Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice

Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice

Noel Fitzpatrick (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland), Nóirín Hayes (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland) and K.C. O’Rourke (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch002
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Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning technologies since the 1990s. Many of these technologies embed constructivism in their aspirations and actual design. But, generally speaking, the uncritical acceptance of constructivism as beneficial to education has been widespread – not surprising, perhaps, given that teaching as a profession has tended to be inspired by practice rather than being theory-led. In this chapter, the authors attempt to explore the uncomfortable tranche between theory and practice which constructivism currently occupies. Education has historically been about hierarchy and the control of knowledge and knowledge-flows, rather than about the construction of knowledge by the “amateur” individual or group. Constructivism conspires to foster active learning and the organic creation of knowledge, a radical departure from the accepted authority of the curriculum, leaning towards learning situated in the context of the learner, which is ultimately non-objective in the traditional manner. Is a bridge between theory and practice possible? In considering this question the chapter draws on the authors’ experiences in designing and running an on-line graduate degree program according to constructivist principles. In doing so, it also attempts to describe and evaluate the impact which constructivism as a theory could have on the reality of teaching and learning practice in the early 21st Century.
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Since the 1990s, higher-education institutions (HEIs) have embraced learning technologies in a manner that is, at one level, quite astonishing. Despite a reputed aversion to change, the Academy appears to have rushed wholeheartedly into the information age, at least in its adoption of learning management systems. The reasons for such widespread adoption are manifold, but in many cases, the initial impetus at institutional level was an urge towards financial reward. However, the high-profile failures of many early ventures, coupled with unrealistic expectations surrounding the transformative natures of the technologies themselves, quickly shattered any dreams of a quick route to riches in the online education market.a What did become clear fairly quickly was that, despite the optimism of many, technology of itself lacked the power to change what happens in the lecture hall: the culture of learning, teaching and academic practice in essence continues to remain largely unchanged, and the main impact of technology has been to provide an efficient way to distribute content (Zemsky & Massey, 2004).

But despite some early failures it appears that technology is beginning to demonstrate some beneficial effects on student learning (JISC, 2008; Harvard University, 2008). New approaches to the educational process itself might help to change the situation. Traditional theories of learning treat it as a concealed and inferred process, something that “takes place inside the learner and only inside the learner” (Simon, 2001, p. 210). The theory behind learning technologies is broadly labeled constructivism which, according to Thorpe (2002), is probably the most widely recognized social position within eLearning research, having come to dominate the field over the last decades. Precisely what is understood by constructivism, however, can vary widely across disciplines, across campuses and across borders.b The unpredicted emergence of blended learning as the dominant model on campus can be read, in many ways, as a result of the underlying confusion between theory and practice. Nonetheless, it may well be that we are now witnessing the beginning of a transition to a newer, more expanded educational space as a result of the impact of learning technologies, and with it the opportunity to revisit educational theories and pedagogical practices. Attempts continue at various levels within the Academy to realign educational practice to constructivist theory, highlighting the desire to change higher education from mere knowledge transfer to a place where academic staff and students work together to create knowledge. And while there is general agreement among educational theorists that a shift to a constructivist model of practice will ultimately be good for students, there appears to have been − at least in the European context − a lack of informed critical debate around the reasons for adopting the constructivist model, as well as the issues concerning the wider impact which technology may have on the educational process itself. Moving effectively to a constructivist environment will necessitate a major shift in thinking about the purpose and practice of higher education, not in itself an unwelcome aspiration.

In many ways, constructivism could have a radical impact on learning and teaching practices, but its impact is not necessarily consistent with answering the perceived needs of the knowledge economy, which at its most basic level favors knowledge transfer and a culture of compliance (Jamieson & Naidoo, 2004). Additionally, while support among theorists for constructivism as promoting active learning continues, those of a philosophic bent often stand back in horror at the ultimate relativism that constructivism embodies (Boghossian, 2006). One way or another, enthusiasm for constructivism is widespread among educators, and an opportunity to put theory into practice was presented to the present authors in 2006 in a European-funded project to develop ab initio an international, inter-institutional Master’s degree program in early childhood education and care.c While our experience was in the main positive, it instilled a realization that the challenges facing higher education adopting constructivist models of education will be large ones, and in many cases the Academy will have to relinquish the tacit control which it continues to exert inside and outside the lecture theatre.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Michael Sherman
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
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