Introduction: New Culture, "i-Person" and Education
Several years ago we entered a New Age, the Internet Age, with a New Culture that clearly deviates from the contemporary culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and since then we are living "the greatest social change in human history" (Partal, 2001)
Understanding culture as the "set of representations, rules of conduct, ideas, values, forms of communication and behavior learned patterns (not innate) that characterize a social group" (Quintanilla, 1992), economic globalization and constant cultural and scientific advances, especially the construction of Cyberspace, have conducted profound changes in our cultural substrate forming a "new technological paradigm organized around Information Technology" (Castells, 2000:60).
So today among the instruments that most of us have ALWAYS available when we are building learning or carrying out a task, besides the traditional pencil and paper we also have Internet access (via mobile phones, digital tablets, computers...). The Internet helps us to locate any type of information we may need and multiplies our possibilities to communicate and work in Cyberspace, this parallel world where we can do more and more things each day and where we consequently spend more and more time.
The Internet has become so important that in some of its reports the UN has considered “free Internet access” as a human right and is promoting governmental actions against the “digital gap” (El Mundo, 2011).
The changes in our vital context are substantive and force us to face new challenges but also provide us with new resources and new possibilities. The (almost) permanent access to the Internet gives us access to an alternative parallel world where we have the chance to make most of our activities. It is like our brains had been expanded with a new lobe (the Internet lobe) that can ALWAYS access any information we are interested in. This is not the result of a mutation and does not give us onmiscience, but it is certainly a first-rate evolutionary leap in human evolution. Now some people (specially those who can be identified with what has been called the "i-Person", that is to say, people who have integrated i-devices, such as the i-Phone, i-Pad, etc. in their daily life) are potentially much more powerful than other "Homo Sapiens" because they are adapting better to our new cultural scene (Marquès, 2011 b).
In this framework, Education, today as always, aims at helping students develop their full potential (intellectually, emotionally, morally, physically, etc.) and transmitting them the culture of our society, so that they can become functioning members of society, help others and live a satisfactory life themselves.
This function of culture transmission, however, requires a thorough review of the curriculum that we develop in schools. If today we have a "New Culture", new tools and new forms of communication we cannot continue teaching and assessing students with the goals, instruments and procedures of the past.
And just in the same manner that until today Education was meant to help us to take advantage of the wonderful potential of our brain (to communicate, read, calculate, create, live...), now it must also help us to do the same with the omnipresent Internet, to which we always have access to and which frees us from memorizing many things (and here we must say many, not all), but also requires us to develop new skills if we are to avoid some risks like dependency, misinformation, shallow thinking, etc. (Carr, 2010; Marquès, 2011)
Because although it is said that new generations, the "digital natives" as Marc Prensky calls them (2010), are very skilled using IT, the truth is that this ability is manifested only in what interests them (playing, searching for music and movies, interacting on social networks ...) Although many times we can see in them some of the characteristics that Prensky points out (like predisposition for multithreading, interaction in screens, sharing, nonlinear accessing to information with preference for the textual versus multimedia...), most of them are not familiar with many of the risks of Cyberspace and don’t know how to select the most efficient tools and methodologies for their homework. This is because the development of the good judgment needed for the selection of information and tools requires training and plenty of practice time, and these are not promoted in schools where little attention is paid to Cyberspace, even though when Cyberspace has become today a parallel world where students (and more and more citizens of all ages) spend many hours a week. Should we start thinking of complementing the classic subjects of "science" and "social sciences" with a new subject, the "Science of Cyberspace"?
What is the bimodal curriculum? (or bimodal approach of the curriculum)
The changing cultural scenario of the Internet Age is forcing us to evolve into the i-Person, always connected to the Internet. Now, whenever we have to carry out a task, we can (almost) always go on the net and find the information we need in a more and more stable and faster and faster Internet.
