Creating A Constructivist Classroom Education Essay

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ABSTRACT :

Constructionism claims that learners are able to construct knowledge most naturally and completely while they are constructing some artifacts. This paper explains that knowledge acquisition is a process of design that is facilitated when learners are actively engaged in designing knowledge rather than merely interpreting or encoding it i.e. Learners benefit the most from the learning process when they are the designers of the instructional experiences. Constructivist teachers encourage students to assess how the activity is helping them gain understanding. By questioning themselves and their strategies, students become expert learners as they learn how to learn. The students then have the tools necessary to become life-long learners. Educational Technology can assist educators in creating a constructivist learning environment. It offers a tremendous amount of information, tools for creativity and development, and various environments and forums for communication. Through technology, students can express themselves and their creations and they can answer questions that they are posing for themselves. Hence, this paper tries to put forward the fact that Constructivist practice is made easier with technology because it promotes collaborative, interactive and student-centered learning.

Key words: Constructionism, instructional experiences, life-long learners, collaborative, student-centered learning.

INTRODUCTION :

Education is at the confluence of powerful and rapidly shifting educational, technological and political forces that will shape the structure of educational systems across the globe for the remainder of this century. The availability of technology may lead teachers to incorporate constructivist practices in their classroom. Rakes, et.al. (1999) found that the amount of technology available, the level of technology skills of the teachers, and the use of technology were directly related to use of constructivist methods in the classroom. They state, "technology can provide the vehicle for accomplishing constructivist teaching practices". Technology complements constructivism by providing ongoing information and tools for student creativity and development, which contributes significantly to an increase in student learning outcomes. It serves as a powerful tool for constructivism's fundamental principle that students learn by doing. Constructivist practice is made easier with technology because it promotes collaborative, interactive and student-centered learning. The use of technology in the classroom also has a positive effect on student attitudes because they feel more successful, are motivated to learn and have better self-confidence (Dwyer, et al, 1991). In today's digital economy, the ability to access, adapt, and create knowledge using technology is critical to a student's success.

SIGNIFICANCE OF CONSTRUCTIVIST VIEWS OF LEARNING :

Only recently has it become feasible to consider constructivism principles within the context of technology-mediated higher education (Gunawardena, Lowe & Anderson, 1997; Blanchette & Kanuka, 1999). This is due primarily to advances in communication technologies resulting in an effective means to implement constructivism principles, which would be difficult to accomplish with other media (Driscoll, 1994). Specifically, communication technologies have the capacity to provide an interactive environment that can support instructional methods required to facilitate constructivist principles. For these reasons, constructivism has become a popular epistemological position for many educators who are using technology-mediated learning. Unfortunately, educators who take on the challenge of trying to make sense of the literature on constructivism often find it to be an overwhelming adventure. There are a variety of epistemological positions that coexist in the literature on how we construct knowledge - many using the same constructivist label. Conversely, there are many different labels used to describe the same central ideas inherent in many constructivist positions. Adding to the labeling confusion is another problem: some of the education literature describes constructivism as a set of instructional strategies, some describe constructivism as a learning theory, and others describe constructivism philosophically - or as a way we come to understand ourselves and our environment.

The following literature review identifies the writings on constructivism that are noteworthy. Writings were identified as noteworthy when they made important theoretical points about the use of constructivism for technology-mediated learning.

Constructivism views learning as a personal, reflective, and transformative process where ideas,

experiences, and points of view are processed into something new. In this philosophy, teachers are the facilitators for the students' learning (Sandholtz et al., 1997) rather than the instigators. In the knowledge-constructed classroom, the students work together, sharing the process of learning not only with their peers but with parents and others (Sandholtz et al., 1997).

The literature is rich with examples and evidence supporting the claim that knowledge is constructed and not transferred. This approach to learning has become known as constructivism (Jonassen, 1999; Riel & Fulton; Schank, Berman, & Macpherson, 1999). Learning takes place in every classroom. The problem is that it is often not what we expected would be learned (Smith, 1998). The constructivist learning environment contains a problem that is central to the domain of study, models of the learning process by an expert, and is scaffolded by a coach or more expert learner that extends the ability of the learner (Jonassen, 1999).

