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Unexpected challenge yields chance to apply new curriculum thinking

Written on September 21st, 2012

The opportunity for Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) directors to apply their new thinking around curriculum arose recently when some elements of an early Canadian history junior curriculum were challenged for accuracy.

Edits were instantly and carefully made, but then came the question — how to republish?

With the new OACS eCurriculum site, it made sense to do so digitally, but in exactly what way?

Options included just uploading the new resources as PDFs for OACS teachers to easily access.

But, as director of information architecture and learning Chris van Donkelaar notes, that would just continue the traditional curriculum development model that the OACS was beginning to question.

Rather than the OACS producing finished, “perfect” units, the new idea is to create resources that are always in progress, and, in their evolution, encourage a broader participation and collaboration amongst the entire OACS community, especially teachers.

In this regard, the OACS is in line with growing education trends. Other systems are also exploring more of a “wiki” approach to creating educational resources, with entire stakeholder groups involved in their making.

The OACS differentiator is that it is consciously integrating structure and co-creation. Van Donkelaar has observed other systems seeming to fall on either one end of the spectrum or the other — either complete adherence to continuing to create traditional, finished resources or just focusing on the constant co-creation of new material.

But especially in education, he says, you have to have strong observance of standards.

“So our question was, how do we keep strong standards in a model that also allows for really broad collaboration?”

The answer has come in the form of a series of strong templates which allow for focused material to be separated out across the site.

For instance, the units, lessons and activities in a curriculum strand are divided up and then indications made around which aspects of those to invite collaborative activity according to certain guidelines.

Last month the first foray into this new approach took place with the publication of the early Canadian history junior curriculum — in a template and format that allows all teachers within the OACS to share their activities freely but within a certain set of standards.

Going forward this year, all the junior creation studies resources will also be uploaded, with plans that to add all OACS curricular materials over the next two to three years. This shift is also opening up the possibility, further down the road, of writing whole new swaths of material.

Van Donkelaar says he’s especially excited for what this format offers teachers by way of supporting their own creative ideas, and how that support hopefully translates into inspiration to continue to try new things.

“I think that technology today has wonderful potential to support many important aspects of life and when I think of what I have appreciated most in these wonderful teachers that I’ve come in contact through projects or visiting; it’s their creativity, which I think is just the most engaging, exciting, probably strongest reflection of God in their work,” says van Donkelaar.

“The chance then to support and play a part in creating these learning resources that the OACS has made for many years and to use these amazing new technologies that have been around less than 10 years, and to explore the ways in which that can actually facilitate engagement and creativity and collaboration amongst these teachers, is really exciting.”

Van Donkelaar adds he believes this new trajectory offers another way for the OACS to give voice to its members, especially the close to a thousand teachers, which can be a strengthening force for the association as a whole.

— More to Come