We can do this provided that we know how to search, that is to say, how to do it efficiently and in a limited time, not spending hours clarifying concepts in reference sources (like Wikipedia and others). So in addition to knowing how to search, we need to have a good vocabulary, which will free us from having to be constantly looking up words in encyclopedias and other reference sources on the Internet. Here, remembering having made similar previous experiences will be of great help.
In this scenario, once the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic have been learned, adopting the bimodal curriculum means accepting that almost all the learning activities of our students are of two types: “memorizing” activities or “practicing, doing, applying” activities, and here “doing” means always doing with the support of their “auxiliary memory”, like their class notes, books or the Internet. Now let us see in detail these two types of activities of the bimodal curriculum:
1. - Memorizing activities. They are activities that focus mainly on vocabulary and data acquisition (concepts, events, people, multiplication tables, spelling...) that even in our Internet Age remain essential to people: to think (we think using "our vocabulary”), to understand what we read or what we are told, to communicate with others, to search on the Internet and understand others contributions ...
In this context, for each subject and grade, the teacher will decide at the start of course the 50 or 100 concepts (processes, events, characters...) that students should memorize and integrate into their mental frameworks (to know, to understand, to use, to able to explain) by the end of the course. These concepts will make up the essential vocabulary and data list. Optionally, the teacher will also prepare a second list of words and data that he considers not essential but desirable for students to know by the end of the course, this will be the desirable vocabulary and data list. Students will receive these lists at the start of course and will know from the beginning what they are expected to know by the end of the course.
In each class session a part of this lists will be systematically worked, with multiple learning activities (individual, group and collaborative) oriented to memorize these contents, like for example exercises with the glossary, interest centers, project work... Probably teachers will continue doing many of the exercises that have been “traditionally” done at school, but we can use all kinds of methods (traditional or innovative, with or without IT), taking into account that the aim is that students understand, memorize and integrate into their mental maps this information... so that they are able to recognize these words (in documents and oral discourses), to use this words (in thinking, speaking and performing other activities) and to explain (define each of the words of this vocabulary, accordingly to their age and grade).
We know that people remember easily the information that they use often. Therefore we must provide students chances to use this vocabulary and data, so that they can learn it by carrying out new activities (alternative definitions, relationships, creative writing...) requiring its use (functionality and transfer of learning) and being presented with questions that trigger their relating and reflecting skills.
Many of the learning activities focused on memorizing vocabulary and data will be done without IT support, however the review and study of media content and the practice with self-corrected exercises of digital textbooks and other educational Internet platforms will be a great help for teachers and students.
2. – Practical activities for applying knowledge. They are activities involving the execution of a task (to solve problems, analyze sentences and processes, assess situations or materials, plan and develop projects, synthesize, create...). The approach of the bimodal curriculum requires that students are ALWAYS able to make these practical activities with the support of their "auxiliary memory", reviewing their notes, books, the Internet ... The teacher will decide in each case which information sources can be used.
The goal is that students get used to work with the supports that are always present in the Internet Age (notes, books, the Internet and other IT tools). Of course, all tasks will be assigned a specific time that must be respected, so that students who do not possess the essential vocabulary and who have no experience in similar tasks most likely will not be able to finish the assignment in time, since searching and finding information on the Internet takes time.
These “practical activities” include also some activities, like psychomotor development, mental agility or development of cognitive functions, in which the consultation of external sources does not bring anything or, like exercises where an immediate answer is required, will simply not be possible. These are not memorizing activities in themselves but must be however executed with the resources that each student has available in their memories, like for example mental arithmetic or identification of elements in a photograph.
Practical activities with documentary support will sometimes be done individually, to strengthen the students’ autonomy and self-confidence, and sometimes will be done in groups, to promote mutual support and collaborative work. In any case, in these activities students should not memorize data (since they have the data already on the net) but should acquire new experiences that will leave a mark on their memories, so that when they remember them in the future, their self-confidence will be strengthened and they will find performing similar tasks easier.
