Assembly lines or assemblages: What the human equation can teach us about creativity and a modern education system in the digital age.
Keywords: modern education; nonlinear time; digital age; creativity; improvisation; constructivism, transformative learning
Nova Scotia, Canada is modernizing its education system as prescribed by the Minister of Education's Action Plan for Education, 2015. The 3R's: Renew, Refocus, Rebuild. The document is laser focused on constructing a modern education system where efficiency, accountability, numeracy, literacy, and inclusion are the priorities to which all schools and subjects must conform. As the Minister turns to modernity to renew, refocus, and rebuild the education system upon, it is relevant to ask if this is an appropriate model for students. In addressing this question, this modern system is critiqued and juxtaposed to the social environment in which it is designed to serve. Where modernity provides the structure, digital media offers an expansive universe of new spaces for learning, socializing, and consumption. Hassan (2006) observes that digital media's construct of network time undermines the power of the clock which had previously provided the coordination and rhythm that gave us the machines which in turn created capitalist industrial modernity. The abstract, linear, and sequential influence of the clock is rivaled in the 21st century by the synchronized globalization of the nonlinear, personalized, and unpredictable digital landscape. To meet the challenges and opportunities of this changing landscape, many are calling for creativity, ideation of novel thought, to be recognized as an essential skill to be developed in schools. It should make sense, therefore, that any pervasive educational reforms would consider prioritizing the creative development of students. Time provides a context to critique the relationship between this modern education system, our digital media ecology, and creativity. The Action Plan for Education, 2015 will also be analyzed referencing Wayne Constantineau and Eric McLuhan's Human Equation (2010) and subsequently compared to two constructivist pedagogies of improvisation and aesthetic-assemblages for their potential to respond to the educational needs of students in our changing times.
(2.) Theoretical Foundations: Curriculum, Creativity, 21st Century Learners, and the Human Equation
Conversations and actions around curriculum reform bring few surprises, as the various paths are well tread. Debates around the efforts of various school systems to be accountable to stakeholders have gone on since curriculum rose to make the practice of education more accountable and systematic. John Dewey's vision for education to be more democratic and experiential where "members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability" (1916: 102) is still overshadowed by "rigidness in specifying activities for children and not trusting the children's ability to learn from their own experience" (Egan, 2003: 13). Within an ordered school environment and curriculum built to serve the stated needs of industrialism and capitalism, the freedom for students to explore and express is tempered by initiatives intended to ensure that curricular practices are standardized and measurable in Nova Scotia's Action Plan for Education 2015. Digital devices, however, provide students with the spaces, connections, and information to explore their world and learn outside the authority of schools.
(3.) 21st Century Shifts and Education
Through the massive and expanding capacity to gather, sort and move information in all its forms (words, numbers, images) digital media have done more than enhance the efficiency of administering education or engaging students. Digital media have also made simple practices arduous while successfully engaging students to the point of distraction. We are witnessing a move away from teaching and learning as gatekeeping activities mediated through the chalkboard or even the Smartboard. The student's gaze, once fixed on the board at front of the room, has shifted to the personalized small screens of smart devices (i.e. iPads[TM] and iPhones[TM]) and laptops. With this shift, students realize that an education can be experienced beyond the homogenized and fixed times and spaces of schooling. Where modernity delivered a defined range of subjects using selected textbooks and videos through a restricted community of usually certified teachers, our digital media offers students unlimited choices in all of these dimensions found through global connectivity. Students can know their world through a variety of interfaces and processes, from conversations and games to sophisticated and interactive virtual worlds. Such digital media connects us through what Manuel Castells calls the space of flows, where "space organizes time in the network society" (2010: 79). Where the clock provided the consistent and dependable abstract linear, and logical system that made digital devices possible, the spaces that users and programers created through these devices reorganize how we experience time. In shaping digital spaces to suite our purposes, time follows as something often subjective, non-linear, hyper-logical.
The multi-sensory illusion delivered through portable digital media and the space of flows offer a sense of time and space that is reminiscent of acoustical space (McLuhan, 1964, 1968) and hyper-logic--it is often omnidirectional, disjointed, rearranged, unpredictable and irrational. Just as the smart phone's clock has pushed aside the necessity of a wrist watch, we are witnessing the demise of handwriting to our digital interfaces. Speech to text capacities can even have us "Looking to the future, [where] we could imagine a cyberspace with less or no alphabet--an online communication system comprised in part or entirely of speech" (Levinson, 2004: 51). In these spaces, our rational self lets us believe we are actually connecting to various spaces. As we explore and perform tasks among virtual and physical spaces, the flows collide and mingle in our minds. Each space offers its own notion of time or timescape (Hassan, 2011; 2015). When they mix together, our ability to keep pace with a mechanical rhythm becomes increasingly elusive and irrelevant. Our sense of time can now come from a broader range of cues including those from local and online communities and phenomena. As such, the supremacy of linearity and rationality found in clock time and schooling through physical spaces are disputed in the digital age.
