Scholarly article on topic 'Instructional Technology as a tool in Creating Constructivist Classrooms'

Instructional Technology as a tool in Creating Constructivist Classrooms Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Er. Mustafa, Er. Neslihan Fatma

Abstract Unlike traditional approach, constructivists view the learner as the active participant of the learning process. Constructivist instructors’ main concern is providing the learners with learning environments in which they can engage in meaningful interactions. So, classrooms should be designed in such a way that the learners interpret and construct meaning based on their own experiences. Creation of rich learning environments via available technologies supporting constructivist learning platforms can be achieved through employing instructional strategies apt to the contextual variables. Teachers’ new role is integrating technology into the curriculum so that learners build on their own experiences, construct their own meanings, create products, and solve problems successfully.

Academic research paper on topic "Instructional Technology as a tool in Creating Constructivist Classrooms"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 93 (2013) 1441 - 1445

3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership (WCLTA-2012)

Instructional technology as a tool in creating constructivist

classrooms

Mustafa Er a *, Neslihan Fatma Er b

a Department of Foreign Languages Education,Turkish Air Force Academy, istanbul, 34149, Turkey b Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, istanbul Kültür University,istanbul 34156, Turkey

Abstract

Unlike traditional approach, constructivists view the learner as the active participant of the learning process. Constructivist instructors' main concern is providing the learners with learning environments in which they can engage in meaningful interactions. So, classrooms should be designed in such a way that the learners interpret and construct meaning based on their own experiences. Creation of rich learning environments via available technologies supporting constructivist learning platforms can be achieved through employing instructional strategies apt to the contextual variables. Teachers' new role is integrating technology into the curriculum so that learners build on their own experiences, construct their own meanings, create products, and solve problems successfully. © 2013TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i Keywords: Technology, constructivist classroom, instruction, curriculum

1. Introduction

Throughout the years, educators have sought ways to fulfill the individual's need of being proficient enough to cope with the challenges of the world and to provide the society with socially and intellectually mature citizens. In the information age, educators faced a new challenge called 21st century learning, entailing the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills in our students. Graduates of educational institutions are expected to demonstrate high levels of proficiency in problem solving, interpersonal communication, teamwork, time management, and communication technologies (Harvey, Moon, & Geal, 1997). Unfortunately, many programs do not develop those skills due to the emphasis on mastering knowledge of the field. This problem basically stems from the traditional teaching strategies used in classes. Hennessy (1993, p.11) clearly supports this idea: "It is obvious that merely presenting children with new information and experiences in the classroom is insufficient to promote learning" Textbook based traditional teaching practice is a reflection of behaviorism. Behaviorists believed that only observable, measurable, outward behavior is worthy of scientific inquiry (Bush, 2006). Therefore, they sought to explain animal and human behavior entirely in terms of observable and measurable responses to environmental stimuli. According to Morrison, Ross, and Kemp (2004), the behaviorist learning theory placed an emphasis on the effects of external conditions such as rewards and

* Mustafa ER. Tel.: +90-533-7149034 E-mail address: m.er@hho.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i

doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.060

punishments in determining future behaviors of students. The behaviorist learning theory focused mainly on objectively observable behaviors and, consequently, discounts mental activities.

Paradigm shift in education experienced over recent decades put emphasis on constructivist activities in educational settings and diminished the role of behaviorist practices in classrooms. For the constructivists, the learner is not a passive recipient of the transferred knowledge but an active participant of the learning process. Constructivism "is the philosophy, or belief, that learners create their own knowledge based on interactions with their environment including their interactions with other people" (Draper, 2002, p.522). Constructivists understand learning as an interpretive, recursive, building process where active learners interrelate with the physical and social world (Fosnot, 1996). Constructivist classroom environment, therefore, is not a place to transfer the information, but a place where students' active participation is ensured, inquiry and research are conducted, and problems are solved. Sfard (1998) suggests students learn through interaction with material and people and participation in classroom activities facilitates student learning. Learning through participation is more likely to facilitate critical thinking and problem solving skills as students work collaboratively to advance learning through doing. Constructivist instructors' main concern is providing the learners with learning environments in which they can engage in meaningful interactions and be active participans of the process conducted by the instructor. Therefore, classrooms should be designed in such a way that the learners interpret and construct meaning based on their own experiences and carry out research to find solutions to the problems they encounter in the learning process. Thus, students will have rich learning experiences.