Performing the same activity in different contexts over time will allow them to accumulate experiences that will enrich their "know how" (knowing what they have just learned or read in a manual) and will provide them "criteria" to adjust better and better their "know how" to the context in which they must work in.
Furthermore, the execution of these activities requires students to apply various cognitive skills (analysis, synthesis, hypothetical-deductive reasoning, assessment, exploration, selection, creation, planning...) and with that they will develop their intellectual abilities and basic skills in general.
In this context, for each subject and grade, the teacher will decided at the start of course the practical activities that students should know how to perform by the end of the course (basic list of practical activities). Optionally he will also prepare a second list of advanced practical activities. Students will receive these lists at the start of course and will know from the beginning what they are expected to know by the end of the course.
In their classes teachers may apply all kinds of methods (traditional or innovative, with or without IT) but here the use of IT resources will enlarge greatly (in quantity, educational potential and relevance of learning) the range of possible learning activities that we can offer students.
The bimodal curriculum approach fits into the framework of George Siemens’ connectivism theory of learning that focus on today’s need of knowing and connecting the changing sources of information. The data we memorize may become obsolete tomorrow, however the right sources of information will always provide us up-to-date information. "Learning (defined as applicable knowledge) can be outside us" (Siemens, 2004). Knowledge is not only inside humans but is also spread across multiple sources of information that students must learn to use according to their interests and needs.
On the same line, Professor Manuel Area points out: "With so much information available, it is more useful to know at all times the best procedure to get the right information than to store data in case it may be useful in the future" (Area, 2008).
How are exams like in a bimodal curriculum?
According to the dual type of learning activities of the bimodal curriculum, we consider two types of exams:
1. – Exams with memorizing exercises to verify that students have learned the basic vocabulary and data of the subject and that they are able to explain it: essential and desirable lists of vocabulary and data (the knowledge of the desirable list will allow to obtain a higher score).
As until now, in order to pass the exam, students should study before the exam day to strengthen their knowledge of memorized concepts. During the exam they should provide basic information of people and events, define concepts and processes...
2. – Exams with practical exercises with support from the "auxiliary memory" (students may have access to their notes, books, the Internet…). These exams will include activities such as problem solving, analysis, grammar, text commentaries, summaries of documents, relating historical facts and circumstances... They will refer to lists of basic and advanced practical activities. The advanced activities will allow them to obtain a higher score.
Teachers will specify a limited time for each exam. It is recommended that exams include some practical activities (compulsory for all) and other complementary activities with advanced exercises (for those who wish to obtain a higher score).
In these exams, students that usually do all class exercises and homework using their documentary support (“auxiliary memory”) will not need to study to prepare the exam. The exam will be similar to a class exercise and students will be able to use their “auxiliary memory”: notes, books and (if the teacher allows it) the Internet.Our starting proposal for compulsory education, and that each teacher can adjust to subject, grade and circumstances, is that memorizing exams (vocabulary and data) be between 33% and 50% of the total score of the subject.
What do we mean by "auxiliary memory"?
Having a permanent Internet connection, the "i-Person" can always access the vast sources of information in Cyberspace to search and find the data needed at any time. When, for example, we are watching a historical film and we want to place a character in its historical context and the historical references that we remember, we can quickly access this information on our Smartphone or tablet. If we are good searching on the Internet (one of the key activities that should be learned at school today), in a few seconds we will get the answer. As Dolors Reig says, "the Internet becomes our external hard drive, the place where we store a lot of things that before we could only learn" (Reig, 2012). In this sense, today Google has already become our external memory always available.
In this way, we can change the way we learn: we may retain the information directly in our brains or recall that it is on the Internet (sometimes even remember where on the Internet it is). According to research by Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of Columbia University (New York), published in the journal Science, as the Internet provides a kind of collective memory, people stop remembering the information they know they can access from their computer but take good care to remember where to find it (Sparrow et al., 2011). That is, we tend to store less information in our brain memory bank and use the Internet as personal data bank, such as an "external auxiliary memory." Moreover, the brain still remembers the specifics of the issues that interest us.
