Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching

Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching

M. Beatrice Ligorio (University of Bari, Italy) and Nadia Sansone (University of Bari, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch014
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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 constructivist principles – such as knowledge building, active and self-directed learners, collaborative learning, communities of learners and practice - can be applied to compose the architecture of a blended university course. The course carefully integrates online activities with face to face meetings. Several educational models are also combined to guide the design of individual, small-group and collective activities able to exploit issues such as digital identities, E-Tutor, online role-play, and E-Portfolio. Principles of constructivism were always followed when setting activities and meetings. The description provided is mainly useful for teachers and educators interested in implementing a blended course with clear references to constructivist pedagogy. In addition, theoretically founded roles, tasks, and activities are outlined. The thoughtful mix of pedagogical models, online and face to face activities, individual-dyads-small group and collective learning contexts is the strongest point of this course.
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When applied to education, constructivism calls for a radical redesign of educational goals. Rather than supporting the increase of students’ knowledge, the focus should be on the activity the person can perform in a content domain. Students should not only acquire information, but they should be encouraged to put in practice what they learn. In this way, they can develop respect and confidence in the power of their mind and extend that power to think more generally about themselves as cultural agents and about their relationship with the environment in which they are surrounded by (Bruner, 1996; Cole, 1996). To obtain such results, it is necessary to improve the awareness of connections between human activities and the sociocultural contexts within which these activities take place. This means also becoming more aware of the cultural power technology plays which should not be considered merely as a content delivery mechanism, but rather as artefacts able to support human capacity for developing new culture (Engeström & Escalante, 1996; Wartfosky, 1973). Our contemporary culture is based – at least in developed countries – on advanced technology (i.e., web-based environments, digital objects, etc.) and therefore academic and educational contexts are called upon to develop positive, cultural models of how to use this technology. The natural disposition of youth to be excited about new and creative ways of using the Internet should be utilized as leverage to empower educational models based on recommendations constructivism offers.

We believe constructivism does not necessarily imply the complete replacement of previous educational models. On the contrary, well established models can be renewed and can offer hints to constructivism especially when new technologies and new forms of peer interaction – also face to face interactions - are introduced. The ultimate result is an architecture for teaching where constructivism has been developed into a rich and well designed pathway, which blends face to face with online meetings, where students performe many types of activities and build a wide array of products. This chapter offers a detailed description of such a course, which we believe would be particularly useful for teachers interested in implementing a blended course with clear reference to constructivist pedagogy.

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