ABCs of pedagogy: C is for constructivism

Welcome to a new series, the ABCs of Pedagogy, cross-posted at the university blog Teche. It is learning and teaching award season at my university and one of the aims of this series is to provide applicants with the scholarly language to describe their teaching and learning practice. This skill goes beyond award applications and may also be useful for the purposes of reflection, conversations about teaching and learning, scholarly activities, and career progression.

For a sneak peek at the rest of the ABCs of Pedagogy planned for the series, click on the image below for an interactive version (thanks to my colleague Kylie Coaldrake).

If you have only heard of only one pedagogical term as a teacher in higher education, it is likely to be constructivism, one of the most influential learning theories in formal education across the world. You are probably familiar with John Biggs’ framework of constructive alignment, in which teaching activities and assessment tasks are designed to meet student learning outcomes (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is evident in our approach to curriculum design: identify the intended learning outcomes for students, facilitate activities that enable students to develop and practice specific skills and knowledges, and assess their capability.

Constructivism and constructive alignment are linked through an understanding of students as active participants in their learning, and a view of the role of the teacher as structuring learning experiences to challenge students’ thinking. The starting point of constructive alignment is not “What do I want to teach?” but rather “What do I want students to learn?” (See a Quick Guide to Constructive Alignment here).

To sum up constructivism in a couple of sentences: learning, or the construction of new knowledge, happens through social interaction and is based on prior understandings. A constructivist teaching context is designed to enable students to collaborate to make meaning and to build knowledge based on their experiences.

As with all pedagogies discussed in this series, constructivism is contested in the scholarly literature and, strictly speaking, draws on many theories and encompasses multiple pedagogical approaches. Van Bergen and Parsell (2019) discuss three broad approaches to constructivism – radical, psychological and social constructivism – and their epistemic and pedagogic assumptions. As they succinctly put it:

Each version of constructivism …  can be seen as a particular elaboration of the central claim … that knowledge is constructed. If the construction is characterised individually, as the product of one person’s interactions with the world, the result is radical constructivism. If the construction is instead thought to happen in social groups, the version is social constructivism. If the cognitive processes that constitute the construction of knowledge are emphasised, the version is psychological constructivism.

Van Bergen & Parsell (2019, p 47).

The origins of constructivism, as we understand it in higher education today, are Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Lev Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism and Ernst von Glaserfeld’s (1995) radical constructivism. (You’ll hear more from Vygotsky when we reach Z is for Zone of proximal development).

Piaget’s (1970) theory of cognitive development offers a model for ages and stages from childhood to adulthood learning. For the purposes of higher education, knowledge is constructed based on students’ prior learning and experience, and adult learning is marked by a capacity for abstract thinking and metacognition.

Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social constructivism focuses on the social environment as a facilitator of development and learning through various cognitive tools and structures: language, symbols, objects, and institutions. In such a complex and changeable context, learning is seen to be directly connected to social factors.

In von Glaserfeld’s (1995) radical constructivism, knowledge only exists within a learner’s subjective experience. If this idea appeals, you may also be interested in ungrading.

The following questions may help you to decide whether constructivism aligns with your teaching philosophy and practice:

  • Would you describe your teaching as student-centred?
  • Are you a facilitator of learning?
  • Do you utilise active learning strategies in the classroom?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration between students in small groups?
  • Is class discussion a valued learning strategy?
  • Are any of the following an important part of your teaching: experiential learning, problem-based learning, reflective practice (more on these ideas as we proceed through the alphabet in this series).

If these questions are partly true for you, it may be that your teaching context is appropriate for a moderated form of constructivism that incorporates direct instruction and guidance to scaffold learning. It is important to note that these brief explanations can only scratch the surface, and further reading and reflection on your teaching practice is always recommended.

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.

References

Biggs, J. B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and psychology of the child. New York: Oxford University Press.

Van Bergen, P. and Parsell, M. (2019). Comparing radical, social and psychological constructivism in Australian higher education: a psycho-philosophical perspective. Australian Educational Researcher, 46, 41–58

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. London: Routledge Falmer.

Vygotsky, L. V. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

ABCs of pedagogy: B is for blended or hybrid teaching

Welcome to a new series, the ABCs of Pedagogy, cross-posted at the university blog Teche. It is learning and teaching award season at my university and one of the aims of this series is to provide applicants with the scholarly language to describe their teaching and learning practice. This skill goes beyond award applications and may also be useful for the purposes of reflection, conversations about teaching and learning, scholarly activities, and career progression.

For a sneak peek at the rest of the ABCs of Pedagogy planned for the series, clink on the image below for an interactive version (thanks to my colleague Kylie Coaldrake).

