Are You Teaching Students How to Change the World?

Despite most people’s wish for a calmer 2021 to catch up from pandemic-driven changes of 2020, January’s events showed this as unlikely. Wallstreetbets’ stock manipulation using game theory principles and the insurrection in our capital over the election may have seemed surreal as we watched them unfold in the media, but these events are as real as it gets. Instead of looking back hoping to teach in ways we taught pre-pandemic, I can’t think of a better time to academically jump into the fray and teach our students to change the world.

“What knowledge is of most worth?” is one of the four enduring questions of curriculum theory (Spencer, 1884; Tyler, 1950). Our democratic society leans on higher education to define this. Choose any large-scale event from the past 12 months, and successes and failures of how we prepare–or do not prepare–students emerge. To teach to change the world, first ask yourself if you are using your expertise to select and pass on the knowledge you feel is of most worth in your courses? To be thought leaders, and to lead students to discover within themselves a burning intellectual curiosity and stamina–along with how to effectively voice their ideas?

Curriculum making is of great importance, since curriculum reflects the values and beliefs of those who create it, impacting all those who use it.

(Friere, 1990, as quoted in Seiki, S., 2016, p. 12)

Second, reflect on our curriculum choices. Do our choices promote ideas we do NOT believe in by our silence on certain areas, such as racism (Janak, 2020)? For example, Kogen reported “more than half of Americans 18 to 29 years old…didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘anti-Semitism” in a recent Inside Higher Ed post. In Toward a Curriculum of Meaning in a Time of Fear, Woyshner (2016, p. 1) describes a climate including “Black men dying at the hands of police officers” and continues on to analyze the lack of curriculum sharing Black women’s stories.

Technology can exacerbate effects of a hidden or null curriculum, and Kimmons’ 2020 analysis of 7708 article titles and their abstracts show keywords addressing social issues to be largely missing in the last five years of educational technology research. Searching our own Engaged! posts shows similar results–something I will address in future posts.

Ordinary people can and do change the world every day.

Pipher, M., 2007, p. 27

Third, are you teaching students connections between your discipline and current events, helping them learn to ask questions about the way things are? It is often quicker and easier to use pre-made content and assessments from publishers. One small but powerful change you can make is adding two additional questions (synchronously or asynchronously) to any existing content.

Are there areas this chapter/reading/quiz did not address, such as the perspective of ____? Where in current events can you see examples of how the ideas in this text influence people’s choices or actions?

Do your courses help students find and develop their unique voice?

An example of a 22-year-old speaking words to inspire a nation is Amanda Gorman’s recent inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb. “Somehow we have weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” Gorman wrote. I believe those of us in higher education (and all education) have a distinct role and responsibility in crafting that future–if we stop hoping for the way things were and start teaching our students how to change the world.

In the ensuing weeks I will be posting on specific teaching strategies related to increasing student engagement, creating authentic learning activities using current events, and promoting critical thinking in online contexts. You may also find information of value in last week’s eLearning professional development about teaching controversial topics (slides linked here)(full recording linked here).


Gorman, A. (2021). The hill we climb: An inaugural poem for the country. Penguin Random House.

Kogen, S., (2021). Anti-Semitism is a major problem on campuses, and students must be educated about it. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from

Janak, E. (2020). What do you mean it’s not there? Doing null history. The American Archivist, 83(1), 57–76.

Kimmons, R. (2020). Current trends (and missing links) in educational Technology Research and Practice. TechTrends, 64(6), 803–809.

Pipher, M. B. (2007). Writing to change the world. New York: Riverhead Books.

Seiki, S. (2016). Transformative curriculum making: A teacher educator’s counterstory. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 18(1 & 2), 11–24.

Spencer, H. (1884). What knowledge is of most worth. United States: J.B. Alden. Digitized:

Tyler, R. W., (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Woyshner, C., (2016). Living in interesting times: Toward a curriculum of meaning in a time of fear, Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 18(1 & 2). Retrieved February 3, 2021, from

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