The multidirectional and asynchronous connections made in the space of flows provide pathways to enhance our current classrooms while threatening other classroom conventions with obsolescence. Where modern schools shaped classrooms to facilitate learning, in the digital age classrooms are becoming more like "learning depots--where we gather to prepare for various departures" (Emme, M., personal communication, March 23, 2016). Easing and supporting the potential for each student to depart on their own learning journey, portable digital media leads classrooms to be fractured. Digital devices and spaces change how students interact with each other, their teachers, and their world. Their potential and impact does not just extend the classroom, it changes its function entirely. In a digital learning ecology content is increasingly tailored to student interest and the teacher's role shifts from sage to coach. Those that struggle with this shift may continue to approach smart devices in the classroom as a growing distraction. However, by embracing digital media, the contemporary teacher can make room for linear and non-linear processes, where divergent thinking and creative exploration becomes as commonplace as deductive reasoning. It is possible, therefore, that in these environments the creative mind may feel at home (Carr, 2010: 119).
(4.) In Search of Creativity
The internet offers precisely the cognitive stimuli that can rewire the brain. "Repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive", it is the arguably the most powerful mind altering medium since the book (116). Such stimuli is "the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind" (McLuhan, 1964: 31). Through this stimuli and distraction, we are witnessing a rapid evolution of our media landscape. Contending with these forces requires creative capacities as "reflected in production of useful, new ideas or products that result from defining a problem and solving it in a novel way within a particular cultural context" (Zimmerman, 2009: 386). Viktor Lowenfeld saw creative development as educating students to be sensitive and see abstract relationships in a problem towards adapting, redefining, reorganizing, ideating, synthesizing, and organizing solutions, "that is, the ability to put parts together in a meaningful way" (1964: 8-9). He further proposes that "to teach toward creativity is to teach toward the future of society" (7).
R.G. Collingwood drew our attention to creativity as "an activity of which there can be no technique [and] when creating for ourselves an imaginary experience or activity, we express our emotions and this is called art" (1967: 111). Whatever the process that delivers a creative solution, Collingwood points to the qualities of creative processes that occur in our prepared unconscious mind. John Kounios and Mark Beeman's (2009) research into creativity and brain activity supports the Zimmerman and Lowenfeld versions of creativity as well as Collingwood's account of creative expression as emerging from the unconscious mind.
As evident in avante guarde Dadaist art and jazz music, creative solutions have long been held to come from the juxtaposition of disparate concepts or remote associations via serendipity, similarity, or mediation (Mednick, 1962). In search of greater empirical evidence of our creativity, Kounios and Beeman followed this insight into creativity where they now claim to have isolated the eureka moments or creative incidents in the brain. They observed this as a form of synthesis or connecting of disparate ideas exemplified by a distinct burst of gamma energy in the human brain's right hemisphere moments before the participant claimed to experience an eureka moment (2009).
We are familiar with spaces opened by clock time as they share ground with literacy and numeracy--consciously performing more logical tasks in the left hemisphere of our brains. In the right hemisphere we connect disparate experiences and memories found among our brain's posterior and anterior temporalities forming novel concepts and solutions (Jung-Beeman, 2005). For Jung-Beeman, it is not that creativity happens entirely in a flash, rather we prepare our brains with queries and reflective experiments, juxtapositions of experiences, and the allowance periods of relaxation to free our minds to process ideas and eventually arrive at new insights. It is when the mind is quiet, inward looking, somewhat happy, and not trying too hard that concepts of loose association connect and give us the eureka or aha moment. Such moments of creative awareness come when our mind is relaxed and not consumed by left hemispheric processes.
Similar to Collingwood's understanding of creative expression, for Kounios and Beeman, creative moments often come without technique or intent. Ideas are connected unconsciously to create new understanding or meaning from that which would otherwise remain elusive or vague in our minds.
Creativity is an array of capacities within all of us that are worthy of focus and development. For this to occur in an education system we would need to see clear evidence of an intent to cultivate sensitivity, fluent ideation, adaptability, originality, a capacity to reframe problems, to think abstractly, to synthesize and organize new ideas for meaning. We could also help stage environments that prepare the mind to be open for creative processing. It remains unclear if Nova Scotia is forming an education system that standardizes learning, desensitizes student, and seeks linear thinking or if it is setting the conditions for creative development--avoiding practices that Ken Robinson would say "kill creativity" (2006). To address this question, Wayne Constantineau and Eric McLuhan's The Human Equation should provide a useful lens into the trajectory of Nova Scotia's education system.
