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The research conducted by the researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia is to investigate the use of technology, constructivism theory and project based-learning to achieve a comprehensive instructional reform at the school level. Four teachers from elementary school located in the state of Oregon where project-based learning is implemented as an important focus of the school curriculum had been chosen as participants. A qualitative methodology was used to gather the data through interviews, observations and document analysis to address the research question regarding the use of constructivism in a project-based learning setting in an elementary school. Based on this research, it was found that the teachers did not make pre-planned efforts to integrate elements of project-based learning, constructivism and technology concurrently to perform a synergistic relationship. The teachers used variety of teaching methods such as discussions, hands on activities, video presentations, field trips and bringing outside experts into classroom to make the students focus and engage in the activities. However, they were not really integrating the constructivist principles in learning. This is inconsistent with their positive response on applying constructivism in classroom. The researchers found that there was a large gap between the research-based theories and classroom practices. The used of educational technology was also limited. The teachers were more likely to use traditional materials like books and printed textual graphic materials than using electronic technology, although each class has computers. There are some suggestions on how synergistic relationship of the learning theories, technology and project-based learning can be achieved in classroom from the researchers at the end of the article.
The research article "Synergizing pedagogy, learning theory and technology in instruction: How can it be done?" is about the use of constructivism (learning theory) and technology in project-based learning (pedagogy) in elementary school. Based on this research, it was found that the teachers did not make pre-planned efforts to combine elements of project-based learning, constructivism and technology to perform a synergistic relationship. However, to some extent, some of the findings are applicable in Malaysia as it benefits the students and also teachers.
The teaching method (pedagogy) used in the classroom is project-based learning. Project-based learning can be defined as "a comprehensive instructional approach to engage students in sustained, cooperative investigation" (Bransford & Stein, 1993). According to current research (Thomas, Mergendoller, & Michaelson, 1999; Brown & Campione, 1994), projects are complex tasks, based on challenging questions, that serve to organize and drive activities, which taken as a whole amount to a meaningful project.This means that the students are given the opportunities to make investigation on the topic to develop their understanding of the concepts or theories and present their knowledge in their own ways.
In relation to Malaysian classroom, this project-based learning can be applied to engage the students with the lesson. In the teaching and learning principles of Primary School Integrated Curriculum or also known as KBSR, it states that project is one of the techniques to ensure teaching and learning effectiveness (Choong, 2008). This is because project-based learning gives them the opportunity to explore on their own regarding the topic being taught. It helps them to acquire the knowledge more easily as they are the one who involve in the process of gathering the information and presenting their idea based on their own ways. For example in learning Science, the students have to conduct experiments to verify the concepts or theories that they learn. From here, it involves discovery learning which means that the students actively creates knowledge based on the experiments (Snowman & Biehler, 2006). Moreover, the project-based learning is not only restricted in Science class, since the projects are adaptable to different learning situations (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). This means that the project also can be used in other classes like Mathematics, English and so on. Through project-based learning, the students interact to exchange their opinions and ideas and learn to cooperate among themselves. Here, it promotes the sense of accountability in the students as they will feel responsible in taking part actively in the project. Yet, essential guidance is needed especially from the teacher to make sure that the project can be carried out smoothly and the students are on the right track in doing their project.
Based on the research, we can find that there is limited application of constructivist principles in the classroom. The teachers did use the principles but it is not really emphasize during the lesson. According to Woolfolk (2010), "constructivism emphasizes on the active role of learners in building understanding and making sense of information". It means that, the learners themselves construct their own knowledge based on their prior knowledge or experiences. The prior knowledge gives impact on the learning of the students as the students have to connect their previous knowledge with the new information to form meaningful understanding. There are two constructivist variations which are cognitive constructivism and social constructivism. According to Snowman & Biehler (2006), "cognitive constructivism emphasizes the effect of one's cognitive processes on meaningful learning while social constructivism emphasizes the effect of other people's arguments and point of view on meaningful learning". Both are important in developing the students' potentials and abilities in structuring their knowledge.
