Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘taking a curriculum prespective’

Taking a LEARNing Perspective…

In Curriculum, Our Universities on 03/03/2012 at 8:51 am

Surfing the web a few days ago (my big, little girl tells me it’s not “cool” to use this collocation any more – what to do – I’m a “digital immigrant”…) – I came across this amazing TED video from artist and innovative designer Jae Rhim Lee.

In the video (which has to be one of the most “out there” on the TED siteJae Rhim Lee introduced her “mushroom death suit” (or, as she jokes, her “ninja PJs”) and the Infinity Burial Project – both imagineered to decompose a human body once we learn, grow and get off the planet!


OMG – I know you are all probably thinking that…Tony has totally lost the plot, finally! Hear me outhear me out, I sayYou know how I love my mushrooms…


What Jae Rhim Lee was really doing was (reallyTAKING an Environmental PERSPECTIVEshe said what she meant, she meant what she said and she “did” something about it! She really did “wear-her-talk – and I, for one, love her for it!

If only more politicians did the same!

And, I ain’t just talking about taking an interest in allthingsenvironmental


Most of us HAVE a PERSPECTIVE on the environment. I mean we all “think” that looking after the environment is a “great” idea, don’t we…something that is importantsomething that we need to care about?

But many of us do not “do” enough…not all of us “walk-our-environmental-talk”!

Not so “out there”, now…huh?

So, what the heck does this have to do with LEARNing?



There is a huge difference between “thinking” that something is a “cool idea” – and “doing something” about that same thing. Or, even by working to make a “real difference” by:

living it,

breathing it and

putting it at the heart of your decision-making

How many of us…and those we work for…can put our hands on our hearts and say we truly do this with student LEARNing?

I feel a “story” coming on!


When I was much younger, I was (by some accounts) a half-decent teacher – but I also discovered I was a far better LEARNer.

I worked my butt off…read like my hair was on fire…and realised I actually got better at the TEACHing “stuff” by doing more of the LEARNing “stuff”.

The problem was I actually thought it was all about “ME” – my TEACHing abilities, my TEACHing style, my TEACHing “stuff”…

Sure, student LEARNing was important…but insofar as my “performances” contributed to that LEARNing…I actually believed that the LEARNing of my students was because of what I did!

The “ego” on the bloke!

This was until I travelled to Milwaukee – to a little place called Alverno – and (finally) “got” it:

OK – perhaps it was not all Alverno – my wife had been “working” on me, too (and what a “job” she did over the years – all the good stuff is “her”, the rest is residual “me”)….

But, what the Alverno guys LEARNed me was that there were people out there that realised that the “calling” was not TEACHing.

People who knew that it was “service” to LEARNing that was important.

People who had decided to TAKE a curriculum PERSPECTIVE

Just like Jae Rhim Lee (without the “ninja PJs”) the faculty at Alverno realised that simply “having a perspective on curriculum” was not enough – if they wanted to make a “real difference” to the lives of their students, they had to TAKE a PERSPECTIVE on allthingscurriculum (and allthingsassessment, too).

Alverno “got” that, to borrow from Ghandi, it had to “be” the change it wanted to see in Milwakee and Wisconsin – and decided to change the “rules of the game”…

They realised that rethinking education and LEARNing was not just about changing course content (or course codes) – it requires new thinking about curriculum, assessment, and teacher development.

In short, they “got” that reinvention of their approach to curriculum and assessment first required that they make explicit their assumptions (and values) about LEARNing itself.

Now, you see why I have been asking so many questions…and inviting people to do the same.


The result – Alverno established its core purpose as being to develop those abilities students need to be successful as LEARNers, employees and citizens. In doing so they redefined curriculum around an explicit set of eight abilities, developed a collaborative, interdisciplinary pedagogy and LEARNing process capable of continuous improvement, and…(wait for this ONE)…required students to demonstrate competence in the eight abilities as a condition for graduation.

The Alverno model has become a best practice model for “doing business” very differently in education and “adding value” to students – value that is praised by the business and community organisations around Wisconsin and the U.S.

Alverno got it so RIGHT…so many years ago!

So, why do so few institutions not get it today?

Probably because TAKING a curriculum (or LEARNing) PERSPECTIVE takes bloodsweat and tears…and recognition that there are no magic bullets (especially of the hardware, software and webware variety)…

More next time…