Balakrishnan (2001) investigated the use of constructivism and technology in project-based learning in elementary classrooms and found that teachers' planning and practice of project-based learning activities are focused more on multiple instructional activities and less on integration of constructivism and technology. Julius (2001) investigated how constructivism was evidenced in the beliefs, perceptions, and practices of middle level teachers who were considered to be effective teachers. The results revealed that constructivists held awareness of the role of both student and teacher in affecting the cognitive development in students. Classrooms employing a constructivist approach to pedagogy would be student centered (Bransford, 2003).

PRIORITIES OF EDUCATIONAL TECNOLOGY IN CONSTRUCTIVIST PRACTICE:

The four priorities are:

Teach for Intellectual Development

1. Critical and creative thinking skills development

2. Demonstrated competencies in core curriculum

3. Effective use of technology in the classroom in support of learning

4. Application of learning skills to relevant, real-life situations

Make Learning Meaningful

1. Appreciation of diversity of learning styles and personalities

2. Appreciation and application of appropriate teaching styles

3. Giving students the opportunity to own their learning experiences

4. Developing a passion for life-long learning

Use Authentic Assessment

1. Set high standards for self and students

2. Developing a dynamic approach to a changing world

3. Demonstrate competencies through performance

4. Encourage active participation in our democratic society

Focus on Students Becoming Producers and Contributors

1. Contribute to others in class in and community

2. Foster value as an individual and as a contributing member of society

3. Use learning skills in real-life situations and for real rewards

4. Interact/team with other teachers and community members.

ROLE PLAYED BY EDUCATIONAL TECNOLOGY IN CONSTRUCTIVIST CLASSROOM:

â-º Paradigm shift in view of the learning process :

Paradigm shift in view of the learning process coupled with applications of the new information technologies, may play an important role in bringing educational systems into alignment with the knowledge-based, information-rich society. The general notion regarding the use of computers in education is that it may best be used as a tool for drill and practice programs supplementing the instructional process. In such instructional processes, the learner receives information already programmed inside the computer following an algorithm. Although some amount of interactivity is ensured, the general impression is that in such instructional processes, computers control the learning structure giving the learner very little room for creativity, making him a passive recipient of information. There is a need to explore the potentials of this device beyond these traditional notions i.e. the meaningful designing of computer based instructional processes with increased student participation. Also, it is not the extended usage on the device that would ensure the desired learning rather the nature of these learning tasks, which would transform and enrich the instructional processes. Computer application programs can be used to design learning experiences to develop creative and critical thinking and be used as 'mind tools' that can be used by students to represent what they know and to engage in critical thinking about the content.

â-º Use of ICT in changing the role of the teacher from 'prescriptor' to that of 'orchestor' of learning :

In classrooms today, the role of the teacher needs to change from the traditional role of prescriptor to that of orchestrator of learning - which necessitates the designing of ICT integrated classrooms promoting higher order cognitive skills. The focus ought to be more on enquiry-based approaches often going beyond the prescribed curriculum to delve and seek answers to the problem under concern but now from different perspectives. This methodology is challenging both for the teacher as well as for the learner but eventually the process of self-learning ensures a more rigorous approach and deeper understanding of facts. The focus is more on the process of information acquisition, the critical and analytical thinking involved in acquiring information from multiple sources, analyzing any information and then designing the learning outcomes in aesthetic presentations. Such a model of learning focuses more on the process over the product, acquiring information from multiple sources, analytical and critical thinking and finally a comprehensive evaluation assessing different areas of student academic growth.

â-º Development of educational portfolio through the use of ICT :

An educational portfolio is one such typical innovation that can promote constructivist learning in the otherwise traditional classroom. It is a combination of a number of learning tasks and a compilation of the outcomes achieved as a result of the processes undergone therein. A critical component is the emphasis on 'process' over 'product' and the constant reflection of the learner as he moves from one stage to another in the realization of the objectives. The other significant feature is the acquisition of information from multiple sources and the necessary component of constant data analysis before proceeding to the following stages in the development of the educational portfolio. Assessment of learning outcomes also is a comprehensive one taking into account different areas of learner academic growth as a result of the processes being carried out from identification of goals to acquisition of relevant information and finally its processing and dissemination.