(5.) The Human Equation
"When the evolutionary process shifts from biology to software technology, the body becomes the old hardware environment. The human body is now a probe, a lab for experiments."--Marshall McLuhan (Constantineau and McLuhan, 2010, preface)
Eric and Marshall McLuhan's The Laws of Media (1988) provides an instrument which aims to provide insight into how a medium or tool impacts a social process or experience by tracking along several dimensions its relationship to previous and future technologies and their social impact; what previous medium it retrieves or releases to serve a new function; what is made obsolete; and, at its extreme, how it does the opposite of what it intended.
In the Human Equation (2010) and the Science of Investigation (2012), Wayne Constantineau and Eric McLuhan outline a similar diagram that is more adept at assessing fields, of which public education is one. As modeled in Figure 1, the Human Equation brings the Laws of Media to the body, where "All of our tools and all of our media imitate us: that is, they embody features or modes of action... We created our media to be used through our modes of action" (2010: 5). In the human equation, each quadrant of an observed field represents one of our basic human modes of action or postures:
A. Assuming a posture unifying or acting as the foundation for all the elements.
B. Bending joints or articulating which separates elements.
C. Contract muscles or integrating aspects of the other three.
D. Displace in space, or the polarizing the elements.
As a tetrad, these four elemental actions "co-depend on each other for their very existence" (2012: 29). "The complete set of four exhibits an inner balance, or harmony, such that the relation between two of the elements echoes the relation between the other two: expressed A is to B as C is to D" (1). Through this sequence, the (A) assumed posture, which holds ground and does not waver, causes the next element (B) to have to bend. A subsequent element (C) must then contract to make sense or order of the other elements. The remaining element (D) is then in the posture of displacement, it deals with what remains.
By way of example "Space/Time and Mind/Body help us describe our four modes of being. Action and memory regulate time. Sense and thought manage (perceptual and head) space. Our senses of space come to us through our modes of perception. Time, meanwhile, is an extension of memory" (2012: 50). Therefore, our senses are foundational or the assumed posture (A) from which we bend or make sense of our senses by thinking (B). We can then contract or act on our perceptions (C) and from this we displace our action by transforming it into memory (D). As we apply to our digital landscape, our sensory experience remains our assumed posture (A). The experience offered through digital media altars or bends and informs our perceptions (B). Our actions in, among, and extending from digital and physical spaces are our contractions (C). Finally, the resulting memory or impact of the experience is (D) what is displaced by the digital media. Taking advantage of the good while mitigated the ill effects of our expanding digital environment will at least require leaders, teachers, and students with the creative capacity to observe, adapt and ideate novel solutions to serve particular cultural contexts. By introducing such a transformative element into the classroom, one which extends space and sensory experiences far beyond the classroom, its impact on the classrooms and the school systems that govern them should warrant analysis. By coincidence or design, the Nova Scotia Action Plan for Education 2015 is sorted into four pillars (36). Assuming the Human Equation is a reliable instrument, assessing the Action Plan through the Human Equation should yield meaningful insights that will aid this investigation.
From these foundations of the 21st century digital landscape and the nature of creativity we can now assess Nova Scotia's plan for education reforms and the assumptions that guide it. Constantineau and McLuhan's Human Equation will be used to probe and assess the relationship between this proposed modern education system, common qualities of 21st century learners, and their creative development. After which, to provide context for an alternate to a modernist approach to education, two constructivist pedagogies are investigated for their capacity to meet the learning needs of students while promoting creative development--one based on improvisation, and the other based on nurturing aesthetic-assemblages.
Modernizing an Education System
As they took office in 2013, the Liberal Government of Nova Scotia sought to "engage all Nova Scotians in an assessment of the public school system" (Nova Scotia, 2014: 13). The public, including parents, teachers, businesses and community groups were solicited to participate. These consultations led the Minister's Panel on Education Report (2014), Disrupting the Status-Quo: Nova Scotia Demands a Better Future for Every Student. The report acknowledges that "Nova Scotia has remained fairly consistent over time, based on national and international assessments of mathematics, science, and reading" (8). The document claimed that "it is essential that Nova Scotian youth are able to compete with youth from around the world. Nova Scotia's future competitiveness depends on it. The status quo is not acceptable" (8).
