Tag Archives: content

What is content? #rhizo15 #week3

Laura Gibbs’ says something heartwarming in her post for Week 3 which is about content. (Dave thinks of the word ‘content’ ‘lonely and disconnected… merging with the learning objective and the assessment to create a world where learning is about acquiring truth from the truth box.’  Laura talks about the #Rhizo15 course :

There are not assigned readings for Rhizo15 as there were in Connected Courses … and that is totally fine with me. It’s the blogs of the other participants that are really alive and important to me for the purposes of the (un)course experience. Yes, CONTENT IS PEOPLE:

Content for #rhizo15 is people and conversations happening, and learning/understanding being constructed in Twitter chats, blog posts, blog comments,etc.

It’s very rich and it draws its own path just as the unheld garden hose comes alive and is a bit wild.

Here’s an example in the form of a Facebook conversation arising from Simon Ensor’s post ‘Does content need a container?’

For #Rhizo15 the content really is the curriculum. But we are educators. No – we are educators who love to learn. No – we are educators who love to learn with each other. Content is people.

Is content people in secondary school? Definitely no. It is predominantly prescribed content delivered to the student by the teacher or assigned to the students through designated sections of a textbook, practised in homework and tested. It is graded, given a percentage, there is a volume that is known and that is assessed.

Is it created? No. Is it constructed? No. Is it shared? Not really, it is given to the teacher to check.

That is sad.

I tried to create an online community for my writing interest group. This is something the students choose to join. It’s not curriculum although the students can get diploma points.

Boys are like ‘how many blog posts do we need to do to get diploma points?’

I’m like ‘are you here for the diploma points?’

So the Facebook group is supposed to be a caring and sharing space far away from the bustle of the bright school lights. I’m thinking my students know how to be on Facebook.  In meetings I’m like ‘so feel free to share what you write, something you’ve read that resonates with you in the Facebook group’.

(On Facebook) They’re like: silence (invisible).

I try not to go on about it. I share stuff, all sorts of stuff, hoping to show them how to do it, trying to be unschooly.

Some of them will ‘like’ but many of those I can see have read (or visited) will not offer any response.

Yes, I know they’re busy but sheesh.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t say ‘every term you must share 3 somethings in the Facebook group or else you don’t get diploma points. You understand why I can’t, yes? But what can I do?

How can I transform content from something cold, solitary and unhuman to something which is embodied?

I’ve written about this before. You can see I’m obsessed with it. Making the shift for these students to the kind of learning they construct together is important, more important than giving them content in a textbook-shaped container.

Content is a shifty word. It can mean different things to different people.

A balance between teaching skills and content


Photo by takaken2008 on Flickr

What are 21st century skills and are these skills different to those currently being taught in schools?  How radically do we need to change our teaching practices?

Daniel Willingham has written an informative post in Britannica blog entitled Education for the 21st century: balancing content with skills, in which he asks and answers the important question: why the sudden concern for 21st century skills.

Willingham quotes reports and books  that point to:

changes in the skills required for most jobs. Our economy is generating fewer jobs in which workers engage in repetitive tasks throughout their day (e.g., assembly line work) and more information-rich jobs that present workers with novel problems and that require analysis and teamwork.

 Willingham quotes Elena Silva in defining these skills as having at their core the ability to

analyze and evaluate information, create new ideas and new knowledge from the information.

He also adds to creativity and critical thinking the following essential skills for the 21st century from a report from the partnership for 21st century skills :

new knowledge … [and] global awareness, media literacy, information literacy, and other new content.

Now, this is where I start sitting up and taking note. Although I’m fully on board with the need for 21st century skills, I haven’t felt comfortable substituting content for skills alone. Memorisation of facts without the skills is obviously a waste of time, and I understand that you need the skills to locate, manage and synthesize the freely available information to create knowledge, but we still need a knowledge of some content, surely, otherwise the skills are free floating and without context. 

Willingham ties up the skills/content dilemma very well for me. He says that the 21st century skills require deep understanding of subject matter:

Shallow understanding requires knowing some facts. Deep understanding requires knowing the facts AND knowing how they fit together, seeing the whole.

And skills like “analysis” and “critical thinking” are tied to content; you analyze history differently than you analyze literature … If you don’t think that most of our students are gaining very deep knowledge of core subjects—and you shouldn’t—then there is not much point in calling for more emphasis on analysis and critical thinking unless you take the content problem seriously. You can’t have one without the other.

As usual, a balance is required to make things work effectively, and this should surely be common sense. This way we avoid the too often pendulum swings that have occurred in the history of education

between an emphasis on process (analysis, critical thinking, cooperative learning) which fosters concern that students lack knowledge and generates a back-to-basics movement that emphasizes content, which fosters concern that student are merely parroting facts with no idea of how to use their knowledge, and so on.

For me, this balance is the key to identifying the problems and solutions of 21st century learning. I’m trying to understand the shift in education more deeply to avoid a superficial conversion. I think that, for me at least, more discussion will enable a deeper understanding of the learning processes and the corresponding teaching processes that are essential to prepare students for work and life in these times.

As usual, I welcome and am grateful for any comments, and look forward to generating some discussion.