As our approaches to teaching and learning change, so do our educational practices. Over the past few decades, constructivism has been accepted as the most relevant view of learning, and, parallel to this education policy, education models and education practices focused on constructivism. Thus, contemporary constructivist teachers concentrate on showing students relevance and meaningfulness in what they are learning. For example, in the constructivist classroom, teachers would pose realistically complex and personally meaningful problems for students to solve. Students would then work in cooperative groups to explore possible answers, develop a product, and present findings to a selected audience (Carbonell, 2004).

Fortunately, beginning from the second half of the twentieth century, experts in the field of education and psychology have conducted extensive research to get a clear picture of classroom and to figure out the dynamics of learning. Findings of those researches pointed out that constructivist approaches taking essential components of the classroom, i.e. the learner, the instructor and the context, led to the positive learning outcomes. Plenty of research has shown that academic achievement is positively influenced by the amount of active participation of students in the learning process (Gardner et al., 1994). These studies are not restricted to a specific field of study or level of education, and today there abundance of research data proving the effectiveness of constructivist activities in schools. For instance, several educators in the field of mathematics conducted studies using cooperative learning and found an increase in students' mathematics achievement (Isik & Tarim, 2009). Shimazoe and Aldrich (2010) report benefits of constructivist practices for students, such as promoting deep learning, achieving better grades, learning social skills, and developing positive attitudes toward autonomous learning.

2. Integrating instructional technology into constructivist classrooms

Though there are many factors to be considered in designing curricula and employing instructional strategies apt to the contextual variables shaping the learning environments, for the last few decades constructivism has been one of the major factors shaping not only curriculum development but also instructional design. Constructivist educators are supposed to provide learners with suitable instructional technology to make them think, reflect and develop ideas, and then to test their ideas in a practical meaningful context. In their attempts to create fruitful learning environments, those educators discovered technology as a valuable tool to employ in their designs. In this respect, technology penetrating all layers of modern life not only transformed the way we communicate, socialize, and conduct business, but also contributed a lot to the way students learn and the way teachers teach. Technology offers instructors tools to personalize learning experiences through innovative

learning environments including simulations, animations, scaffolded and guided practice sets, and OpenCourseWare. With the emergence of the constructivist approach, focus shifted from the design of software packages which act solely as storehouses of information to an interactive problem-based environment in which the student is empowered to take charge of his or her own learning. In these rich learning environments; integration of texts, reference sources, multimedia and communication will also be ensured (Shield, 2000).

Being regarded as essential to learning, furnishing learning environments with technology has become a goal of educational administrators and governments. To illustrate this, some of the European Union's 2010 aims are as follows (Oliveira, 2003):

• We should experience a shift from PC centeredness to ambient intelligence. The information and communication technologies environment should become personalized for all users. The surrounding environment should be the interface and technology should be almost invisible. There should be infinite bandwidth and full multimedia, with an almost 100% online community.

• Innovations in learning that we should expect are focused on personalized and adaptive learning, dynamic mentoring systems and integrating experience based learning into the classroom. Research should be done on new methods and new approaches to learning with information and communication technologies.

• Learning resources should be digital and adaptable to individual needs and preferences. E-learning platforms should support collaborative learning. There should be a shift from courseware to performanceware focused on professional learning for work.

• Information and communication technologies should not be an add-on but an integrated part of the learning process. Access to mobile learning should be enhanced through mobile interfaces.

There is no doubt that in order to ensure that effective teaching and learning activities are taking place in classrooms, educators need a constructivist approach applied via instructional technology. The core question that should be investigated is "How can we integrate technology to enhance teaching and learning for understanding?" When adopting an innovation in the institution, teacher readiness is one of the basic determinants of success. It's a fact that in order to apply a teaching method effectively, the teachers must have sufficient knowledge not only about the subject but also the method of teaching in question. In empowering the faculty staff to integrate instructional technology tools in classroom activities, in-service-training is regarded as a key factor of success. Teacher quality matters more in an era of increased technology than the behaviorist reign during which teachers were regarded as omnipotent and the only source of information. In the digital age, effective teachers employ technology as a tool to personalize the learning experience and engage students in the pursuit of the learning they need by setting the pace of learning activities in accordance with learner needs.

While the world's codified knowledge base, i.e. all historical information in printed books and electronic

files, doubled every 30 years in the earlier part of this century, it was doubling every seven years by the

1970s. Information library researchers say that by the year 2010, the world's codified knowledge will double

every 11 hours (Bontis, 2002, p.22).

