Changing Higher Ed UNESCO Barcelona Talk #curriculumBCN

This post was written in real time by Cathy Davidson, and added to incrementally throughout and immediately after the  X International Seminar, UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change by Universitate Oberta de Catalunya, IN3 (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute):


This post includes:

  • some follow-up tweets (and a photo) from my talk at UNESCO Barcelona, “Changing Higher Education from the Classroom Up.”
  • helpful links to other resources I referred to in my talk
  • a compilation of all the interactive answer to the question I asked in Think-Pair-Share, “What are the top three things we need to change in the curriculum to help our students  thrive in the world we live in now?
  • my informal, scrappy, impartial, impressionistic real-time notes on all of the talks at the conference.  (I will put these in a Google Doc and invite presenters to edit them and will put up a revised version later)
  • I blog a few times a week on the site as “Cat in the Stack”


Special thanks to the amazing organizers of this conference. They have brought together the most unusual confluence of thinkers and practitioners, across all of education, that I’ve been part of, in a richly interactive atmosphere.  Let’s keep it going!  If we can connect the dots, we can become a movement for innovation and equity.




Opening keynote @CathyNDavidson takes us on a journey of how we arrived at industrial scale education #curriculumBCN


Follow-up to my talk #curriculumBCN: Now You See It: Brain Science of Attention + Way We Teach, Live, Learn 


Follow-up to my talk #curriculumBCN: “History and Future of Higher Ed”–the “meta MOOC”: …


Follow-up to my talk #curriculumBCN: student-written Field Notes to 21st Century Literacies …


Follow-ups to my talk at #curriculumBCN: For badges for learning: 


Follow-ups to my talk at #curriculumBCN: Futures Initiative at Graduate Center @GradCenterNews …


Follow-ups to my talk at #curriculumBCN:  (“haystack”) is the nonprofit open free social network I referred to

Follow-up to my talk #curriculumBCN: open women + technology feminist network:

Follow-up to my talk #curriculumBCN: HASTAC’s “collaboraton by difference” …

Follow-up to #curriculumBCN: HASTAC’s “collaboraton by difference” and team cycling analogy of Peloton:


3 Ways to Change the Curriculum To Help Our Students Thrive

Here’s the results of the interactive exercise during my talk on “Curriculum from the Classroom Up” at UNESCO Barcelona.   I asked:  “WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE THINGS OUR STUDENTS NEED TO LEARN IN ORDER TO THRIVE IN THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW?”


The reason I am optimistic about educational change is because, whenever I ask this question, people come up with great insights.  We can build on these.  What’s on YOUR card?


In 90 seconds, here’s what people came up with.  It’s a great start!  Now, what would you like to add?  


  •   Personalize  (multiple intelligences)
  •   Competency based
  •   Collaborative learning
  •   Curriculum is not something that should be created, laminated and mailed to schools from distant authorities who you will never meet.  Curriculum should be co-created between the teacher and the student.
  •   Teaching is more than a curriculum so teachers should be trained in other methods
  •   Learning by doing
  •   Talk about competencies not subjects
  •   Avoid IQ registers, develop multiple intelligences
  •   Recognition of the prior learning rather than assessing people for every subject
  •   Flexibility in curriculum
  •   Move from what to think to why to think
  •   Getting students to want to think
  •   Taking ownership of the curriculum back from the .03%
  •   Keep back importance vs. Knowledge
  •   Focus knowledge
  •   Do not obligate to a teaching strategy
  •   Real world examples
  •   Engagement/active learning
  •   Language awareness (EX: UK students lack grounding to understand own language and learn others; no basis for application)
  •   More experience
  •   More flexible
  •   More explicit rather than embedded
  •   Shift competency-based education
  •   Make time variable and mastery constant
  •   Design for personalized learning
  •   Change credentials/accreditation
  •   Break silos
  •   Bring work and school closer together
  •   School to design the doing
  •   Listen to the pupils/students
  •   Invent accountability
  •   Clarity of purpose
  •   Dump the language of delivery
  •   New vision of schooling
  •   Relevant
  •   Practical
  •   Assessment
  •   Change math teaching
  •   Let teacher decide to grade or not
  •   Allow flexible schedule
  •   Introduce collaborative informal learning
  •   Cross cultural discipline support
  •   Get rid of standardized closed exams
  •   Open curriculum (syllabus) and flexible schedule
  •   Authentic activities
  •   Alternative assessment (formative, not summative): decline testing
  •   Interdisciplinary
  •   Useful evaluations: Collaborative, useful evaluations
  •   fostering self-reflexivity, helping students recognize their strengths and weaknesses as learners;
  •   showing students how knowledge is not inert or thing-like, but constructed and evaluated collectively, over time, so they can see themselves as pursuing and constructing knowledge for others, as others do for them;
  •   helping students learn and master for their own purposes a complex terrain of existing knowledge, showing them how to find what they want or need there, and suggesting how that terrain may be connected to other, more or less relevant terrains of knowledge;



Here’s a Wordle based on the list above. Larger fonts indicate greater word frequency.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 15.21.52




X International Seminar

UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change

Dec 1-2, 2014

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

Barcelona, Spain


These random and informal notes were taken by Cathy N. Davidson and are offered as a supplement to the videos of the entire event, available on the conference website:


They sometimes duplicate and are sometimes replaced by live-tweets by Davidson during the talks. Participants at the Seminar are invited to correct and amplify.  Please feel free to delete or edit.


