What if teachers treated teaching as an extension to research? What if teaching was really enculturation of students into a field of inquiry? What if teachers were to engage in discovering new insights with the help of their students, activity by activity, day by day? What if this co-research also included the additional studies of the meta-narratives of student progress and performance, as truly as of their own?
Curriculum, interaction and progress would take on very new meanings altogether in this paradigm. No longer would the syllabus be a linear, hierarchical assembly of reductive learning objectives. Nor would assessment itself be linear and deterministic. Knowledge would constantly be co-created and emergent. Feedback would be harnessed. It would become commonplace to publicize advancements, to celebrate opinion, to demonstrate the ascendance on forever new plateaus and to be reflexive, aware thinkers and do-ers.
So too would get removed the barriers between disciplines, the confines of grades and the tyranny of the score. And in their place, would flourish an emergent, self-organizing and complex adaptive system.
The complexity-based curriculum would be dynamic, emergent, rich, relational, autocatalytic, self-organized, open, existentially realized by the participants, connected and recursive (e.g. Doll, 1993), with the teacher moving from the role as an expert and transmitter to a facilitator, co-learner and co-constructer of meaning, enabling learners to connect new knowledge to existing knowledge. Learners, for their part, have to be prepared to exercise autonomy, responsibility, ownership, self-direction and reflection.
Learning is dynamic, active, experiential and participatory, open-ended, unpredictable and uncertain, and cognition requires interaction, decentralized control, diversity and redundancy (Davis & Sumara, 2005). Emergence and self-organization require room for development; tightly prescribed, programmed and controlled curricula and formats for teaching and learning, and standardised rates of progression are anathema to complexity theory. It breaks a lock-step curriculum.
Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory, Keith Morrison, Macau Inter-University Institute, in Complexity Theory and the Philosophy of Education, ed. Mark Mason, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
For many generations now, the focus on reducing assessment to a set of verbs (started by Bloom et al in 1956), reducing learning to achievement of a set of outcomes contained within tight disciplinary boundaries and graded progression by age, as well as theories of learning that have framed and informed teaching and assessment, have led to a deeper focus on the what and how of content, assessment and teaching, rather than the why, where and who.
Education and educational research conceived in terms of expanding the space of the possible rather than perpetuating entrenched habits of interpretation, then, must be principally concerned with ensuring the conditions for the emergence of the as-yet unimagined. We would align these suggestions with Pinar and Grumet’s (1976) development of the notion of verb currere, root of curriculum (along with a host of other common terms in education, including course, current, and recursive), through which they refocused attentions away from the impersonal goals of mandated curriculum documents and onto the emergent and collective processes of moving though the melée of present events.
Complexity as a theory of education, Brent Davis and Dennis Sumara, University of British Columbia, Canada
There is now an anarchist epistemology available – that questions the relevance of the existing paradigm in a world that is increasingly being recognized as complex and adaptive.