Blended synchronous or hybrid flexible teaching (also referred to as ‘hyflex teaching’) is when you simultaneously teach some students in person and others online. For many of us, it is a relatively new phenomenon in the context of COVID-19. This mode of teaching is certainly challenging for both teachers and students! To support the practice of ‘blendsync’, my university blog has published posts and shared resources (including slides from a recent workshop by Mathew Hillier with a shout out to Matt Bower’s pre-pandemic research).

Perhaps you have heard the aphorism “pedagogy before technology” but the rapid shift to online and blended teaching may mean some catching up is required on the pedagogical front. If you are preparing an application for a teaching award this year, it’s likely you will mention the impacts of the pandemic on your teaching and your students’ learning. Luckily, the pedagogical language and conceptual models for blended synchronous teaching are well established.

George Siemens (2005) proposed connectivism as the learning theory for the digital age. It is an extension of constructivism, one of the most influential learning theories in formal education around the world, where learning is understood to happen through social interaction and experience (more on that in the next post in the series C is for Constructivism). In connectivism, students learn in and across networks and work collaboratively to create knowledge in digital formats.

Connectivism emphasises the ability to connect and organise information and adapt to rapidly changing systems. Learning is viewed as ‘actionable knowledge’ (Siemens, 2005) and exists beyond people to reside in technological forms and structures. If your teaching involves teams of learners contributing to shared documents and creating new learning artefacts, then connectivism may be aligned with your practice.

To describe your blended synchronous teaching, there are several scholarly frameworks for thinking about the relationship between pedagogy and technology.

Perhaps the most well-known is Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) TPACK (technological pedagogical and content knowledge) framework.

Image source.

TPACK highlights that effective digital learning requires teachers to understand technology, pedagogy, and disciplinary knowledges. For example, if a teacher only addresses technological and content knowledge (TCK) domains, this could mean asking students to generate a wiki entry to explain a difficult concept. If Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) is not considered, and the task is not scaffolded, students may struggle.

For more information, seeTPACK Explained

Building on TPACK, another model for thinking about your blended synchronous teaching pedagogy is Puentedura’s (2010) SAMR (substitution augmentation modification redefinition) framework, which offers four tiers for teaching with technology. SAMR shifts from the use of technology to enhance teaching (or make it possible during a pandemic) to the use of technology to transform teaching and learning.

Image source.

Think about these levels in relation to your teaching. At the Substitution or Augmentation level, you might be replicating f2f activities for online students by recording or streaming lectures, or using online activities to prompt learning. I expect that as you continued teaching online, and started to teach online and face-to-face simultaneously, you moved into the Modification and Redefinition levels. For example, you might have designed learning activities to combine f2f teaching with features such as online chat, annotations, collaborative documents, polls, simulations and more. Modification changes the nature of a learning or assessment task given the capabilities of technology, and Redefinition uses the affordances of technology for tasks that could be not be undertaken without it.

Read more about SAMR and Bloom’s taxonomy.  

Smyth’s (2011) 3E – Enhance, Extend, Empower framework offers an alternative for describing your technology-enabled teaching practice. If the ideas of student agency and co-creation appeal to you, this may offer a way to describe your practice and philosophy of teaching.

Image source: https://staff.napier.ac.uk/services/vice-principal-academic/academic/TEL/TechBenchmark/Pages/overview.aspx

You can find detailed examples of the 3E framework on the Edinburgh Napier University website.

When reflecting on your teaching, questions to consider include:

  • How did your teaching practice change as a result of moving online during the pandemic?
  • What strategies for teaching will you continue to use now that students are face-to-face as well as online?
  • What have you done to build relationships with students and between students?
  • How do you create shared learning spaces for face-to-face and online students?
  • Are you scaffolding networked learning? How are your students using technology to leverage their collective creativity?

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Puentedura, R. (2010). SAMR and TPCK: Intro to advanced practice. Retreived from
http://hippasus.com/resources/sweden2010/SAMR_TPCK_IntroToAdvancedPractice.pdf

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

All images of theoretical models in this post are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

ABCs of pedagogy: A is for andragogy

Welcome to a new series, the ABCs of Pedagogy, cross-posted at the university blog Teche. It is learning and teaching award season at my university and one of the aims of this series is to provide applicants with the scholarly language to describe their teaching and learning practice. This skill goes beyond award applications and may also be useful for the purposes of reflection, conversations about teaching and learning, scholarly activities, and career progression.

