Constructivism and the use of technology

After culling my Twitter timeline recently I’ve had much more time to reflect on individual posts (and actually reply to them). I’m musing on this for a future blog post.

I had some time to listen to the podcast linked below and reflect on my own discussion with Dr. Beth Holland recently:

Beth also mentioned a North Carolina study in the podcast which promoted the idea that:

Teachers who… believe students should be active learners and actively constructing their own sense of reality about the world… were way more likely to recognise the power for technology to enhance those constructivist-type experiences.

Schell and Janicki’s paper on Online Course Pedagogy and the Constructivist Learning Model discusses the use of technology to deliver learning content to college and university students. They identified that, with a focus on a constructivist learning model:

A potential problem with online courses could be students spending too much time trying to learn how to use the technology required to access the course instead of concentrating on the actual course material.

This problem occurs whenever attempting to introduce technology into any learning task. As a Computer Science teacher I know that many students who take an elementary ICT course will be faced with an number of “jump through the hoop” tasks in order to gain experience in using a particular application. While this is necessary to build confidence and competence I feel it should be the enabler for application of those skills not the entire outcome.

Giving students more control of the learning process allows students to discover information themselves. Self-discovery has been shown to increase the student’s perceived retention of course material. This style of education better prepares the student for situations that will be encountered outside of the university, where there will not be a professor to guide him/her through a problem.

In my previous role I took on a number of classes who had previously been given autonomy in their learning and, for reasons unknown, had not been rigorously challenged enough prior to their external exams. You will not be surprised to hear they failed to achieve their estimated grades and this had substantial negative impact on their confidence at a key time in their schooling. For some students the move from objectivist learning to self efficacy without consistent approaches and careful support is difficult and learning how to learn (regardless of how it is delivered) has to be embedded into their whole school experience.

As I’m planning my courses for next session I’m keeping all this in mind. During our chat last week Beth recommended investigating the MetaRubric project launched a year ago by Justin Reich. In the podcast she highlights Alan November’s Learning Farm model. In all these time for student reflection is core, as is the importance of individual targets and taking a step back from the lesson or assessment in order to remind yourself (or consider for the first time) why or if the content is important at that time and using that resource or teaching style.

I feel we have now got to the stage where technology is so pervasive in education teachers are realising that they have to think very carefully about how it is used to maximise impact. Technology can fit really well with constructivist pedagogy but so does a pencil and paper or a cardboard box. It is how the teacher frames the learning that matters. In my own experience project-based learning has brought the students great success and engagement with the course material and, for me anyway, a great amount of joy in seeing the spark in students as they present their product to others.

Changing your curriculum to allow for a constructivist environment is undoubtedly hard work and I think that you need to balance active learning tasks carefully as to not lessen the positive impact this approach can bring to lessons. That said the students in my class who were not as happy with their end products when they compared it to their peers gained an understanding of the effort involved to make something great, or that iteration of an idea is essential to identify and resolve issues that occur during the development process and, as this timely tweet reminds us:



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