Literature Review: Introduction

As in a Dream

This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here

In the preparation of this project, this review consults diverse sources of scholarship and literature ranging from contemporary educational philosophy and political science, to modern literature, philosophy, and the traditions of critical pedagogy and emergent epistemology. This inquiry considers educational databases, peer-reviewed journals and scholarly blogging, as well as presentations, collaborative learning and social networking to explore key themes and thinking about: citizenship, critical pedagogy, transformative learning, emergent epistemology, constructivism, connectivisim, the digital humanities, personal cyberinfrastructure, open education, networked learning, and the public sphere. Literature reviewed in these fields ranges in date depending on the topic, as digital, pedagogical, or sociological (i.e., pertaining to youth voting patterns) scholarship was limited to the last five, or occasionally 10 years, and literature focused on educational or broader philosophical traditions dates back much further (see: Kant, Foucault, Freire). Given particular prominence in the construction of the project’s underlying conceptual framework have been the ERIC and PsychInfo databases, journals concerned with contemporary citizenship, critical pedagogy, and digital culture; an ongoing engagement with public academics, scholars, and colleagues on social media has also greatly shaped the nature of this study.

To establish a conceptual framework, the literature reviewed here presents a view of curriculum reform in a moment of digital shock affecting all aspects of human society, not least education. This moment of digital shock, it is supposed, asks that educational reformers carefully consider the implicit messages that schooling (as well as the wider culture) communicates to young people about the nature of their own citizenship. In so doing, it is hoped that the educational opportunities created as a result allow for the rehearsal and experience of applying a critical lens to one’s culture, and creating unique individual and collective narratives which authentically represent the participants. It is hoped, as well, that students gain an awareness and ability to broaden the base of individuals holding positions of power and influence in the construction of a shared societal narrative. The literature reviewed highlights the prominence of challenging trends toward political apathy and economic oligarchy in North American society (with data suggesting a similar trend across western Europe), and proposes a reclamation of the public sphere that seeks to restore the democratic possibility of continuously reimagining collective identities out of emerging individual perspectives.

With this foundation, the conceptual framework is completed by aligning components of emergent epistemology, critical pedagogy, and transformative learning to present a conception of citizenship as shared fate, a notion which makes possible the critical renovation of democratic society to suit an evolving populace and citizenry. This view of citizenship is supported by the advent of digital communications technology, and the world wide public web, allowing the principles of such a citizenship to be applied to a global populace, inviting the potential for pluralism on an unprecedented scale.

As the advent of the 21st century presents educational stakeholders with rapidly evolving information, economic, and political realities, society encounters a state of “shock” wherein public policy discussions around how to respond to shifting contexts can become overwhelming, and lasting reforms may be implemented without a thorough consideration of their consequences. The directions that are taken during periods of such shocks, the project supposes, hinge upon the quality of the “ideas that are lying around,” and with this in mind works to present its notion of critical citizenship in the digital age such that it might be considered by those discussing 21st century curriculum. In this view, the notion of curriculum – as with citizenship itself – cannot be considered static but rather as a responsive construction of those who are engaged with it: teachers and students, as co-investigators and creators.

A particular challenge facing those who would seek to reform curriculum in the 21st century is facilitating – as part of the institutional design of modern schooling – the realization of truly constructivist practices in making meaning in the classroom setting. By attempting to prescribe the economic, cultural, or practical skills of value to society that policymakers deem ought be included in school curricula, institutions seeking to initiate the continuous pluralist recreation of society itself are posed with the difficulty of delineating between the meanings, dispositions, or cultural practices which are acceptable, and those which are not. As schools provide young people with foundational experiences in the relationship between citizens and the state, as well as between citizens themselves, it becomes important for educators seeking to promote diversity and inclusion to provide opportunities for young people to rehearse the expression of a collective voice that takes into account community narratives and perspectives. In considering the literature, the project explores the possibility that constructivism and an emergent view of knowledge can prepare young people to contribute to an inclusive society that promotes “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist[s] them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation” (Canadian Multiculturalism Act, c 24 (4th Supp), 1985).

The notion that multiculturalism poses a direct challenge to a static national identity contributes further to the complexity of the ‘shock’ experienced in developing standardized curriculum in the 21st century, as educators are perpetually compelled to provide an ongoing process of relation and feedback to individual students and unique classroom communities.

However, the project works within a conception of “citizenship as shared fate,” wherein individuals and groups engage in a “continuous process of designing, expressing and interpreting their membership in the nation” (Ben‐Porath, 2012, p. 382), and places central importance on the praxis of critical reflection and relation to one another; as well, the unit framework strives to realize a pedagogy wherein the competencies at the heart of this learning are experienced directly and articulated by students rather than by being formally taught through a curriculum designed in advance to serve this purpose. To best impart such a mode of citizenship to young people, schools and classrooms are compelled to transform the view of the curriculum from a tradition of standardization toward one in which it is discovered – and created – by unique communities of practice in real time.