Monday, December 1

Cathy N. Davidson, “Changing Higher Education from the Classroom Up”

Photo and links to Davidson talk, plus transcription from the Think-Pair-Share exercise, “What three ways can we change the curriculum to help our students thrive in today’s world?” –



Helen Soule, “Patterns of Innovation-Transforming Early Learning and Beyond with 21st Century Skills”

Soule mentions digital landscape: automated banking, supermarkets, hotel registration, etc:


My question: So what happens to human labor and human laborers in the automated workplace when our service industries, following the fate of manufacturing, are replaced by machines?


75% graduate high school in US –but 38% in college need remediation


Brain research: Play is how kids learn.


Audrey Cooke,  “Encouraging pre-service teachers to re-vision mathematics:  focusing on the ‘have a go’ aspect of numeracy.” 


Innovation in action:  patterns, fractions, geometry, measurement, place value

Integrate mathematics and attitudes


Pere Monras, Judit Castro,  “Proven effects of collaborative learning”


“You need to know not just a lot about the disease but a lot about the patient.”


Mark Priestly, “The New Curriculum:  Policy Into Practice in Scotland”

PMI: plus, minus, interesting.

Kelly and Stenhouse, 1975:

Content Curriculum

Outcomes Curriculum

Process curriculum


CfE combines all three:  Priestley and Humes, 2010


Knowledge in and of itself is not a suitable stating point for curriculum development.

Michael Young: knowledge is powerful but what about future use


“Sabre tooth curriculum.”


“Teachers must be trusted—but also supported.”



Jasmina Nicolic and Karl Royle,  “Agile Education Paradigm”


Why education is not effective and efficient anymore?


Where is the Why? What are the values?


Agile Development Scrum


Scrummy education;  Bridging the Gap, Going agile.

Using Kanban

Open Space Technology



Nuria Miro, “A curriculum of ownership, ubiquity, and accountability”

The high jump analogy for change & leadership is wonderful. Here’s another great video … #curriculumBCN

Time and space to reflect also important.


Average and deviation from average is not a helpful way to think!


“If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, that’s a recipe” –Chris Lehmann


Project to have students draw their futures in a specific artistic style.  To do this in drafts and then to reflect on each draft.  Introspection as well as craft and art.


95% of young people in US have Internet access

Average text messages young people, 13-17, send in month:  3417


Learning that matters: Most important:  Learning to become.



Antonia Dolcet and Alba Rodoreda, SetMesTres”  Interaction, reflection and competenci work


“Our task is to generate good questions.”


Ana Diaz and Paco Rico “Holistic Education.”

iBroggi high school, task-based methodology

Visual arts at core of curriculum




Tuesday, December 2

Joe Bower, “Do Schools Conceal or reveal learning?”

I am a teacher—we’ve done a very poor job of involving teachers in education reform.


Teaches 120 students a day.


“I teach at public school–which means we must accept everyone, not just smart and who have money. Everyone.”


He’s inspired by Alfie Kohn’s work on teaching w/out grading.


Largest obstacle to improving school is our memory!  Reform is hard because people are nostalgic for their own past—even if it was a crummy past and one in which they didn’t learn much!.


Shows video of child afraid to go down a ski hill for the first time to the bottom of the hill with jubilation and success, from risk-taking to success.


Encouragement. Empowerment, transformation: fun, safe, self-efficacy, formative feedback.


Assessment is not a spreadsheet; it’s a conversation.


“Real estate=locationx3. Teaching=relationship, relationship, relationship. You cannot bar graph relationship.”


“The day I abolished grading”: when he told students he would give them feedback on their homework but not grades kids were furious.  “So we did this for nothing?”  That means love of learning wasn’t important.


Extrinsic motivation decreases intrinsic motivation.  “No good reason to grade—it’s an extrinsic method and horrendous way of providing feedback.”


Jerome Bruner:   “Children should experience their success and failures not as reward and failure but as information.”


“There is no substitute for what teachers see and hear while children are still learning.”


“Some of most important things we do in life are impossible to measure.  But can still be described. “


His students blog—they blog a lot.  “If you want to know what a child is doing, go read their blog.  We need to let kids’ learning speak for itself.”