In this new learning paradigm that we are already rapidly moving towards, the emphasis will be on knowledge navigation. Teachers' new role will be coaching learners in navigating in the ocean of available knowledge. In this new role, teachers are required to be competent in remote tutoring and using electronic data systems that will allow for increased personalized instruction and expected to learn how to use electronic software applications in order to convert their pedagogical knowledge into digital tools and lessons that deliver instruction without direct teacher interaction. Thus, teacher preparation programs will need to be revised for graduate teachers expected to teach "digital natives" of the new age. Assigning tech savvy instructors to schools is a necessary but not the only criterion to apply instructional technology facilitating learning and teaching activities. Becker (2000) argued that for computers to become a valuable and well-functioning instructional tool, and for teachers to use technology effectively, the following conditions should be met:

e Teachers are personally comfortable and at least moderately skilled in using computers themselves, e School's daily class schedule permits allowing time for students to use computers as part of class assignments,

e Enough equipment is available and it is convenient to permit computer activities to flow seamlessly alongside other learning tasks,

E Teachers' personal philosophies support a student-centered, constructivist pedagogy that incorporates collaborative projects defined partly by student interest.

Teachers utilizing the constructivist theory of learning online can provide students with critical thinking activities through guided discussions as well as challenging projects. These activities can both be done asynchronously and be a more powerful learning experience when done synchronously and collaboratively with other students and/or instructor. These types of activities require online instructors who have good command of instructional technology tools in order for instruction to be effective. Instructional technology tools can enrich learning and teaching activities by enabling learners to engage with empowering learning experiences both in and out of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society, obtaining periodic student feedback on how a course is progressing, bringing real world activities into classrooms through simulations, providing means for dialogue, discussion, and debate -interactivity that leads to the social construction of meaning, and supporting professional educators individually and in teams of connecting them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all learners.

3. Challenges

There are many challenges to integrating technology into teaching and learning. Ertmer et al. (1999) classified technology integration barriers in two major categories: first and second-order barriers. First-order barriers, which refer to obstacles that are external to teachers, include such barriers as lack of resources, institution, subject culture, and assessment. On the other hand, second-order barriers are intrinsic to teachers and include such obstacles as attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and skills. Unfortunately, today many schools lack the platforms necessary to use the digital learning tools now being rapidly developed and in many countries nationwide, access to low-cost broadband internet for all students and teachers is lacking. Furthermore, for many counties, the professional development necessary to train teachers to deliver digital instruction is still being developed, and there are a large number of teachers lacking basic computer literacy skills.

On the other hand, although high-level technology uses tend to be associated with learner-centered or constructivist practices, lacking the essential technology skills, teachers tend to use technology mostly for communication and low-level tasks, such as word processing, drill-and-practice activities, and exploring websites, many of which align minimally with core pedagogical goals (Becker, 1994; Brush & Saye, 2009). In order to help teachers create technology-enhanced, learner-centered classrooms, it is essential to understand: (a) how they perceive learner-centered instruction as well as technology; (b) what kinds of barriers they face in creating technology-enhanced, learner-centered classrooms; and (c) what kind of support they need to create such classrooms. It is also possible that teachers who are learner-centered in philosophy are teacher-centered in actual practice. Learner-centered philosophy does not necessarily lead to learner-centered practice. Many things can cause such inconsistency but this is actually because of the long lasting effects of behaviorism dominated educational practices for decades.

Since behaviorism and constructivism both continue to be seen relevant in today's world of online education, in order to avoid digital traditional practices in classrooms, it is essential to clarify the criteria for constructivist online learning so that successful practical applications of constructivism can be identified and implemented to positively affect learning. With the substantial increase in the number of available technologies, educators should pay special attention to differentiate between the technologies supporting constructivist learning platforms and behaviorist learning practices.

4. Conclusion

There are many factors to be considered in designing curricula and employing instructional strategies apt to the contextual variables shaping the learning environments. It should be kept in mind that student learning depends primarily on what the students do rather than what the teacher does. So, educators are supposed to

provide the learners with suitable instructional technology tools to make them think, reflect and develop ideas, and then to test their ideas in a practical meaningful context. Teachers' new role is integrating technology into the curriculum so that learners build on their own experiences, construct their own meanings, create products, and solve problems successfully. Educational institutions should give up filling the learners' minds with a bunch of pre-planned content. Instead, they should focus on how to enable learners to find, identify, manipulate and evaluate information and knowledge, to integrate this knowledge in their world of work and life, to solve problems, and to communicate this knowledge to others. Teachers as coaches and mentors are the major actors in learning environments and they are also supposed to be digital learners of the new age.

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