Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study

Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study

Hwee Ling Lim (The Petroleum Institute-Abu Dhabi, UAE) and Fay Sudweeks (Murdoch University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch015
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As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns over the ad hoc use of technology in online course design and activities that are not grounded in sound pedagogical frameworks. This chapter presents a case of a hybrid undergraduate course that is shaped by sociocultural constructivist principles. Survey findings on student experiences of online collaborative learning and group work processes in two constructivist-based learning activities are reported. Results reflecting sociocultural constructivist concepts of scaffolding and appropriation of shared knowledge are presented based on student learning experiences during online synchronous tutorials and collaborative team projects. The conclusion discusses the effectiveness of the two course activities in facilitating collaborative group learning and recommendations are offered to enhance overall student experiences of online collaborative-constructivist group learning processes.
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Although interaction is widely assumed to support learning, distance education literature offers various interpretations of its form and purpose, which are likely to stem from different theoretical beliefs of what constitutes knowledge and learning. This section reviews the philosophical basis of constructivism and discusses the sociocultural constructivist conceptualization of educational interactions in online learning and teaching contexts.

Objectivism and Constructivism

The objectivist view of the basic relationship between the individual and the environment is based on realism, which is “the doctrine that there is an independently existing world of objective reality that has a determinate nature that can be discovered” (Schwandt, 2001, p.176). Moreover, objectivist epistemology claims that knowledge, though produced by individual thought processes, is ultimately determined by real world structures and can be mapped on to learners (Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell, & Haag, 1995).

In contrast, constructivist philosophy is based on subjectivism, which holds that “all judgments … are nothing but reports of an individual speaker’s feelings, attitudes, and beliefs” (Schwandt, 2001, p.241-emphasis in original). Hence, constructivist epistemology claims that knowledge is a subjective interpretation imposed by the individual on the world. Also, since multiple individual interpretations would lead to multiple realities, no single interpretation is necessarily less valid than another (Jonassen, 1991a). Von Glasersfeld (1995) further argued that this stance is not extended to epistemological nihilism. Essentially, constructivism regards constructed knowledge as dynamic and subject to change when exposed to new perspectives during interaction. The two main schools of thought (radical and sociocultural constructivism) that emerged from this constructivist philosophical basis are explained later in this section.

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