Social constructivism is an established educational theory based on the principle that learners and teachers co-construct knowledge through social processes. This chapter proposes an updated theory, e-social constructivism, that takes into account the milieu of electronic communications in which e-learning occurs. Thinkers such as Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner, who laid the theoretical foundations of social constructivism, wrote in a time when face-to-face interactions were the basis for instruction. The works of these writers are reviewed in this chapter. Together with the results of the author’s phenomenological study of collaborative e-learning, they form the basis of e-social constructivist theory. The author uses grounded theory and situational analysis to derive and support e-social constructivist theory. This chapter discusses the implication of that theory for research, teaching and instructional design.
Employing phenomenological, grounded theory and situational analysis methods, this chapter meshes analysis of two sets of data. One set of data is derived from a theoretical sample of literature. A second set of data is drawn from in-depth interviews the author conducted with a purposeful sample of experienced online educators.
Phenomenological research methods provide a way to investigate human experience through the perceptions of research participants. Theorist Husserl distinguished between “noema,” the phenomenon which is experienced and “noesis,” the act of experiencing the phenomenon (Husserl, 1931) In the author’s study, phenomenological research methodology provided a structured approach for inquiry into the perceptions of success factors for instruction using collaborative e-learning. The four basic steps of phenomenological research described by Moustakas (1994) provided a methodological framework for the study. The author used in-depth dialogue with research participants at each of the four stages of the process: preparing to collect data, collecting data through in-depth interviews, analyzing data, and reporting outcomes. The study investigated noesis, the experiences of teaching with collaborative methods online, and noema, the organization and design of the learning activities participants used to promote collaboration.
Grounded theory complements phenomenological research. To apply this theory, researchers build on the understanding of individuals’ experiences derived through phenomenological methods to generate theoretical principles (Creswell, 2007; Straus, 1987). They look at categories discovered in the data and construct explanatory theoretical frameworks, which provide abstract, conceptual understandings of the studied phenomena. Situational analysis is a style of grounded theory. Situational analysis looks at the social situation while grounded theory looks at social process. Situational analysts diagram elements in the research situation to capture the complexities and show relationships in the data. Theory is thus “grounded” in the data from participants who have experienced the phenomenon Grounded theory can help explain practice or provide a framework for further research and more formal theory development.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Constructivism: Constructivism both an epistomological view and an instructional method. A core notion of constructivism is that individuals live in the world of their subjective experiences—a world where they construct their own meanings.
Interaction: Reciprocal actions, effects or influences; the effect of one variable on another variable (Soanes & Stevenson, 2004). Between individuals, interaction entails acting in such a way to have an effect on each other; or a mutually affecting experience. Whether online or face-to-face, interaction typically involves communication between individuals.
E-Learning: An educational activity or course conducted in an electronic learning milieu, using Internet communication technologies for delivery of instruction, curricular materials and learning activities. In this study, e-learning refers to instructor-lead academic courses which may be offered partially or entirely online.
Threaded Discussion: Threaded discussion (or discussion forum) is a form of asynchronous discussion where original comments and responses are organized by topic. Threaded discussion occurs when one user posts a message that is visible to other users, who respond in their owntime. A “thread” is formed when the software groups users’ comments hierarchically under the original post. Threaded discussions create a linear format with continuity of comments on topic.
Transactional Distance: Transactional distance describes the gap in time between comment and response in discussions that occur asynchronously, not simultaneously.
Teaching with Collaborative Methods: Organizing learning activities and creating an environment where collaborative e-learning occurs, and assessing the success of outcomes.
Collaborative E-Learning: Constructing knowledge, negotiating meanings, and/or solving problems through mutual engagement of two or more learners in a coordinated effort using Internet and electronic communications.
Social Constructivism: An educational theory based on the principle that learners and teachers coconstruct knowledge through social processes.
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD describes the distance between what one can do alone and what can be accomplished in collaboration with others who are more capable (Vygotsky, 1978).
Collaboration Software: Collaboration software may operate either synchronously, allowing all users to participate simultaneously, or a synchronously, allowing users to participate at any time. Synchronous tools allow collaborative partners to meet and discuss projects, give presentations, view and edit documents in real time, or share applications. Synchronous collaboration tools include videoconferencing, online meeting platforms, shared whiteboard, Voice Over Internet, voting, chat or messaging, and immersive 3-D environments. Asynchronous tools allow collaborative partners to exchange materials, contact lists, or to access shared files or resources, libraries or archives. Asynchronous collaboration tools include e-mail, Wikis, blogs, shared calendars, polling, track changes, and document exchange
Appropriation: A kind of peer learning that occurs when a learner “appropriates” strategies used by a stronger or more experienced learner.