Category Archives: Article Review

Article Review 1: Creating a Constructivist Online Instructional Environment.

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fact that this was published in the last 6 month was also attractive, as I hoped the technology references would not be outdated.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.

Article Review #1

For the first article review, I selected John S. Brown’s “Growing up digital: How the Web changes work, education, and the ways people learn” (2002). I discovered this piece while perusing the reference section of George Seimen’s article on connectivism (2005).

I chose this topic for much the same reason that I chose this class. First, I’ve been out the position of classroom teacher for nearly five years now. Best practices in education change quickly and the technology behind the practices change even faster. In order to connect with kids and provide them the resources to succeed, teachers need to be current in their own understanding of child development as well as available and effective technology. Second, I have two young children preparing to enter the public school system. This article provides insightful perspectives regarding the ways in which young learners are expected to learn as well as the possible future horizon that guides current decision making.

The article begins by drawing parallels between early technology application, such as photographs and motion pictures, to our current understanding and relationship with the World Wide Web. This helped me activate prior knowledge on the topic and relate to the new topic within a context I understand. In this infancy stage, we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of the technology. A model doesn’t exist so we use new technology to accomplish the same old tasks, rather than redesigning the tasks based on new information and new resources.

The idea of leveraging learning was interesting to me. With a bachelors in Business, I understand this term well from a financial standpoint, but have never considered it in terms of learning. With the sheer volume of available information and the questionable sources confusing the facts, it is nearly impossible to stay current with everything we want or need to know. Type the word “leveraging” into Google and the definitions are as follows:
1. Use borrowed capital for an investment, expecting the profits made to be greater than the interest payable.
2. Use something to it’s maximum advantage.
Initially, I assumed the author was considering leverage in the sense of using something to it’s maximum advantage, such as senior citizens helping teachers (and themselves) by sharing stories and life lessons with children. As I continued to read, however, I got the impression he was getting at more. This lead to much reflection on social learning through the lens of leverage. Perhaps the first definition of leverage, the true business definition, is appropriate as well. Rather than spending a considerable amount of time learning the detailed in’s and out’s of a topic with the end goal of becoming an expert, it’s possible to borrow the ideas and opinions of others (capital) to build our own knowledge base (an investment), where profits (understanding and earning potential) is larger than the interest payable (time and energy of initial investment). The Return on Investment in this scenario is enormous, largely due to the vast quantity of information already organized, evaluated, or synthesized. My initial thought is that borrowing ideas, thoughts, or opinions of others is merely surface learning because you can’t truly understand those points of view without a grasp of the assumptions or underlying principles that form them. As I read the assigned and self-selected articles this week, however, it shocked me how quickly information changes and how frequently we need to unlearn and relearn something. Siemens (2005) study asserts the following: The half-life of knowledge, the time elapsed from when knowledge is first gained to when it is obsolete, is shrinking. Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and doubling every 18 months. (p.1). Based on this, perhaps leveraging knowledge is more practical and efficient in our modern world.

The author discusses the ways technology can cater to multiple intelligences, stating “as educators, we now have a chance to construct a medium that enables all young people to become engaged in their ideal way of learning (Brown, 2002, p.2). As part of my Classroom Research project last semester, I explored digital storytelling as a best practice in early education. My 4-year-old learned to create digital stories and express herself and her intelligence through scene selection, animation, music, photo, and other specialized options. I saw her express her ideas through art and music, which seem to be her preferred intelligence. Motivation and engagement were high, due in large part to the novelty of the technology and perceived privilege of being able to use it. I recognize, therefore, the potential for technology to help kids express their personal intelligences in various ways. I contest, however, that technology is necessary for this and the notion that because of technology we can “now” create ways for kids to express themselves through their preferred method. My daughter is in a Waldorf pre-school right now. She is building, dancing, beading, singing, and baking instead of being plugged into a computer. Is she not developing and showcasing her multiple intelligence in the natural world? Isn’t it the teacher then, more than the technology, that “construct a medium that enables all young people to become engaged in their ideal way of learning” (Brown, 2002, p.2)? I believe technology is a powerful tool in the teachers’ toolbox, but no substitute for informed, intentional, and meaningful instruction.

The final point that really stuck with me after this article is the idea of social learning, constructing knowledge within and because of a community of like-minded people. The author discusses two dimensions of knowledge – explicit and tactic. Explicit knowledge deals with ideas and concepts, while tactic knowledge applies to skills and doing. As a carpenter, I can certainly appreciate the value of learning by watching and participating directly in a project versus reading about the process. The author supports this, stating “a lot of our know-how or knowing comes into being through participating in our communities of practice” (Brown, 2002, p.5). By engaging in dialog and exchanges with these groups, we are leveraging our novice skills, abilities, and understandings to their full potential. We learn and share knowledge, refining and rethinking what we know. Brown (2002) states, in learning communities “no one person was the expert; the real expertise resided in the community mind (p.7). This leads to the final discussion about a learning ecology. An environment adaptive to change and rich with diversity of thoughts. It is precisely this melding of ideas, experience, cultural perspective, and diversity that create a interwoven and cross-pollinated perspective of knowledge around any topic or idea. Perhaps this means I need to change my definition of an expert from one who knows nearly everything about a topic or discipline, to one who knows where to look for the answers they seek. We don’t need to carry the entirety of the world’s information around in our head, we need to situate ourselves in a learning ecology and develop our know-where skills.

References:
Siemens, G. (2005, January). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning. Retrieved from https://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

Brown, J. S., (2002). Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn. United States Distance Learning Association. Retrieved on December 10, 2004, from https://www.usdla.org/html/journal/FEB02_Issue/article01.html