As George Siemens says: "Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking. Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories can now be made, or supported by technology”. “Knowing how and knowing why are being supplemented with knowing where (the understanding of where to find the required knowledge)" (Siemens, 2004). The pipe is more important than its contents.
According to Siemens, it is a challenge to activate the previously acquired knowledge in situations where it is required. However when the required knowledge is unknown, our ability to connect with sources that can provide this knowledge becomes essential. As knowledge grows and evolves, our ability to learn what we may need tomorrow is more important than what we know today, the access to what is needed is more important than what is already known. Therefore, "nourishing and maintaining connections is needed for continuous learning" and "the ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a key skill." (Siemens, 2004).
In this context we must consider that searching information on the Internet always takes time. Therefore, despite the continuous availability of Internet content, to make our access to information (documents, links, videos...), contacts (people, networks...) and Internet tools related to our regular activities easier and faster, a good option is to build an environment (web, blog, wiki...) where we can store and order all these resources as we find them, so that when we need them, we can find them much faster.
We call this environment our "auxiliary memory" or "enhanced memory". It is like a library-book-workshop that can be filled (as we do with our memory) with data and tools for information processing, and when we need it, we can go there to search information or work with our tools. For the author of this article, his auxiliary memory is this website: <http://peremarques.net/>
When we don’t find what we need in our “auxiliary memory”, we still are able to search information on the Internet using search engines and also asking our colleagues in our social networks.
The “auxiliary memory” is a personal environment that students should start building at school, little by little. Young students may start with a notebook, folder or portfolio where they can collect notes and clippings of interest. Later students can begin creating their first personal digital environment on the Internet. When applying the bimodal curriculum approach, the “auxiliary memory” will immediately be useful, as it can be used as a support for practical activities and also as a "vademecum" where students can synthesize the vocabulary and data they have to memorize.
Ultimately the matter is that students build their memory (its representation of reality, of the world) as always from the information they receive, from their learning, their actions and experiences, etc. but now they distribute this information between the usual space of "brain memory" and the new, always accessible space that we call "auxiliary memory".The concept of "auxiliary memory" is close to the so-called "Personal Learning Environments" (PLE): "a set of tools, information sources, links and activities that a person frequently uses to learn" (Adell and Castañeda, 2010). The “auxiliary memory”, however, is an environment that can be useful in many different circumstances throughout life (not only during learning activities): studies, work, leisure, etc.
The bimodal curriculum and the PISA test
"PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is a comparative, international study that evaluates the performance of pupils aged 15 at the end of compulsory school, by means of assessing certain key competencies, such as reading, math and science. This project evaluates the ability of students to apply concepts and work in various situations within each area ... " (OCDE, 2009)
Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD PISA program, summarizes the new role of education in today's world where information sources are always within our reach, "educational success does no longer mean to retrieve content knowledge but to extrapolate what we know and apply it to new situations. Education, therefore, has to do much more with ways of thinking, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and decision-making; with ways of working, including communication and collaboration; with tools, including the ability to recognize and exploit the potential of new technologies, and the ability to live in a multifaceted world as active, responsible citizens" (Scheleicher, 2011).
In this context, PISA tests are part of the assessment of competency-based learning. They assess the students' ability to extract and process information in a task-solving situation.Although so far authorizing students to use their "auxiliary memory", or any other source of external information, has not been considered in these tests, the tests overall provide the basic information needed to perform the required tasks, mostly practical activities. (To see some of the activities for reading comprehension and math, please refer to <http://docentes.leer.es/wp-content/pisa/index2.html> <http://evalua.educa.aragon.es/admin/admin_1 / file / Math% 20PISA.pdf>). These activities do not intend to measure the memory of young students but are meant to proof that students can do them. Moreover, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) claims that in the near future some tests will be able to be answered on a computer (LA VANGUARDIA, 2012).
Will there be less school failure with the bimodal curriculum?