“Grading without grading”:  his students make paper and electronic portfolios and then makes judgment on report cards.  Then he asks them—self-assessment.  They write blog post reflecting on their learning for first three months.


If a student cares about grades, there’s a parent there who is pushing this.


At some point, stage 3, withdrawal symptoms, students will still want to know their grade!


Stage 4:  Sustained sobriety:  Children think for themselves.  Kids begin talking about learning.


Stage 5: relapse   Reassured by old school and disturbed by its absence.  They are afraid they are being set up for failure—in high school, will they fail?


Stage 6:  Mindful reflection:  “ending the race to nowhere.”


Bower: Recess is the 4th R.  Free, unstructured time for children to play is at an all-time low and that is a major problem.


Bower: “Corporations blather on about cooperation and creativity. I don’t believe them, because they are also fighting equitable salary and working conditions.”


Typical assignment: Watch Reich video on inequality, guidance ab some things to blog ab and invite more.


Bower: Poverty—of love, of attention– is not an educational problem, it’s a social problem. #curriculumBCN


“It is unsustainable to expect teachers to spend more time and effort with other peoples’ children than their own.


“Great teachers don’t need surveillance, they need support.”




Cathy Ellis, “Can Learning using the Internet in the context of self-organized learning environments (SOLEs) replace traditional vocational education and training”


Highbury College, Portsmith


Works with Sugata Mitra




Redesign the apprenticeship model of learning within a digital paradigm.


SOLE approach is curriculum based around learning.


Key point:  students never work by themselves around a computer terminal—work in teams of four or five.  It is designed that way, not a deficit!



Graham Brown-Martin, “Learning and (Re)Imagining Transmedia Project” 



Learning (Re)Imagined A comparative, qualitative, global study of the impact of digital platforms onthe way we learn, communicate and live.


Sponsored by WISE Ex interview @ThisIsSethsBlog


Seth Godin:  Public education is only 150 years old created to make compliant, obedient factory workers.

So what is purpose of higher education now?  In US and Europe

1—how to solve interesting problems

2—how to lead


Noam Chomskysays:  What is school? 1-Enlightenment says highest goal in life is to inquire and create and search riches of past and carry that quest for understanding further in your own way—-education helps people determine how to learn on their own, you the learner is going to achieve. 2-Other concept is indoctrination:  from childhood young people must be placed into a framework fro m which they will follow orders, accept status quo, not challenge.


—John Dewey :  he notes these two poles too.


Ghana:  pedagogy based around books.  So they used cheapest kindle to get books.  Lasts long time on one battery charge, thousands of books, easy.


India:  rural Bahar India: pregnant woman cannot leave her compound; one of biggest mobile learning projects in the world, using cheap mobile phones and using them brilliantly.


High Tech High in San Diego:  environment is key—hard to know where classroom ends and common space begins   .  Expectation of the young people raised—not planning career in retail or in a factory.


Environment matters.


If we don’t ask why education matters, we won’t change a thing.




Sometimes technology is not neutral; it’s a distraction—unless it’s being used wisely.


Reductionist view of technology helps nothing.


Big data and learning analytics are digital age Taylorism—using computers so we can hand the data back to the management.


Cheating, grade inflation are workarounds to Taylorist learning analytics.


Assessment in game based learning


British got idea of standardized assessment from the Chinese—always good at tests.


“PISA is unofficial Olympics of learning.”


Assessment is what has to change.


Ken Robinson: inane view of testing is it keeps track of standards, certification.  It is also a massively profitable enterprise for all publishers, an engine of the economy.  Debate is not whether we can get rid of it but can we find other, better forms of it?


Ken Robinson: inane view of testing: keeps track of standards, certification. But  hugely profitable enterprise for publishers.

There are far better ways of standardizing and certifying. 


Pearson, MacMillan—educational industrial complex.


When parents say they just want to get their kids into college, they really are saying the want their kids to lead productive, meaningful adult lives.   How do we get that?


THE FUTURE:  We give so much power to corporations that were never elected.  We need agency.  We need education that gives people agency!!!


If we decide the majority of people do not need to poor so rich can be rich, we can change that.


We don’t need to keep Africa poor and disease ridden and the Middle East at War.  We can change that.


Dewey, “one school former is better than a hundred school reformers.”!!


“Outriders”—take a 50 year view as public services as important and work towards that!   That is what neoliberalism did.  We can do that back.    Long term goal.  Not just education but across all society. 


Emma:  We should not be thinking about designing the future for our children. We should be teaching them they can design the future for themselves.


Brenda: technology has allowed us to create movements and to gather than never before.  Let’s create a movement.




Tom Caswell, Open Assessment and OERs as enablers in competency-based education  #curriculumBCN


TwHistory “Those who forget history are doomed to retweet it.”


