Bryant, J., & Bates, A. (2015). Creating a Constructivist Online Instructional Environment. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 59(2), 17-22.
For this review, I chose the article “Creating a Constructivist Online Instructional Environment’ (Bryant & Bates, 2015) because I am very interested in finding practical ways to incorporate elements of constructivist theory into course design. The fact that this was published in the last 6 month was also attractive, as I hoped the technology references would not be outdated.
The authors of the article are education faculty at Willamette University who claim a social constructionist theory of teaching and learning. The article is an anecdotal narrative of their experience in converting two masters level educational programs from a face-to-face format to an online format. The article describes the tools and strategies the authors found to be the most useful, in what they describe, as a successful conversion and conclude, “The online, technology-rich environment provides unique opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers to engage in a community of discourse, scaffold knowledge, experience cognitive presence and develop “personal’ relationship with course instructors.’
The reader is given an introduction to the programs social constructivist nature and a quick description of how the the authors chose the tools they were to use by matching them to course objectives. Three of the chosen tools were examined in more detail in sections with the headings ‘Social Constructivism Through Podcasting’, ‘Social Constructivism Through Google Documents’, and ‘Social Constructivism Through Frequent and Varied Feedback’.
In each of these sections the authors briefly describe what tool was chosen and how it was employed. Their is no elaboration on the technological aspect of the tools but instead focus is placed on how each is incorporated into their online pedagogy in relation to a social constructive lens. The authors theorize on how they believe student learning was influenced through use of the tool and specific examples of student work are used to illustrate individual student growth through a collaborative communication process.
Though I found the article interesting and did find some excellent examples of specific assignments supporting constructivist learning, I couldn’t help but notice that in the examples the students often felt confused and lost as to the purpose of the assignment and how they were supposed to proceed. Being a student myself, i must admit to being influenced by their suffering and have to wonder if deliberately confusing students is necessary. It may be effective, but couldn’t equally effective techniques that don’t cause so much angst be chosen? I can concede the point that being pushed out of your comfort zone encourages growth, but I don’t think I believe a student has to remain constantly in that uncomfortable place in order for learning to occur. This is when I started to really applaud the conclusion, drawn by Ally (2008), that a combination of the three main pedagogical theories is the desired approach. The combination drawing from a variety of theories would allow some students to be pushed out of zone some times, but not necessarily all students at all times.
Of all the techniques described, the one that I felt had the most fully realized result was the section on feedback. The authors point out that “feedback from professors in online classrooms is even more imperative than for F2F teaching because of the student-instructor distance that is inherent in a virtual format.’ Though I realized feedback was important I had not before thought about the distance as an influencing factor nor fully appreciated why a personal and varied approach was so effective.
In conclusion, I think the article was worth reading and I came away with a more comprehensive understanding of a social constructivist approach in addition to specific real world examples of the theory in online action. I will not, however, choose to employ all the techniques described in the manner they were used and have come away with a solidified appreciation for a toolbar of strategies drawn from a variety of theoretical approaches.