Constructivism inspired teaching

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Contents

What?

In this section we will reflect on the concept of constructivist inspired teaching and how social media can contribute to this development. It may help you to understand the way in which a learning theory justifies the usage of social media in the classroom.

Why?

What is the basic idea of constructivism?


You cannot teach a person anything, you can just help him to discover it within himself.

Galileo Galilei


Constructivism is a learning theory linked to how people actually learn. This theory is based on observation as well as on scientific study.

Constructivism says that the student’s own experience is the basis of all further learning. The theory means that students construct their own comprehension and knowledge by experiencing things by themselves and reflecting upon them. The assumption is that every time, we experience something new, we compare it with the ideas and experience we already have. The result is that we possibly alter those ideas. What it comes down to is that we are basically all active constructors of our own knowledge. Gaining knowledge, thus, is a never-ending process of asking questions, experiencing and evaluating. Each individual creates his personal and unique image of the world in the course of a learning process. So, what someone learns strongly depends on the individual himself and the things he already has experienced. Furthermore, knowledge is something very dynamic, as it is changed by every single additional experience we make.

Jerome S. Bruner is one of the leading modern constructivists. His works emphasize the meaning of social interaction as well as the historical-cultural dimension and a changing understanding of language. He supports a social way of learning and teaching, being individual at the same time.

How?

Constructivism in the classroom

While there are both radical-constructivist theories, and socio-cultural theories, this article will focus on the latter. What all theories have in common is the conviction that any process of perception, thinking or learning is based on the individual construction of the observer (learner). Thus, everybody is the creator of his / her "own world". Our brain tends to react to information which has already been processed and interpreted much more intensely, than to such information which is completely new.

Constructivist teachers ideally create a learning arrangement in which each individual student has got the chance to build on his personal experience. Therefore, it is a very individual way of learning and teaching. The students should be requested to use active learning techniques like experiments or real-word problem solving, in order to obtain a better knowledge on the basis of their original knowledge. The teacher is supposed to encourage the students to continuously evaluate and assess their own learning process and how their original ideas have been altered by learning something new.

The teacher animates the students to talk about their reflections and evaluations. He is more a learning adviser and companion than a teaching guide. He is supposed to act more and more from the background of the classroom, offering learning arrangements. This does not mean that the teacher is not meant to be the expert any longer; rather he gives students the chance to make their own experience based on their individuality and leading them to self-orientation instead of practicing teacher-centered delivery.

Due to the fact that students constantly reflect on their own learning process, they consequently become more and more independent “expert learners”, meaning they learn how to learn.
Due to the practice of constantly reflecting on their experiences, student’s ideas and knowledge and abilities will gain complexity and power and new information is gradually being integrated more easily.

In a perfect constructivist classroom, the students arrange and control their process of learning completely by themselves. Of course, it would be naïve, thinking that something like this comes naturally, it requires a lot of methodological competence which can only be acquired gradually in the course of many school years. Therefore, teachers have to find a way to enable their students to gain individual competence step by step.

The constructivist teacher behaves differently compared to a traditional teacher, even in class discussions. Although the teacher, as an expert, knows the answer to a question or the solution to a problem, he will only focus on chairing the discussion among students and restating their questions and remarks usefully. Students are meant to reflect on and examine their current knowledge, until one or some of them come up with a relevant concept, which is then confirmed by the teacher. Working in groups is a suitable method, because students, thus, have the chance to discuss and evaluate commonly.

Of course, assessment needs to be done, also in a constructivist classroom. This assessment should include student works and tests (of course), observations, group behavior, individual process and points of view. In a constructivist environment, the teacher ideally simply provides a selection of information, students can chose from, according to their personal needs. Inevitably, the internet is a perfect source of information in such an environment. It supplies students with a wide range of all sort of information to choose from. This means that any student will be able to find the information suitable for his own individual learning process and his personal experience.

Constructivism in Education

Using social media, thus, seems a perfect tool for the constructivist classroom, as, nowadays, children grow up with the new technologies and the use of social media. Student’s knowledge and skills in this field very often even exceed teacher’s knowledge. So, why not use a tool (one which students are already familiar with) as a solid foundation in order to enable students to use it for gaining more knowledge about various topics? That way, students can create their own working environment independently, individually and, still, in a very collaborative way.

Teachers nowadays very often are annoyed about the fact that students keep on using their gadgets “illegally” during lessons. We should be aware of the fact that this development and increasing use of new social media cannot be stopped; students are very much affected to this kind media. Modern constructivism also says that people will learn more easily, if they are interested in what they do. So, teachers should use the potential of social media, as students are so immersed within it.

In order to find out if students actually agree with my assumption that using social media for teaching would be an appealing idea to them, I started a brief survey and conducted it in four of my classes, with an average of 25 students.

Here are the questions I asked:

  • Do you find the use of social media in the classroom an appealing idea?– Yes or no, including reasons
  • What could it be used for?
  • What advantages could there be?
  • What disadvantages / risks do you see?

This is a summary of the findings: About 60 %of the students said, social media usage in the classroom would be a good idea,30% rejected it and about 10 % were undecided.

The main reasons for rejecting the usage of social media in the classroom were that:

  • it has nothing to do with education, is rather suitable for leisure use.
  • it would not be constructive, as it would distract them even more from following the lessons.
  • teachers would not be able to handle it, or would lose control over it.

The purposes it could be used for were mentioned as follows:

  • exchange of homework :-)
  • student exchanges
  • communication/ discussion of class-related issues

The main advantages mentioned were:

  • it would be entertaining as well as contemporary
  • easy, comfortable and quick to handle

The main disadvantages and risks mentioned were:

  • it would distract them even more from following the lessons
  • it is not safe

What it comes down to is that a majority of students find the idea appealing, which confirms the assumption that it is worth a try. The point that some of the students who rejected the idea said that maybe teachers would be over-challenged using social media in the classroom justifies the idea to write a curriculum on how to teach by social web.

Try?

There are eight principles providing the essence of constructivist pedagogy, emphasizing the student's role in knowledge acquisition through experience, puzzlement, reflection and construction (Doolittle and Camp, 1999). Pedagogy "is based on the dynamic interplay of mind and culture, knowledge and meaning, and reality and experience"

  • Learning should take place in authentic and real-world environments.
  • Learning should involve social negotiation and mediation.
  • Contents and skills should be made relevant to the learner.
  • Contents and skills should be understood within the framework of the learner's prior knowledge.
  • Students should be assessed formatively, serving to prepare future learning experiences.
  • Students should be encouraged to become self-regulatory, and self-aware.
  • Teachers serve primarily as guides and facilitators of learning, not instructors.
  • Teachers should provide and encourage multiple perspectives and representations of content.

Obviously such a pedagogic approach has considerable implications on the role of teachers and teacher trainers, with a move from instruction to guiding and facilitating learning. It is through the use of social media that we might be able to transfer our role smoothly from sage (on the stage) to the guide (on the side) with little if any impact on either the learners development nor our own learning curve for new technology.

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