Open education, student of David Wiley.  Western Governors University—first competency based online institution.  Built from scratch to break rules.


“Measuring education by learning, not time.”


If you are measuring seat time v learning, you are measuring the long end of the student.” Competency is “time agnostic.”



ME:  Every state that joined US compulsory ed movement justified it by “time,” in factory/clock sense of labor paid by time

,” in factory/clock sense of labor paid by time


ASSESSMENTS:  Formative Assessment

Check understanding;  mastery of concepts directly in course materials


The Potential

Do for assessments what’s been done for content (courses, lectures, videos)

Embed anywhere

Share—don’t reinvent the wheel for every courseCOMMON FEATURES OF CBE—competency-based education.  Esp adult learners.

  1. Emphasizs mastery and de-emphasizes time
  2. Assessments/projects play a central role

If we can make learning, not time, the new constant—then we can have a situation where everyone can succeed.

Key roles of CBE:

Faculty do not go away—paid to be mentored, all interactions 1 on 1.

Types of OER Content

Open assessments in service of OER



Open Textbooks

Webpages with open licences




Evaluate, record

Pop the question anywhere.

QTI  question/test interoperability

Load Assessment by url

Put it on the web

QTI web address

When there are enough formative assessments, then could be summative.

Short answers, multiple choice, etc.  Helps students learn.

Embedded in MIT Open CourseWare

Competency-based can be used as a basis for weekly tests, not helpful.

Competency based education should be about connecting your outcomes to your possibilities.  Most successful is tied to performance. 

Western Governors University:  all faculty are full time.  Benefits.  50,000 students.  Faculty specialize.  Some are with students, some love reading and giving feedback on tests.  Not having raised tuition

Answer: At Western Governors University: all faculty are full time.Benefits. 50,000 students. Tuition not raised in 7 yrs

Ankit Khandelwal, India “Zero Cost Management Graduate”—Skype

2 degrees—Mechanical engineering, Master’s, one India, one Denmark.

Learning soft skills from video, conferences, classes—needs those to be a global manager.

Idea-management phase:

Brain storming on required skill set

Study (employment surveys, organizations outlook)

Managerial problems


Event participation

Experience living abroad

Volunteering activities/social services

Own Imagination


Internatinal economics—policy making,banking, trade fince, international trade law

Becoming more globalized (mix stdy of culture, economy, history, engagement with native, learning leanguages, expanding network, etc)

General management

(marketing, financ,e business strategy, accounting,human resources)—he doesn’t study engineering because he is one


Interdisciplinary studies/future trends

(urban planning, environmental law, international trade, design thinking, public policy, disaster management, data analytics, etc.)


Skill comparison:  settupin up study program

Financial worries

Uncertainty about time duration

Lack of visitibilty of this concept in traditional curriculum

Opting for skills not degree


Gaining Knowledge   see photo

Newspapers magazines


Online Courses MOOC, OCW, oepn source

Publications (companies, institutions)

Language learning (free courses, language exchnge

Social media


An example:  Understanding business strategy. 

See photo

Practicing Knowledge:  Immersing into subject  see photo

Course project assignments

Side studies


Volunteering activities

Social media

Newspaper readers


Outcome and relevance

Flexible approach


Need internet connectio

Relevance to others

Flexible aproach in education oneself

Usage of minim resources

Practicing knowledge in real life scenarios

Helpful for future generations

Applicatle in dveloping countries

Helpful in fast changing industriess to fulfill the needs

Most resources available only in English

Question: what gave you the audacity to do this?  Did you find all the resources you were looking for?

-He’s a business consultant now and an author for magazines and book in progress.   Furthers his engineering background into management.


Albert Sangra, Conclusions and Takeaways.

What and when to teach?  How to teach?  How and when to asssess?

Curriculum models with society .  How will our society evolve?  Content cannot be central point of curriculum.

Growing role for general education.  Liberal arts education. 

Is this a disruption or an improvement? Or transformation?

Cathy Davidson:   Moving beyong industrial model. Begin to think of new forms of peer literacy.  Opportunities to learn what they love—unleash potential, mission not major:  problem solving not discipline.  End with “just do it!”

Helen Soule:  four C’s are what we need to keep

Mark Priestley:  Context is everything in curriculum development

Learning is not a delivery but a conversation

Nuria Miro:  Fosbury flop—what changes a paradigm?

Average is not the way to judge learning—no brain is average

Becoming is key.



Joe Bower—the teachers voice.  Strongly disagrees with grading.  Assessment is not a spreadsheet but a conversation.  Advocates for better teacher education.

Graham Brown-Martin: transformation from diverse perspectives depending on context.

Emphasis on how to learn, democratic citizens.

Demo presenters:  also very important


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309