â-º Promoting portfolio assessment through ICT :

Portfolio assessment is a comprehensive manner of student evaluation incorporating a variety of learning tasks with appropriate and timely provision of the necessary guidelines to complete the same within accorded criteria and allotted time limits. Portfolio Assessment, with a focus on growth and development over time, implemented through selection, reflection and inspection of class work, along with goal setting and self-evaluation. These are performance enablers that define the acceptable standards expected from the learner and thus define the path that he needs to adopt to achieve excellence. What differentiates the educational portfolio from the traditional forms of assessment is the designing of the portfolio around a set of standards and learning goals which are not the direct outcomes of the classroom instructional processes, rather an endeavor to ensure student higher order learning as a result of these instructional processes.

FUNCTION

INSTRUCTION

CONSTRUCTION

Classroom Activity

Teacher-centered; didactic

Learner-centered; interactive

Teacher Role

Fact teller; expert

Collaborator; learner

Student Role

Listener; always the learner

Collaborator; sometimes the expert

Instructional Emphasis

Facts; memorization

Relationships; inquiry and invention

Concept of Knowledge

Accumulation of facts

Transformation of facts

Demonstration of Success

Quantity

Quality of understanding

Assessment

Norm-referenced; multiple-choice items

Criterion-referenced; portfolios and performances

Technology Use

Drill and practice

Communication, collabor- ation, information access and retrieval, expression

â-º Educational technology promoting multiple perspectives of learning :

With the help of educational technology the emphasis is on knowledge construction, not reproduction; the composition of information rather than the imposition of knowledge; multiple outlooks rather than multiple workbooks. The teacher must prepare with imaginative foresight, and imperative insight in order to stimulate and simulate effective encounters that resemble real life education. Wyld, S. and Eklund, J. (1997).  state that : "confronting learners with problems from multiple perspectives can promote the applicability of their knowledge across varying situations. Learners have to work with the same concept in different environments at different and with different goals. So they are expected to develop cognitive flexibility and to generate multiple perspectives of their knowledge."

â-º Educational technology creating constructivist classroom through active learning : Learners cannot construct knowledge just by passively receiving, acquiring, or accepting it;  nor by inertly listening nor heeding.  Knowledge is not formed during the transmission of it.  Therefore the emphasis for instruction must be on the creation of meaning and understanding while encountering new information or new contexts.  Active learners need to be involved bypartaking, participating, constructing and cooperating.  Jonassen (1996) states that learners must be given opportunities to be active in ways that will promote self-direction, creativity and critical analysis of problems requiring a solution.  Wilson (1997), created a list of opportunities for the learners to develop more active constructions of meaning.  They included simulations, strategy and role-playing games, toolkits and phenomenaria, multimedia learning environments, intentional learning environments, storytelling structures, case studies, socratic dialogues, coaching and scaffolding, learning by design, learning by teaching, group cooperation, collaborative learning and holistic psychotechnologies.

â-º Educational technology promoting collaborative learning opportunities :

Collaborative work allows for classrooms to be more cooperative than competitive.  Students begin to view one another as resources rather than sources of ridicule.  The social context within which a learner resides is crucial to their achievement. Strommen & Lincoln (1992)  found that : "Constructivism has led to the additional discovery that powerful gains are made when children work together.....children are able to reflect on and elaborate not  just their own ideas but those of their peers as well. Children come to view their peers not as competitors but as resources." To understand a concept to the point of being able to explain it to others, is when real learning has occurred and personal knowledge has been acquired.  Lunenberg (1998) believes the value of collaborative learning is in the opportunity for learners to elaborate on their own ideas as well as those of their peers. Worldwide collaboration is also motivating for both students and teachers as it provides an appealing way for students to gain internet skills while attending to regular classroom activities. The worldview of the student can be expanded because of the zero cost of communicating with other people around the globe.

CONCLUSION :

Educational Technology provide an array of powerful tools that may help in transforming the present isolated, teacher-centered and text-bound classrooms into rich, student-focused, interactive knowledge environments. To meet these challenges, schools must embrace the new technologies and appropriate the new ICT tools for learning. They must also move towards the goal of transforming the traditional paradigm of learning. To accomplish this goal requires both a change in the traditional view of the learning process and an understanding of how the new digital technologies can create new learning environments in which students are engaged learners, able to take greater responsibility for their own learning and constructing their own knowledge. Constructivism modifies the role of the teacher so that teachers help students to construct knowledge rather than reproduce a series of facts. The constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities so that students can formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, and convey their knowledge in a collaborative learning environment.

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