savings of remixing the curriculum in favor of free digital resources are substantial, but the Digital Divide presents a very real concern in this movement that should not be overlooked. At the school and district level there is significant inequality in funding for schools (School Funding Fairness.org) that could cripple the initiative in some schools. It is important to consider that a digital curriculum requires a one to one ratio of students to digital devices in order to make it successful. Where these devices come from in schools that are in financial distress and that serve low socioeconomic status students is a real and troubling issue. While there are some initiatives and grants to help fill this gap, there are not enough. What are the consequences, both emotionally and economically, for students who do not have the opportunity to benefit from a remixed education in a world where their peers do?
To Remix or Not to Remix?
This is a question that will play itself out in the public arena over the next several years. On the whole, remixing the curriculum for a majority of American schools, both K-12 and at the university level, seems inevitable. Financial considerations will force K-12 schools to move increasingly to free materials, driving the adoption of digital learning platforms. As these students become accustomed to this method of content delivery, they will expect it when they move on to higher education. Colleges and universities, while generally in a better position to make such a change, will have to adjust rapidly or risk alienating their clients. Ultimately, for higher education, this might be a real benefit as it will also provide a small amount of relief for students struggling with the high cost of higher education.