Scaffolding Undergraduate STEM Majors: A Strategic Mentoring Program

Scaffolding Undergraduate STEM Majors: A Strategic Mentoring Program

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6341-9.ch003
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Project Engage utilizes a scaffolded approach to strategic mentoring grounded in the social constructivist theory of Vygotsky. Peer mentors, a career counselor, and STEM faculty serve as three scaffolding layers of more knowledgeable others (MKOs) who are responsible for assisting the mentee in achieving his/her zone of proximal development (ZPD), a higher level of learning or understanding than could be achieved alone. Detailed information is shared in this chapter on the selection, training, and responsibilities of the peer mentors, given that they serve as the first level of scaffolding (i.e., primary mentors for the freshmen). The career counselor and Engage faculty members constitute levels two and three of scaffolding. A survey was administered to evaluate the effectiveness of the mentoring program. Results from the survey of the mentees revealed positive perceptions of the mentoring program.
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Scaffolding From A Constructivist View

Social constructivism is a branch of cognitive constructivism emphasizing the social collaborative nature of learning. Unlike cognitivists such as Piaget who view knowledge as assimilated by learners through interacting and making sense of external stimuli, social constructivists see knowledge as constructed actively by learners through interaction and negotiation among people under a social cultural environment (Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978). Social constructivism theory was developed by Vygotsky. His theories stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985). Contradicting Piaget’s view of universal stages and content of cognitive development (i.e., sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational period) (Piaget, 1952; 1959), Vygotsky’s cognitive development theory conceptualizes human cognitive structure as essentially socially constructed. Knowledge is therefore not simply constructed but co-constructed.

From a social constructivism point of view, learning is more than the assimilation of new knowledge. It is a collaborative process in which learners are integrated into a knowledge community of mutual thinking, problem solving, and decision making. Social constructivists see motivation as both intrinsic and extrinsic and believe that learners receive extrinsic motivation through the social learning process in the knowledge community. Social constructivism underpins learning environments that facilitate a community of learners encouraging interaction, discourse, and thoughtful reflection. In constructivist learning environments like this, scaffolding is an essential element providing “temporary frameworks to support learning and student performance beyond the learners’ capacities” (Jonassen, 1999, p. 235). Scaffolding, as a teaching strategy, is theoretically related to two important principles of Vygotsky: The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). These two principles are essential for a better understanding of Vygotsky’s theory of social cognitive development and how it is related to scaffolding.

More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)

Vygotsky’s (1978) social cognitive development theory gives recognition to the existence of the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO is someone or something having a better understanding or a higher ability level regarding a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO does not necessarily have to be a person. It can be electronic tutors or other electronic performance support systems to facilitate and guide learners through the learning process. The key to MKOs is that they must have (or be programmed with) more knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner (Galloway, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Graduate Level Career Counselor: Graduate student in a STEM discipline responsible for the oversight of the mentoring program.

Cognitive Development Theory: The development of human intelligence. Piaget proposed cognitive development in stages throughout one’s lifespan. Vygotsky proposed that cognitive development was based on social interaction.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): The level of cognitive development that the learner can obtain with the guidance of teachers or in collaboration with peers.

More Knowledgeable Other (MKO): Someone or something having a better understanding or a higher ability level regarding a particular task, process, or concept. In the case of Project Engage, mentors, career counselors, and STEM faculty serve the role of MKOs for the undergraduate STEM majors.

Social Constructivism: A theory of learning which expounds knowledge is constructed through interaction and negotiation among people under social cultural environment.

Peer Mentor: Junior or senior level undergraduate or a graduate level STEM major who serves to guide STEM freshmen through their first year of college.

Hierarchical Mentoring: Mentoring approach that pairs undergraduate STEM students with STEM peers, staff, and faculty.

Community Mentoring: Pairs undergraduate STEM students with multiple mentors including peers, graduate students and multiple faculty from STEM areas forming a community or group of STEM scholars.

Career Counselor: Someone who provides guidance related to career opportunities, educational requirements, skills needed, and internship opportunities. Assists in helping students determine how to achieve their career goals.

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