The report also cites societal shifts in public expectations, understanding of early child development, and technology (6) along with the growing significance of skills sought in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) (4, 11, 19, 23, 39) and numerous policy changes as evidence of a crisis. Then, declaring that: "everyone agrees our school system needs to modernize, prepare for the future and change for the better" (2015: 7), the Nova Scotia Minister of education built the Action Plan for Education, 2015. The 3R's: Renew, Refocus, Rebuild upon four pillars:
(1.) A modern education system.
(2.) An innovative curriculum.
(3.) Inclusive school environments.
(4.) Excellence in teaching and leadership. (Nova Scotia, 2015: 13)
Pillar 1, A Modern Education System, is the "firm foundation for change" that the Department aims to rebuild its system upon. "Specifically, the structure will be reconstructed to become more student-centred, efficient, flexible, sustainable, and integrated with other government Departments and agencies that serve children and youth" (13). The Nova Scotia Department of Education is determined to stay focused on "achievement and success"; "restructured divisions"; reviewing of the Department's "efficiencies and effectiveness"; as well as ensuring "high-quality teaching, and strong leadership" (13). This means school boards will "participate in an audit" to assess its management functionality and effectiveness of "delivering results for key Department initiatives" (14). The Department will also seeks to "Establish a Business-Education Council" to connect students to the workforce and to develop entrepreneurial skills and attributes across the curriculum" (17).
Pillar 2, An Innovative Curriculum, articulates how the Department exchanges its Essential Graduation Learnings based on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (1993; APEF, 1996) for a curriculum that is "laser-focused on improving the two most important fundamentals in education: math and literacy" (18). Literacy and math "will be reinforced in other areas like science and social studies" and there will be "more time for teaching" and "enhance[d] assessment and intervention for literacy and math" (22). With all subjects aligned under the priorities of numeracy and literacy, students are to demonstrate 'Competencies' of Citizenship, Personal-Career Development, Communication, Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking, and Technological Fluency. Students in grade primary, for example, will have all of their learning outcomes in art, music, and social-studies, realigned under literacy and mathematics outcomes.
It remains to be seen how the curriculum will be fashioned to "(e)ngage student interests through more hands-on learning activities" and "address the full range of students' learning strengths and needs, including opportunities for enrichment". The curriculum is to make a place for "the language, history, and culture of Acadians, African Nova Scotians, Gaels and Mi'kmaq, including Treaty Education", and immigration (18).
Furthermore, all students will be exposed to more technological and scientific learning (23). Students will also be introduced to the province's Career Education Framework; that values citizenship, entrepreneurship, and skills for trades (24). Experiences that build "creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills" may be offered to older students through "hands-on learning activities for students in computer programming, creative arts, science labs, and collective impact projects."
It should be noted that currently, every student from primary through grade ten spends approximately twenty percent of their year focused each on mathematics and English language arts (Nova Scotia, 2002). By comparison, a grade nine student who receives 200 hours of math instruction will have access to 50 hours of physical education and potentially no art education.
Pillar 3, Inclusive School Environments, presents a core priority to "better serve all of our students" (34) through a School Code of Conduct that standardizes behaviours and roles while asserting consequences and outlining processes for reporting and monitoring incidents of unacceptable behaviour. A needs-based model, focusing on individual student needs, aims to address issues around inclusion (27-28). To better connect students to post-secondary programs, the Department has formed a Transition Task-Force of public school educators, universities, and the community college.
The Department also aims to be inclusive of cultural, heritage, and belief diversity. Among the Departments measures of cultural inclusion is to address the "Achievement Gap" between groups. Here again, achievement will be assessed according to performance in math and literacy (30). Student health and wellness is approached through such noted commitments to more physical activity, socially sensitive curriculum and interagency and interDepartmental programs for mental health and addiction prevention (31).
In Pillar 4: Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, there is talk of "revamping teacher education and providing more professional development opportunities and classroom support" (Nova Scotia, 2015: 34). This pillar assures increasingly standardized training program for administrators, a framework for teaching standards, and reconsidered education training programs for teachers aligned to these standards. The Department also sets out measures for teacher accountability through a system of "Teacher Performance Management" (32) in standards, appraisals, and minority recruitment. The Department also aims to have the teachers' union agree to an extended school year, targeted professional development funding, and removal of principals from the collective agreement (17).