For a sneak peek at the rest of the ABCs of Pedagogy planned for the series, clink on the image below for an interactive version (thanks to my colleague Kylie Coaldrake):

You are likely familiar with the more commonly used term ‘pedagogy’, the methods and practices of teaching and learning (often referred to as both an art and a science). The word pedagogy finds its etymology in a mix of French, Latin and Greek and, as you can see from its prefix ‘pedo-’, refers to leading and instructing children. Its alternative is andragogy, or adult learning, with multiple attributions for the first use of the term.

Thinking about andragogy is a prompt to reflect on what you believe is distinctive about higher education where teaching is focussed on adult learners. Consider the extent to which you agree with the following statements that attempt to distinguish learning in higher education from school or early childhood contexts:

  • Adult learners utilise various forms of formal, informal and non-formal learning; learn for both personal and professional reasons; and balance learning with other work and care activities.
  • Students in higher education develop as self-directed, lifelong learners with deep disciplinary knowledge and capabilities, including teamwork, literacy and communication skills, criticality, and creativity.

Note that our expectations of independent learning capability change over time, and these assumptions are built into unit design at each stage. First-year units are usually more scaffolded, while postgraduate units may be designed for independent and goal orientated learning.

American educator Malcolm Knowles (1950) promoted the use of term andragogy, with a conviction that adults learn differently from children. He made five assertions about the characteristics of adult learners:

  • Self-concept: As people mature their self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  • Experience: As people mature they accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  • Readiness to learn: As people mature their readiness to learn becomes oriented toward the developmental tasks of their social roles.
  • Orientation to learning: As people mature their time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly their orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centredness to one of problem-centredness.
  • Motivation to learn: As people mature the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles, 1984).

As you may have guessed, each of these claims about the difference between andragogy and pedagogy is contested and has been the subject of considerable scholarly discussion. To offer just one example, Stephen Brookfield (1993) challenges the individualistic notion of self-directed learning (often institutionalised through student ‘learning contracts’ within a limited framework) and suggests it is part of a political, social and cultural tradition that “emphasises the individual’s standing against repressive interests” or institutional control (p 227). He argues that self-directed learning might be akin to transformative or emancipatory approaches to education (more on these ideas when the series reaches F is for freedom).

For reflecting on teaching, the various ways in which others have interrogated Knowles’ assertions are valuable. In Psychology and Adult Learning, Mark Tennant (2006) developed a “reconstructed charter for andragogy” (following work by Jack Mezirow on transformative learning). In articulating eight characteristics for framing the practice of adult education, Tennant was critical of guidelines for teachers that tell them that they ‘should, ‘must’ or ‘ought to’ teach in particular ways. He aimed to focus on the contexts of learners and decentre the role of the teacher in these initial recommendations for framing practice:

  • Value the experience of learners — include their life experiences in the teaching and learning discourse. Language, registers and examples should be inclusive rather than exclusive.
  • Engage in reflection on experiences — get learners to go beyond their experience and to generalise from specific experiences by theorising.
  • Engage in reflection on experiences — get learners to go beyond their experience and to generalise from specific experiences by theorising.
  • Address issues of identity and the power relationship between teachers and learners — distribute as much power to the learners as the context will allow.
  • Promote judgements about learning which are developmental and which allow scope for success for all learners — assessments and judgements are about further development.
  • Negotiate conflicts over claims to knowledge and pedagogic process — enable differing points of view to emerge and encourage learners to negotiate and to engage critically with the material as well as the process of learning.
  • Identify the historical and cultural location of experiences — question what is taken for granted or assumed at the personal, social and cultural levels.
  • Transform actions and practices — new practices can be adopted if one recognises where one is located culturally and historically.

In talking and writing about your teaching practice, consider which of the above is of particular value to you, and what you can evidence through feedback from students, reviews with colleagues, and engagement with your disciplinary and professional communities. How do your students reflect on their experiences? Do you work to build an inclusive community? Is curriculum negotiated? Do you invite students to challenge taken for granted assumptions, principles and values? How do you decentre the role of the teacher?

In future posts, this series will explore many of the ideas inherent in Tennant’s list, including experiential learning, reflective practice, knowledge theories, student-centred learning and values. Next in the series: B is for blended or hybrid teaching pedagogies.

Brookfield S. (1993). Self-Directed Learning, Political Clarity, and the Critical Practice of Adult Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 43 (4): 227-242.

Knowles, Malcolm S. (1950). Informal Adult Education: A guide for administrators, leaders, and teachers. New York: Association Press.

Knowles, M. S. and Associates. (1984). Andragogy in Action: Applying modern principles of adult education. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.

Tennant, M. (2006). Psychology and Adult Learning, 3rd edition. London and New York: Routledge.

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.