Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Hidden Curriculum


MSc Reading Notes

Based on:


There is a history of the examination of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in education. It refers to those elements that are implicit or tacit to the formal goals of education. The hidden curriculum has been criticised for its role in reproducing the unequal relations of power in the social order. Students become socialised into a particular social order because they are hidden messages about what is available to them and what their education is for.

There is also a hidden curriculum in the coding of educational technologies that makes assumptions about learners and knowledge. The view is taken that this coding should be seen as an actor in the educational process, in the way that it enables and constrains learning. The coding and linking of data, and the way that decision making and reasoning are articulated in computer code makes things like search engines and e-assessment systems perform in particular ways, and makes them actors in the pedagogic process.

Educational technology cannot be seen as simply a tool by which the curriculum is delivered. Forms of classification and standardisation are important. We need to look at the standards and coding and their effects on the representation of information and knowledge, and the forms of teaching and learning that are made possible. This relates to the use of ed tech in the commodification of education, and the discourses of ‘efficiencies’ and standardisation, measurement etc. The semantic web means that data can be reused, shared and aggregated- as this happens the ‘pre-history’ of the data and the application of rules and standards applied to that classification disappears. Assumptions are coded into applications, including educational technology.

This emphasises the view that technology is never neutral. Quote from Rushkoff (Rushkoff, D. (2011). Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. New York: O/R Books.) -

“ technologies come to characterise the way that we live and work, so the people programming them become increasingly important in shaping our world and how it works.”

The coding and standardisation of the information infrastructures required by semantic web and ed tech also has an effect on the way in which people work - their work also becomes standardised to fit the applications that they are using to do their work and the way in which they teach and learn. Adopting particular standards for technology represents a statement on the part of the manufacturer. It could be argued that it is not the tech or the semantic web that is influencing the way that we do things, it is actually the coding and the standards behind it.

There is a strong rhetoric about computer software leading to efficiencies, institutional change, and professional competency. Teachers are expected to see the tech as a natural part of their work and that its use in the classroom should be seen as unremarkable.  The dominant metaphor is technology as a ‘tool’. Computers are seen as a kind of prosthesis, rather than as more complex assemblages within which the software is one element, and which involve users in a wide range of socio-material relationships. They preclude certain kinds of social and spatial relationships, they reconfigure absence-presence - see the stuff on movement and mobilities.

The standardisation required for data to be open, and for certain platforms (OERs etc) to be open means that data often ends up fitting into ‘flattened’ hegemonic categories.  Content reuse and interoperability requires standards - this means that information is affected by both human and non-human actants. There are multiple hidden translations that are incorporated into ed tech applications through codes, ontologies and metadata - it is layers upon layers of tacit assumptions about the way in which ed tech should work, and the way in which people and institutions should work. The problem is that trying to change this, and make different assumptions creates layers of a different kind. But perhaps layers that are predicated on what it actually means to be a learner, and on how people learn best, rather than trying to fit them into systems that see learning as commodified and individualistic. There is also the issue that even with ‘open’ and cooperative movements, there is still ‘benevolent concealment’ of of complexity by coders who have to balance the complexity of coding with usability.

But won’t this always be the case? There is no way to get around this unless everyone is a maker and coder, providing their own custom-built applications and software.

photo credit: elsamuko via photopin cc

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