(6.) Interpretations of the Nova Scotia Action Plan for Education 2015
Efficiency, universal literacy and numeracy, codes of conduct, and inclusion, are the kinds of initiatives that have guided education reforms throughout our industrialized modern history of public education, the result of a system that sorts students and learning by subjects as well as the linearities of age and time. Clarke argues that this is "an inadequate notion of education that fails to do justice to the complexity of our individual and social existence" (2012: 48). We are, after all, organic multisensory social animals living in a complexly woven social, environmental, technological, and economic landscape. The impact of these changes have been observed by one consultant where "teachers are struggling with the additional minutes for language arts and math and are not using these additional minutes in an integrated fashion, meaning that they have lost time they previously used for hands-on activities in science and art" (name withheld). With aims to meet new priorities along rigid timelines, it appears significant learning experiences are being sacrificed.
While the World Economic Forum anticipates "creativity, logical reasoning and problem sensitivity" (WEF, 2015: 24) will comprise the core set of cognitive skills sought by employers post 2020, Nova Scotia's modernist model continues to shape students to serve more mechanical or technical capacities. The Department does identify the core competencies of creativity and innovation, however, unlike literacy and numeracy, these competencies are not integrated among disciplines. Rather, creativity and innovation are expected to be delivered through the arts--disciplines that are not, incidentally, available to all students in every year of school. Alternatively, if creativity and innovation are to be valued competencies, curriculum guides and teacher training could accommodate understandings and techniques that reduce obstacles and build pathways towards creative development. Indeed, taxpayers want to be assured their resources are being used effectively. Parents want their kids to be literate and numerically competent. And every citizen wants to be treated with respect while our collective resources work to cure social and economic disparities. Yet, it is another thing to assume that these are the only high priorities or even that modern education system can deliver them. Measuring student achievement in numeracy and literacy falls far short of measuring the quality and efficacy of an education system. By subordinating other ways of knowing to numeracy and literacy, are we respecting the drive for happiness, health, and fulfillment of all students? And, considering the growing complexity of our world, are we taking best advantage of our human capacity for imagination, creativity, and innovation? While testing, special programs, and codes of conduct speak to many of our desired skills and values, they do not assure them. Meaningful learning experiences; happy, enthusiastic, engaging, and caring teachers; proper nutrition; autonomy; and the promise of new skills--these factors should go further to shape educational success and civility than any rigid curriculum or codes of conduct might. To build highly effective cognitive skills in students we could consider programs that integrate the imaginative and fabrication skills of the arts with the content, logical reasoning, and technical skills of other disciplines towards "defining a problem and solving it in a novel way within a particular cultural context" (Zimmerman, 2009: 386).
(7.) Assessing the Four Pillars through the Human Equation
The Nova Scotia Action Plan of Education 2015. The 3R's, Renew, Refocus, Rebuild presents its own tetradric equation (36 or see Figure 2). Their tetrad makes no claim to be an equation nor that what comes first is most important to the policy. Though, the visual of a Modern Education System in the top left position, might appear to support its stake its supremacy over the other pillars, the authors offer no rationality for their tetrad structure. Since the four elements have been identified, however, the next step towards being assessed by the human equation is to "match all of the elements to the corresponding mode of action".
As Figure 3 models, since every domain of the educational field is expected to extend from, be displaced by, and bend to its posture, the Nova Scotia Modern Education System is, more precisely, situated as the retrieval or assumed posture. It provides the "firm foundation for change" and will not itself bend, change, or be displaced while it occupies the assumed posture of restructuring divisions, integrating, reviewing "efficiencies and effectiveness" and they will define and ensure "high-quality teaching, and strong leadership." And, while it could be argued that teachers and educational leaders are the backbone of the system, here the modern education system will determine what a teacher and leader will be and do. The teacher, assuming a posture of bending joints, will have to accommodate the policies and procedures, students and parents, administrators and resources. To follow this through, for teachers without proper posture (or strategies) or adequate support, bent backs can break.
The Department's notion of innovation in the curriculum, therefore, is not about the diversity of pedagogies or to necessarily propose innovative ways to engage students. To the contrary, it is found in efforts to have all students do more math without further disaffecting students who seek more diverse ways of knowing. Time, in particular, is being shaped to give more time with literacy and mathematics which will impact the autonomy afforded to student selfdetermination. Focusing on literacy is not necessarily about expanding literacies to visual, physical, or mediated forms. Rather, they refer to enhancing the fundamentals, making more "time for learning spelling, punctuation, and the formation of sentences and paragraphs" (23). Hands-on experiences will happen at home or in subjects focused on "innovation, creativity, [and] problem-solving skills" (160)--entrepreneurship and the arts.
As the current system is focused on curriculum and gathering data more than it is student centered, curriculum is fashioned by the Department, interpreted by the teacher and imposed on students. However, if teaching practices become standardized as proposed, the art of teaching and the breadth of human experience that could be shared in school will give way to more mechanized thinking. Somehow, the curriculum will have to be open to regular changes or enhancements in order to pull all of these strings together. For these reasons, the innovative curriculum isometrically contracts, forcing the Department's scope of ambitions to be managed by and accommodated through the curriculum.