Finally, the literature review considers contemporary research into digital pedagogy and open education, and finds evidence to support the notion that the public web and infrastructure of online spaces allow for the democratic and collectivist spirit of pluralism to be practiced in a global public sphere. Literacies of participation, information, and fluency with personal cyber infrastructure are presented as learning experiences in which the meanings created through relating to the curriculum are individually and collectively forged in emergent, real time. This method of meaning-making is not only congruent with democratic principles dating back to the Enlightenment period, it is suggested, but also true to the spirit of the World Wide Web since its inception.


Teaching to the (Limit) Situation


This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here

This preoccupation with transcendence has been further nurtured by an acquaintance with critical pedagogy, and Paulo Freire (1970), who described the experimentation with what he referred to as “limit situations” as essential to the realization of human freedom, noting that “because [humans] are aware of themselves and thus of the world—because they are conscious beings— [they] exist in a dialectical relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom” (p. 99). Describing the process, he writes that

As they separate themselves from the world, which they objectify, as they separate themselves from their own activity, as they locate the seat of their decisions in themselves and in their relations with the world and others, people overcome the situations which limit them: the “limit-situations.” (Freire, 1970, p. 99)

If the perpetuation of such an ongoing cycle of transformation becomes the end goal, our aim in turn becomes to build the capacity to maintain this praxis. As the cycle of action and reflection continues, we are inevitably challenged to resolve the conflicts that arise between the world as we feel it ought to be and the world as we find it. In the critical process of learning to confront and overcome these contradictions, people realize their ability to shape their own reality, as “through their continuing praxis, men and women simultaneously create history and become historical-social beings” (Freire, 1970, p. 101). Posed with the challenge of educating young people to develop the critical capacity to sketch out the boundary of themselves in the context of their realities such that they can be transformed, I approach (and pose) the questions in this project with the view that the means and processes at the heart of running, writing, and learning ought be viewed as ends in and of themselves. Immanuel Kant (1993) identified a similar notion in his second formulation of the categorical imperative, compelling humankind to “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (p. 30).

Here, I set out to present an institutional educational setting in which curricular goals and outcomes become embedded in the learning experiences intended to bring them about, revealing in the process a curriculum that emerges from expressions of teacher and student learning. As the arrival of the 21st century has introduced a communications revolution that has fundamentally altered the way individuals relate to one another within a truly global community, traditional views of cultural knowledge and citizenship, as well as the pedagogies intended to transmit these values to the next generation, have been challenged to adapt. As responses to these challenges, emergent conceptions of knowledge, citizenship, and pedagogy align to reveal that critical citizenship education must provide experiences in the rehearsal of community-forming and identity expression. Fortunately, the advent of the World Wide Web and the digital age present the possibility of cultivating just this sort of participatory meaning-making, offering rich platforms to supplement the individual learning that cohorts and communities might employ, formally and informally, to define their own contexts of schooling.


MEd Introduction: Personal & Critical Approaches

Objectivity by Sol LeWitt

From Flickr user Sol LeWitt

This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here

“The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.” (Nabokov, 1980, p. 251)

In these the early decades of the 21st century, discussions about education are often concerned with a cultural transformation being wrought by the advent of the Internet and a plethora of revolutionary digital communications technologies. Analogous paradigm shifts observed as the digital age has impacted human relationships in economics, popular culture, and academic research have similarly challenged schools to prepare young people to lend their voice to a global dialogue. This digital age makes possible new realizations of pluralism and democracy, where the means and ability to present and communicate an individual narrative and perspective invites all citizens into a collective authorship. If the collaborative power of the World Wide Web threatens the ability of an elite minority to define shared narratives – such as the influence of corporate interests or the State itself – the development of participatory literacies presents emancipatory possibilities for each member of society to become reflected in a shared identity.

While these changes can be and often are touted as revolutionary and inspiring, this era of unprecedented communicative potential on a global scale has been accompanied by rapidly expanding trends toward political and economic alienation and fragmentation, making schools susceptible to replicating inequalities prevalent in wider society. To address this problem, this project explores the potential for citizenship curriculum in the 21st century to provide young people with experiential lessons in transforming themselves as individuals, contributing to the continued transformation of their surrounding societies, and developing greater individual agency in the shaping of a collective identity.

Through this, the project is guided by the following questions:

  • Does open discourse influence young people’s sense of voice and agency in the shaping of collective identities?
  • Can digital tools and open pedagogy provide a means of realizing emergent curriculum for citizenship in the 21st century?

In an attempt to honour the pluralist spirit of collective authorship, the project is framed by an approach to learning that includes personal as well as critical foundations. Although research and professional learning has inspired the process-oriented conception of citizenship learning described here, life experiences and personal pursuits dating back to my adolescence reveal a similar theme of individual transformation that is explored in the introduction to the project. Whether in an adolescence spent training and racing in competitive track and field, university years spent trying to craft the perfect sentence, or as an adult striving to embody lifelong learning, my personal and academic ambitions have consistently been oriented toward transcendence. This introduction outlines the manner in which these life experiences have come together to form the particular lens applied to my academic study of teaching and learning.