In relation to Malaysian classroom, constructivism is applicable especially in helping to develop the creative and critical thinking among the students. In accordance with intellectual development which emphasized in the National Philosophy of Education, focus is given in thinking skills in KBSR (Choong, 2008). Thinking skills here refer to creative and critical thinking. According to Choong, both are inter-related since the aim is to enable the students to understand, evaluate and apply the information received for decision making and problem solving. By using constructivism in the classroom, it helps teacher to facilitate the learning to be more meaningful for the students. Students will find the learning is interactive and help them in developing their thinking. In applying this theory in classroom, teacher should be able to relate the lesson with the students' experience. This is supported by Nesamalar, et al (20005) as they state that "the pupils will be more easily understood the elements of his own immediate environment than that which is alien and distant". For instance in English language classroom, if a teacher wants to teach about pollution, he or she should come out with suitable pre-reading activity, while reading activity and also post reading activity. Pre reading activity is usually based on the students' prior knowledge regarding the topic. Teacher can prompt the students by asking them what they understand with the term pollution and are they aware with pollution problems or not. From here, the students will try to use their previous knowledge and answer to the teacher. The students are actually connecting their previous knowledge with the new knowledge to form meaningful understanding. Same goes to post reading activity. For post reading activity, the teacher might ask the students how they feel about pollution and ways to overcome the pollution. From the activity, it enhances the creative and critical thinking skills of the students as they have to come out with their own answers based on the topic.
Based on the research, the application of technology is limited since the teachers prefer to use traditional instructional materials like books and other print-based textual graphic materials in the class although each class has computers. In relation to Malaysian classroom, there are teachers who still using books in teaching and learning process. Although it seems traditional, teachers believe that books help in their teaching. Some teachers refuse to use technology in their teaching because technology is time consuming (Chong et al, 2005). However, teachers are advised to use technology in their lesson since the use of technology in education in Malaysia is very important as one of the tools to achieve Vision 2020 to enable Malaysia to be one of the world class education providers. Through technology tools like computers, students learn "as the computers support knowledge construction, exploration, learning by doing, learning by conversing and learning by reflecting" (Snowman & Biehler ,2006). Besides that, technology promotes greater collaboration among students and encourages communication and the sharing of knowledge (Becta, 2003 as cited in Chong et al, 2005).
It is very important for teachers to be able to integrate teaching method, learning theory and technology in teaching and learning process to form a synergistic relationship. The three elements should be presented together not in isolation form in order to produce meaningful lesson to the students. This integration is used to achieve a comprehensive instructional transformation at school level. This research helps teachers to manage their classroom better and affects teachers as educators for since it is parallels with today classroom on certain degree. Through these findings, it helps teachers to reflect on their own teaching whether they have successfully integrating the three elements which are project-based learning, constructivism and technology in the classroom. Some teachers might be aware with the learning theory but are they practicing it in the classroom? The teachers who are practicing the learning theory in classroom are those who really understand the learning theory as well as the students' needs (Rio Sumarni Sharafuddin, 2007). Therefore, this research acts as benchmark for teachers in Malaysia to measure the effectiveness of applying pedagogy, learning theory and technology in delivering the knowledge to the students.
There are few suggestions on how to promote these three elements in classroom. First, project-based learning should be an important part of the school curriculum. This is because project-based learning is students-centered which means that it focuses on the students understanding by their own rather than being spoon-feed by the teachers. Through project based learning, the principles of constructivist are indirectly emerging during the learning. Here, the students learn to construct their own learning and link their prior knowledge to enhance their thinking and produce meaningful learning. Besides that, technology like computers also needs to be reachable and accessible to teachers and students. According to Rio Sumarni Sharafuddin (2007);
"With the emergence of computer technologies, the constructivist perspectives in teaching and learning seemed easier to be implemented. This is because computer technology is able to support many of the principles of constructivist learning. Although the field of instructional design has evolved greatly, it would be meaningless if these theories are ignored or even worst not practiced by the practitioners".
Moreover, by using technology, it helps both teachers and students in gathering the information from the net and helps to wider their perspectives. At the same time, the principles of constructivist are also embedded indirectly during teaching and learning process. Another suggestion is teachers need practical knowledge in integrating elements of pedagogy, learning theory and technology. Some teachers might have great content knowledge on the subject they taught, but are they really integrating learning theory in delivering the knowledge? Practical knowledge helps teachers to deliver effective lesson to the students. Moreover, learning theory like constructivist is very useful in helping the teachers to develop practical knowledge in teaching.
For me personally, I realized that it is not easy to incorporate these three elements during lesson. I have to be skillful enough in order to carry out meaningful lesson for my students. Applying constructivist principles in my teaching practice can enhance my students' thinking and their cognitive development. Here, as a future teacher, I should be prepared in creating autonomous learning environment for my students. Although it seems quite difficult to achieve, I must stay positive because nothing is impossible. As a teacher, I should think positively so that I will be able to integrate the three elements which are project-based learning, constructivism and technology in my class successfully. Thus, further research should be done on this issue as it is very crucial for teachers and also future teachers to understand how to form synergistic relationship between the three elements in teaching and learning process.