If the curriculum succeeds in offering more math and literacy but fails to reach more students in a way that all students feel included, respected, and rewarded with a good education, then the Inclusive School Community runs the risk of being further subordinated or displaced. Being inclusive should accommodate differences and work to correct hegemonies of ability, race, gender and various ways of knowing--including the arts. At the very least, the students here will feel the brunt or rewards of these system wide reforms. As such, the inclusive school environment is in the quadrant to be displaced.
The Nova Scotia Action Plan of Education, 2015, when perceived through the human equation tells a story of system aiming to satisfy the needs of students and a provincial economy. In doing so, this story presents a system that places the politician's vision for modern education above that of teachers and students; teachers and leaders who need to bend or conform to mechanized or standardized values and practices; a curriculum model that seeks to subordinate all ways of knowing under the priorities of learning to the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy; and an inclusive school environment where the Department will determine what which students will be safe and well served. If students or parents do not feel safe or well served, they will likely be further displaced and seek other avenues to provide their education. Digital media is already filling this void. One meta-analysis of 50 study effects concluded that "Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction" (U.S. Department of Education, 2010: xiv).
8. Seeking New Spaces for Education
Modernity has a tendency of dealing with diversity and uncertainty by establishing a place for the new within its existing framework or by dismissing it. In contrast, it is more likely that the rapidly changing highly technical, socially diverse, and conceptually challenging environments of the 21st century will be lead by those who are creatively adaptive and critically reflective improvisors (Corbett, 2011; Florida, 2013; Kelly, 2013). As such, modernity and its neo-liberal values provide little comfort to those who recognize its inability to bend to forces beyond its matrices.
Forming the comfort and habits of dealing with diversity, the unexpected, and change in education can come from transformative constructivist and critical pedagogies born of improvisation, empathy, and community. Empathy here may be as Heidegger conceived it as being-in-the-world where we engage with the other being or experience both phenomenologically and interpretively (Dahlstrom, 2010; VanManen, 2007; Vattimo, 1988). This "in-being" is to embody the nature of what we experience (Goble & Yin, 2014). Where a modernist might, for example, disinterestedly know visual art forms as an extension of "literacies", an improvising phenomenologist might instead want to know such forms on their own terms. Both, however, know that new forms can not be nihilistically separated from its retrievals or what came before (VanManen, 2007: 12). Such approaches to learning communities of improvisation and empathy can be found in Michael Corbett's concept of an improvised curriculum and Rene Jackson & Suzanne McCullagh's articulation of aesthetic assemblages. Considering the pervasive presence of the space of flows, students and teachers could use tools to help accommodate and make sense of these new environments.
Knowing through Improvisation
Michael Corbett suggests we adopt a "curricular focus on improvisation rather than scripted performances" (Corbett, 2013: 4) which he thinks will "go some distance towards making schools more hospitable for rural, working class, aboriginal, and minority students" (4). A movement towards a more improvised pedagogy would serve us all as our future will require people in every field, from farmer through scientist, to creatively innovate solutions to the social, environmental and economic challenges before us.
Corbett acknowledges that as we are attuned to our modern environments, when we step into new spaces bringing the ones we know with us, it is in the spaces between our familiar and the new that we decide how to accommodate the new. We can make it fit in our existing structures, dismiss it, resist it or accept it.
For Corbett, an improvised curriculum exists in the new spaces formed at the intersection of structured knowledge and constructed knowledge. The structured knowledge is the established knowings that can be found in textbooks and traditional academic curricula. Constructed knowledge is that which is emerging from the challenges, opportunities, juxtapositions that comprise the new phenomena before us. Unable to leave our modernist roots behind, nor assume all new phenomena can fit neatly in our current languages, structures and knowings, through improvisation we can find a common ground.
Knowing through assemblages
A picture is not thought out and settled beforehand. While it is being done it changes as one's thoughts change.--Pablo Picasso
Jackson and McCullagh (2015) offer another constructivist pedagogy where we may "recognize the classroom itself as an aesthetic composition" (188). They share Deleuze and Guattari's conception that constructivist practices where molar rules and regulations, learning in subjects, and in blocks of time, or highly abstracted non-experiential teaching practices are contrasted with molecular knowings or transformations that come through affective assemblages. Like the interaction of molecules, constructivist interactions between teachers and students are movements between work and exploration where new meaning is assembled when the student and often the teacher are transformed (184).