Currently there are many students who fail "test problems" because they do not remember the formulas. Well, with the bimodal curriculum approach this will not happen again. The students will only fail if, even with the help of their notes or the Internet, they don’t know how to solve the problems in the given time.
By freeing students from the pressure of memorizing so much content, since in the bimodal curriculum approach many of the exercises and exams (practical activities) will be made with the "auxiliary memory" support, we will prevent that students with memorizing difficulties become unmotivated (due to their inability to remember) and manage to do their exercises and pass their tests thanks to the support of their notes and other information sources. By anticipating their eventual success ("If I can refer to my information sources, I can do it") some students will be motivated to work more and therefore learn more.
This is the result from research conducted at UAB DIM about "new techniques against school failure" <http://peremarques.pangea.org/casio/> during the school year 2010-11and that will continue on 2011-12 .
It is particularly sad that much of this 30% of students who fail in their secondary-school studies fail due to memorizing tests, without having been able to proof that, beyond this limitation (often they simply do not want to spend hours memorizing things meaningless to them), they have a capacity (sometimes brilliant) to develop the skills necessary for social integration. And I say that it is especially sad because they are forced to memorize many things that no longer needed to know by heart… because they are available in their i-Phones.
And how is the full development of students like?
As mentioned in the introduction, Education as well as ensuring cultural transmission must provide each person with the maximum development of their faculties and for that, today as always, we must perform many different activities next to memorizing tasks and practical exercises with documentary support.
In this sense, "we may make the mistake of overrating the areas of language and mathematics at the expense of other areas such as Physical Education, Art, Music and Technology. In fact it is in these areas where we can apply the most innovative methodologies and where students can learn how to do things and above all learn to develop their creativity and complete their full development... " (Rey, 2011)
It is also essential to encourage reflection and dialogue on ethics and values, to help students discover their talents, knowledge (Robinson, 2009) and multiple intelligences (Gardner, 2003), as well as channel their emotions (emotional education) and self-esteem and cultivate their willpower and self-confidence. Multiple intelligences "can only be understood if one admits that students can be intelligent too by, for example, controlling their bodies, drawing a picture or building an invention, instead of reducing their intelligence to writing well or solving equations... " (Rey, 2011)
The tutoring activity of teachers in this regard, and especially the work of the tutor-teacher of each student, is the substrate on which to build the bimodal approach of the curriculum.In this context, we agree with Mark Prensky that all these regards should be integrated in a curriculum that considers "5 metaskills that all curricula should incorporate: discovering what to do (behaving ethically, thinking critically, setting goals...); getting it done (planning, problem solving, self-evaluation...); doing it with others (taking the lead, communicating, interacting...); doing it creatively (adapting, researching, designing...) and improving continuously (thinking, being proactive and taking risks)" (Prensky, 2011)
So... are you in?
The bimodal curriculum approach can be applied at any time, regardless of the official curriculum, because it does not interfere with it. It involves working in a different educational paradigm whose principles are:
- Accepting that we are in an "i-Person" world, always connected to the Internet.
- Considering, as part of a careful tutoring action, that there are two types of learning activities: memorizing activities and practical activities.
- Allowing always students to do practical activities with documentary support (“auxiliary memory”).
- Providing students at the start of course with the vocabulary and data that they will have to memorize and with the practical activities they will have to learn by the end of the course.
While waiting for education authorities to conduct a thorough review of the official curriculum and upgrade it to the demands of modern society, considering the concept of the "i-Person" and beginning to implement the bimodal curriculum can help providing a better education to students and can contribute reducing school failure.
Currently this bimodal approach to the curriculum is implemented in 24 schools in Spain and 5 schools in Latin America, in the context of a research carried out by the research group DIM-UAB <http://peremarques.net/telefonica/> and sponsored by the Telefónica Foundation.And so far that's all. I will appreciate your comments and suggestions on the main FORUM of the DIM social network <http://dimglobal.ning.com/>
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Translation: Diana & Hèctor Marquès