Curriculum questions: Where to start?

Equity is suddenly a popular topic. In online learning, and at OISE, thinking about how online spaces can be fluid and safe has always been important, but it’s always good to look at our practices from a different lens to check that we not “sustaining access to some and excluding others” (Young, 2014).  

Curriculum questions are not black and white. When looking at curriculum theory, and how it relates to online education, I agree with the sentiment expressed by Young (2014) that “curriculum questions are far from straightforward – and this is not made easier by the fact that everyone thinks they have answers to them” (Young, 2014).  

So, where to start? The library resources team has developed a great resource around Equity Focused Digital Pedagogy and Learning https:/ The resources here are designed to help faculty develop a  foundational understanding of digital pedagogy and international standards as well as consider best practices for digital learning and teaching. 

  We don’t always see what we are saying: the hidden curriculum. I am just reading through some of the great resources suggested and loved this timely reference to Murat Oztok’s, The hidden curriculum of online learning: understanding social justice through critical pedagogy (2020).  Oztok draws on critical pedagogy and contemporary cultural studies and highlights structural elements in online teaching which can marginalize students. He argues that these inequitable learning experiences represent existing inequities in society. Oztok summarizes the social, political, economic and historical dynamics around public schooling and education, and how they affect the development of online education. He purports that only as we look at the day to day learning practices and consider how they are: “based on unequal power relations and how such practices operate to reproduce differentiated conditions…can we address questions considering equity in online education” (Oztok, 2020, 14).   

An example of a student thinking about how to enter an online space. This is just a glimpse of this very comprehensive and thought-provoking resource. Oztok illustrates how students experience the curriculum with respect to issues of equity and social justice. He talks about something we commonly do when we enter an online space, or that we require as teachers.  

I type the online course’s address in my web browser’s address bar and hit the return key. A page is loaded with an image in the background showing one of the many historical landmark buildings of the university, asking for my user name and password. I successfully enter my name and password and sign in to the online space. The browser takes me directly to the “community” area (are we a community already?), though I am the only one in the space at the moment (the course allows you to see who else is online and there is no option to hide out). I feel like a student who arrives to the lecture hall earlier than anyone else and sits there alone waiting for other students to come in though I am very much aware that people might log in and out of the space anytime due to the asynchronous nature of the space. I play around with the buttons that I can click and check the menus to figure out what my options are…It all makes sense to me.  (Oztok, 2020, 37) 

Then, the student enters a place where they have to decide how to represent themselves online. 

I am a beautiful purplish and whitish daisy (a random picture that is assigned to my online account by the system).… I change my profile picture to a picture of myself that I uploaded to the system though I am wondering whether I should keep the daisy since it is better to look at a flower than to look at myself. I decide to go with my own picture anyway since I know representing myself as who I am is an important dynamic in the delicate balance of intimacy between me and my participants. I want them to know me as much as I can represent myself to them. (Oztok, 2020, 38) 

How do we represent ourselves as teachers, as students, how do we create this community and is it equitable? Spend some time thinking about this and other important aspect of your online teaching that make up your hidden curriculum. You may just begin to realize that current understandings of equity online need to be challenged—and to think about how you can be part of Oztok’s goal of “sparking thought, controversy, debate and further research” (112). This is definitely a conversation we need to be a part of.  

Oztok, M. (2020). The Hidden Curriculum of Online Learning. London: Routledge, 

Young, Michael. (2014). Curriculum theory: what it is and why it is important. Cadernos de Pesquisa, 44(151), 190-202.  

(Note: If this topic interests you: I also talk about some of these resources and how they relate to supporting international students online in a previous blog: ) 

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