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Tag, you’re it. Using the Flickr model to restructure curriculum

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Bloom’s taxonomy outlined tenets of education that became a model for curriculum developers since the 1950s. Bloom divides learning into domains, then breaks those domains into tiered levels. Such division promotes learning as a hierarchy with more basic skills, such as recalling and identifying facts, acting as prerequisites for higher skills like analysis or synthesis.

This taxonomy inspires a sequential learning model. Before students read, they must learn phonics. Before students solve math word problems, they must learn the computation. In this order, a student must demonstrate mastery of a skill often outside the context that skill will be used. Every skill taught is cleaved neatly from the other and taught separately. These skills are then amalgamated into distinct subjects like algebra or literature by junior high as teachers assume students have reached mastery of them.

The cognitive skills Bloom outlines are important, but the model in some ways promotes an inherent segregation of skill sets. We spent a lot of time as educators teaching prerequisite concepts and leaving it up to the students to put together the puzzle pieces. Of course as a fourth grader I hated math, when I was told to plow through worksheet after worksheet seemingly in total isolation to my other work in school.

What if we dismantled the segregation? What if instead of courses, students worked through material that was tagged? A math problem could be tagged with #multiplication, #inference, and #evaluation just as a Sherlock Holmes novel could be tagged with #literature, #deduction, #chemistry, and #vocabulary. Such a cloud of tags could help students make associations across subject areas, helping to spark the natural deepening and maturation of their cognitive skills. This to me, seems a much more intuitive course of instruction.

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The Problem with Ownership

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The core trouble with intellectual property discussed in both the documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto and the book Information Feudalism is assumption that ideas can be owned. Intellectual property ideas must have a sole proprietor, otherwise, the profit could not be funneled so directly. As Drahos and Braithwaite suggest, “knowledge is not only power. It is also the source of profits in modern global markets.” (39) Large corporations rely on intellectual property revenue so they have lobbied aggressively for laws that respect and enforce their intellectual property. They have also launched campaigns to “reeducate” the public on the seriousness of intellectual property in the digital age. These campaigns attempt to persuade through “romantic notions of individual authorship and inventorship,” (16) but ultimately fall flat when carried to their absurd, but ultimate conclusions. For example, searching out and prosecuting a few downloaders of copyrighted material out of the millions that download things everyday.

In order for ideas to be profitable for corporations or individuals, ideas must be owned. This ownership truncates the history of inspiration that came before it. The fervor to patent ideas, lest they prove to be profitable in the future stifles innovations that could be taking place now. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson outlines the environmental conditions most suited for innovation. Not surprisingly, the easy exchange of ideas is a key factor.
By asserted that ideas, hunches, and inklings can be owned, we are creating an anemic environment for innovation. Education is (or at least should be) designed to breed innovation because new ideas are the driving force of our economy. However, intellectual property walls erect barriers rather than build bridges to new ideas. If we continue to patent hunches, we may find, as Brett Gaylor suggests in his film, the cure for cancer is hidden behind patents.