constructivist and active learning theory
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Constructivism Reconsidered in the Age of Social Media (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 144)
Date Reviewed: June 23, 2017
I was recently talking with my former doctoral advisor about a new position I accepted with the university where I teach. His seminary is exploring innovative ways of delivering courses, and I wanted his counsel as I investigate moving my programs completely online. As we were talking, he simply said, “The educational landscape has changed, and we must change with it if we are to survive.” This is something that I am fully aware of and advocate for. However it meant something more profound coming from someone who I respect, someone who has been at the forefront of practical ministry education and yet often concedes that keeping up today is more difficult than ever.
It is time to change. And not just our feelings on distance or online education, for that is now simply a question of location. Education occurs in the classroom, and that classroom may be in a traditional face-to-face format or an online format or both. In short, distance or online education is here to stay. The challenge that is before us remains a consistent two-fold challenge: what content will we deliver, and how will we deliver that content. This two-fold challenge is both a matter of content and context (or community).
It is because of this essential nature of education that constructivism has maintained such a central theory of education. Originally devised as an educational theory by John Dewey and provided a psychological foundation by Jean Piaget, constructivism is a process where a learner constructs meaning based on their subjective perception of objective reality. Briefly stated, constructivism is an active process where learners construct meaning together in a learning community through their shared experience rather than simply receiving processed information from an expert. Content is gauged against the individual and shared experiences of the learning community as meaning is generated out of conversation, collaboration, conflict, and consensus.
All of this is essential to understanding the profound nature of this short collection of essays which is the focus of this review . Stabile and Ershler, the editors, have gathered together a team of educational constructivists to assess the theory’s continued validity in this social media era. By their own admission, “Social media is constructivist” because it “embodies constructivism itself as the users engage in the development of their own meaning” (1).
While this volume tackles the enormous complexity that is the digital village, the technical use of social media is not the focus here. It is assumed that faculty are tweeting, instagramming, snapping, and pinning along with their students (or, at least, are aware that this is how people communicate today). No, the focus is on whether constructivism remains a viable option for engaging the learning process. Each of the authors seems to give a shared assent, then, to two assertions: (1) the social media era is inherently invested in crafting meaning through the shared experience of community engagement; therefore (2) constructivism remains a (if not the) viable learning theory because of its focus on crafting meaning through shared experience of community engagement.
If we who teach undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral students are going to remain relevant, then we must no longer see ourselves as experts who disseminate information to our paying customers. We must see ourselves as conversation partners, community facilitators, and wise mentors. We must begin constructing the classroom around a workable theory that respects our current digital age. Thankfully, for those who are unfamiliar with learning theories, Stabile and Ershler offer a timely and thoughtful collection of essays to introduce the reader to an essential theory that is still as useful today, if not more so due to the connectivity of the social media age, as it was when crafted nearly a century ago.
NOTE: Use the playlist button located in the top left of the video window above to switch between episodes.
Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion (4:13)
What is Active Learning (5:34)
Active Learning Classrooms: Everyone is engaged! (18:45)
A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book examines a particular type of classroom organization known as the “active learning classroom.” This type of classroom is not a lecture hall, but rather, is a room where there is no clear front or back, where students sit in movable chairs around round tables that facilitate group work shared with the larger group via screens. The very organization of the classroom forces the professor to have their back to at least some of the students all the time. This type of classroom interaction seems to be designed for larger class sizes, helping to transform a large lecture hall of students into a classroom where teacher and student interaction, as well as student-to-student interaction, is maximized. These types of classrooms have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ grades, which could be attributed to the room configuration inhibiting certain negative activities while encouraging positive ones. Active learning classrooms provide four main advantages: “immersion learning, the social dimension of learning, collaborative learning, and the performance aspect of teaching and learning” (16). Teaching in an active learning classroom is no longer just transmission of knowledge but a collaborative effort engaging the students for better and more long-term retention of knowledge.
The subtitle of the book is “History, Research, and Practice.” The history of this method of teaching is covered in chapter one. The research that supports the practice is the focus of chapters two and three. Chapter two focuses more on the research aspects while chapter three focuses on the role that social interactions have in learning. The core of the book, chapters three through eight, gives practical suggestions on how to implement the teaching method, and presents common difficulties and how to overcome them. The last three chapters focus on how to help professors learn this method of teaching, a suggested methodology on how to study whether the change of teaching method had a positive impact on student learning, and what the future might hold for this teaching method.
The book advocates a particular physical organization of the classroom. This is not up to the individual professors, but to the institutions in which they work. Even if one does not have the particular physical layout advocated in this book, there are a number of helpful tips for professors who seek to more actively engage their students. With chapters titled, “Assignments and Activities,” “Managing Student Groups,” and “Assessment and Feedback,” it is easy to find practical suggestions on how to make the classroom less didactic and more engaged. Each chapter has helpful and clear subheadings that make it easy to scan for the topic that one needs. Many of these methods are helpful in the religious studies classroom to help engage the student for a greater learning outcome. The examples in the book range from the sciences through to the humanities, helping a humanities professor get ideas on means of implementing the method in their own classroom.
Digging Deeper Into Action Research: A Teacher Inquirer's Field Guide
Date Reviewed: December 2, 2014
Although targeted mainly to K-12 teachers, this short and easy to read book is helpful and could serve as a companion to professors of religious studies and theology who want to better their understanding of action research for improving classroom instruction. The ideas and principles presented in the book are not difficult to translate into higher education classroom contexts.
The book consists of six chapters and begins with defining teacher research and framing the research question. Dana provides five “wondering” questions for teachers to consider: (1) Is your wondering something you are passionate about? (2) Is your wondering focused on student learning? (3) Is your wondering a real question? (4) Is your wondering focused on your practice? and (5) Is your wondering phrased as a dichotomous (yes/no) question? The author then illustrates how to reframe these initial wonderings into pointed inquiry. She believes that good ideas and thought-provoking questions can only flourish through methodical inquiry. The book ends with two chapters that are concerned with ways to present inquiry-based research to colleagues and help them to improve their own teaching and research practices. In the chapters that fall between them, Dana discusses ways to fine-tune the research plan in chapter 3 and how to analyze data in chapter 4. Chapter 3 focuses on fine-tuning the research plan, and asks a number of pointed and useful questions that would be relevant for university, college, and seminary professors: (1) Does your data collection strategies align with your wondering and all other aspects of your inquiry plan? (2) Are you using multiple forms of data to gain insight into your wondering? (3) Does one of the forms of data you will collect include literature and/or have you already used literature to frame your wondering? (4) Is the design of your study experimental? In chapter 4, Dana distinguishes between formative and summative data analysis by giving real life vignettes from the field and also provides practical ways to avoid data analysis paralysis by way of self-guided worksheets. This might be helpful for those seeking to link teaching goals with outcomes and assessment strategies. Throughout the book, Dana inspires, reminds, and finally guides the reader through an action research process. As a result of going through this research process, readers are escorted through the process of improving their own pedagogical practices, “studying your practice empowers you to: engage learners, enable other professionals to learn from you, expand the knowledge base for teaching, express your individual identity as a teacher, and embrace all the rich complexity inherent in the act of teaching and learning” (80).
This book might initially overwhelm professors of religious studies and theology if they have not read in practitioner action research or have not used action research to improve their own pedagogical practices. However, for those with some experience using action research as a strategy for teaching, this book is a welcome resource to help improve teaching and learning practices in the classroom.
As a teacher, whenever I utter the words, “Okay class, please get into your small working groups,” I remember the sense of dread that I felt when I heard those words as a student. This semester I’m running an experiment in my Systematic Theology class. It’s the first ...