Nurturing empathy, these assemblages are "a kind of interactive relationship that involve multiplicities, not just more than one individual, but individuals who are themselves multiplicities of different (heterogeneous) elements: desires, habits, capacities" (184). Allowing for affection to influence plans, to be transformative, teachers need to remain flexible, adaptive, and responsive to the changing environment and thoughts. Being transformative is humanizing and this free movement from one plane to another is what the artist does. The "artist alternates between the two planes almost simultaneously.... Like the artist, the teacher responsively engages in assemblages, while simultaneously adapting the composition in relation to unfolding information" (187).
Perceiving the classroom as an aesthetic composition, allows teachers to organize learning experiences that consider the breadth of student experiences and knowings, their achievements and status, racial, gender and disability as well as the physical, temporal, virtual and multi-sensory conditions and spaces before them. Jackson and McCullagh remind us that Eliot Eisner also saw artists as constructivists, as giving "form to knowledge through aesthetic choices, and construct[ing] a type of aesthetic knowledge through the work they build" (188). Herbert Read and Eisner, they note, go further and insist that aesthetics should be the core of education. In teaching we compose aesthetic qualities to communicate, including in science and math, shaping ideas into stable forms.
(9.) Using the Human Equation to Construct an Education System that Disrupts the Status-quo of Modern Thinking
An economy based largely on mining and manufacturing is well served by a well-trained and otherwise passive workforce. The technologies, opportunities, and challenges of the 21st century pivot us from being an industrial society towards being a knowledge society. Now, we need to cultivate imaginative and creative capacity students to produce the bold innovations that will address the unprecedented economic, social, and environmental problems we face globally and regionally. By pushing the curriculum away from flexibility and towards an even heavier focus on literacy and numeracy, Nova Scotia does not disrupt the status-quo, it reinforces it. The Department appears to have overlooked the calls to make creative development a priority alongside cognitive and social development. Instead of a modern school system, a more post-modern school system that aims to humanize learning, accommodate the breadth of experiences and unpredictability of our future and the subsequent need for an adaptive and creative populous, would embrace more sensory learning over learning through alpha-numerics.
Figure 4, a model for constructivist schooling in accordance with the human equation, places the student in the assumed posture position where the rest of the system would follow from their needs and ambitions. Students and teachers need to assemble and explore ideas in various spaces. The fixed spaces and times of schools can offer what and online media cannot--unmediated multi-sensory learning experiences with actual people. While the internet connects us indirectly, schools can make direct connections between people and communities. Schools are purposeful in developing human relationships as well as learning through tactile, visual, acoustical and kinesthetic experiences. The Department could, therefore, bend their joints to provide funding, resources, and facilities that would enhance rather than subordinate the unique capacity of direct learning experiences and transformative relationships between students and teachers.
To take advantage of such sensory diverse constructivist environments, teachers would need to up their game. Isometrically contracting, pushing and pulling, organizing and composing the learning experience for students, teachers would need to be flexible, empathic, and respectful of the diversity students bring. They would need to be able to connect students with the skills and experiences they seek, something our communities and the space of flows can extend. The curriculum would have to be constantly adaptive to the characteristics of the classes and communities, open to displacement through improvisation and be moulded by multiplicities of aesthetic assemblages formed through students and teachers of diverse ages, genders, cultures, abilities and experiences.
With the constructivist teacher contracting the other elements, the curriculum may be displaced. The skilled and empathetic teacher becomes the arbiter of the curriculum content, objectives and the methods of instruction. Instead of holding and distributing private knowledge, ideas and content are sought and brought forward by the class and composed through the teacher. Many teachers would acknowledge that we learn as much from the students as the students do from us. It would be in this sense that the student assumes the posture of directing their learning and pending transformations as aided by the teacher. The only element remaining in this field is that represented by the Department of Education. Beyond funding public schools, The Department currently provides curriculum documents, policy guidelines and standardized tests. By following the human equation, in a constructivist model, the Department would bend to support the needs of students as determined by educational professionals, not politicians. The Department could shift from producing curriculum, policies, and standardized tests toward funding and procuring excellent teachers, facilities, and resources.
Our current students are shaped by (at least) two worlds. First, the modern world of divisions and the isolating and systematizing effects of abstract thought, efficiency, and the linearity of one clock-time. The second is found in the effects of digital media and the space of flows that obsolesce linear time and fixed spaces in exchange for layers of choice, divergent thinking, the multiplicity of knowings, and the interconnectedness of ideas, people, and places.
The Nova Scotia Action Plan for Education, 2015 poses as a complete system overhaul based on four pillars of change to the system, curriculum, teachers and leaders, and inclusion. It builds an education system in search of efficiencies, accountability and measurable achievements from their curriculum, teachers, educational partners, and students. They want teachers who follow their methods and conception of best practices. Their Innovative Curriculum aims to connect students with the current marketplace while ensuring that numeracy and literacy dominate the student's timetable. Inclusion is about making more groups of students feel welcomed, safe and equipped to achieve in school. As a uniting force, inclusion also resists the pressures of modernism that divide us.
McLuhan & Constantineau's Human Equation (2010) and subsequent Science of Investigation (2012) teaches us that Nova Scotia is, in fact, on track to build (or rebuild) a modern education system, even though their student population is increasingly informed and shaped by post-modern sensibilities and digital media. Considering the growing efficacy of learning experiences found in hypermedia network spaces and time, education systems and teachers may be well served to critically observe and reflect on how they might harmonize these environments rather than subjugating them to their conventionally modern structures and beliefs. As online learning models and other alternatives in our digital media ecology improve, schools that fail to adapt to the demands of an evolving student population risk obsolescence as they increasingly loose their target audience. Considering that education is a critical responsibly of a provincial government in Canada--any changes to the system should result from broad evidence based research rather than a broad based survey of opinions as represented in Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student (Nova Scotia, 2014).
The student centred constructivist tetrad is offered as an alternative equation toward a meaningful education for our diverse population in a growing digital landscape. It provides space for creative development to exist among other skills. At their core, Improvisation and aesthetic assemblages share the openness to and transformative potential of interactivity and newness. These qualities are both characteristic of creativity and are required to critically navigate through the opportunities and trials of a digital landscape. This model, though unlikely to be quickly adapted within a public school model, provides space and time for the development of STEM, rather STEA(arts)M, skills alongside other priorities that schools and teachers would be free to offer students.
Insisting students need intensive literacy and numeracy at the expense of other capacities, for all the reasons the Nova Scotia government has claimed, also declares that they have little faith in students to thrive through other means--to imagine and chart their own path outside of the institutions we have already created. This is to ignore that the world we are accustomed to, from our understanding of literacy to our concept of time, is changing at a breakneck speed. Twitter and similar online spaces, for example, are contributing to "a collapse of speech-based expectations and print-based interpretations. It's a consequence of the oral-literate hybrid that flourishes online" (Meyer, 2015). Such a hybrid of language presents inconceivable permeations and consequences for how we perceive information in spaces worthy of creative and critical exploration (as twitter poetry or GPS art). Instead, by not understanding the impact of new media or adequately focusing on creative development in our schools, Nova Scotia is reinforcing a non-adaptive and unconscious civilization characterized by consumerist thinking where we continue to place our faith in anyone and anything but ourselves. Our neo-liberal, modernist, and capitalist structures set us up to be specialists requiring others to solve problems beyond our domain of specialization. Alternatively, if the assumed posture of public education started with the students and follows a more constructivist ontology, students may learn to focus their faith inwards--toward their own potential to overcome obstacles--rather than outwards toward the power of the "specialists" and "experts". Moreover, our digital media provides spaces to learn to information and processes that help us reach beyond our own area of specialization.
In this modern education system, our institutions--the large scale employers, small businesses, and our political institutions--set the terms for the curriculum to follow and serve. As such, those who can embrace their creative capacity and discover ways to liberate themselves from this power structure are a threat to our modern institutions, their order and values. More than a modern system, to be relevant and effective to students in a complex digital world, we need to consider a move past modern or even phenomenological and post-modern systems. Beyond categories. Student centred, empathetic, knowledgeable, and creative teachers working through supportive and data informed school systems may find more success adapting to the needs of individuals and society than a curriculum of accountability, rigidity, and conventional wisdom.
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Acadia University, Canada
Caption: FIGURE 1 TETRAD AS ARRANGED IN CONSTANTINEAU AND MCLUHAN'S THE SCIENCE OF INVESTIGATION (2012, P. 3)
Caption: FIGURE 2 A TETRAD AS ARRANGED IN NOVA SCOTIA'S ACTION PLAN FOR EDUCATION, 2015. THE 3R'S RENEW, REFOCUS, REBUILD. (P.36)
Caption: FIGURE 3 NOVA SCOTIA'S ACTION PLAN FOR EDUCATION, 2015. THE 3R'S RENEW, REFOCUS, REBUILD. REVISED ACCORDING TO THE HUMAN EQUATION.
Caption: FIGURE 4 TETRAD FOR CONSTRUCTIVIST SCHOOLING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE HUMAN EQUATION.
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