Module 3 Reflection: Extend your linkages between theories of learning, theories of educational technology and your own classroom instruction or professional practice.
“Interest in creating a community to help facilitate and support learning has been a long-term interest for many educators seeking ways to enhance the learning experience for their students.” (Hill, Jonassen & Land (2012 p.268)
This was my first ever construction of an annotated bibliography. I found it incredibly frustrating and interesting at the same time. I started with the concept: How learning communities work within the broader theory of constructivism. I would read an article and realize that it did not fully support what I was looking for; but rather than abandon it I would continue to read it purely because it was interesting. Often these random tangents would take me completely off topic, sometimes for hours. Eventually, I would find my way back to the original premise. I also found it very challenging to synthesize some of the readings. I felt that so much of what was written was important; I just didn’t want to leave any of it out.
Learning theories provide a framework for teaching and learning. I initially found myself drawn to the concept of constructivism but after further research I recognized the critical component of learning communities. I have a business that exclusively supports high school students with online courses. Students taking online courses often feel isolated and alone. They need a safe place to ask questions and explore concepts. They need a learning community and a true facilitator. The curriculum I utilize offers a virtual community and I am able to offer the students a physical community.
Constructivism and learning communities go hand in hand “… social presence building out of theories, specifically relate[s] to distance education. Most if not all of the theories build out of a social constructivist perspective on how learning occurs” (Hill p. 272). Yilmaz asserts that “all knowledge is socially constructed” (Yilmaz, p.167). Working with high school students every day, I see the social aspect of learning. The students do not want to simply walk in and do math. They want to interact with me and each other. They want to question what we are doing and why. When they are working on a new concept, they collaborate with each other, and seek affirmation or an explanation as to why they are incorrect. Through these interactions I see true knowledge built.
Constructivism is a scaffolding approach to learning that emphasizes the importance of active involvement. Students must have a significant stake in their own learning. Every lesson I try to start with a basic concept, one to refresh “old” skills and two, to create the foundation from which to build that day’s concepts. Starting each day with a basic skill helps me discover students who may be lacking in that particular foundational element. In a traditional classroom there is never enough time to regularly check the basics. But in an online class with tutoring support there is plenty of time. Some days there are multiple layers to a concept. For instance, in my trigonometry course on Friday we started with a basic review of the Pythagorean Theorem that they should have all learned in middle school. From there we added the layer of “SOHCAHTOA” or basic right triangle trig. Next we added the “special right triangles.” Finally, it all culminated in the development of the Unit Circle. For some students, this took one day if they had all the foundational skills needed. For other students this process took several days. The best part of online education is the relative flexibility to create authentic scaffolding.
I am drawn to constructivism and the concept of learning communities because they value mistakes. Often mistakes are “discovered” through social interactions. When I see two students working on the same problem, side by side, I find it fascinating when the two arrive at different conclusions. Since what I support is math, the assumption is that there is only one correct solution. The students initially would want me to say who was “right” but adopting a constructivist approach, I stopped doing that. I instruct the students to challenge each other’s conclusions. The students will go through each line of work, explaining their thought process and rationale for each step. After each step, they either agree with the methodology and move on or present an argument as to why they disagree. Often times the student who was incorrect will discover their own mistakes before the other student can point it out. I often hear, “Oh wait! I know what I did wrong”. On some occasions the students will point out the other person’s mistakes. I love it when the students challenge each other. If I were to look at it and point out an error, the students would just accept it as fact, since I am the teacher. But they will challenge each other. Some of the most interesting learning happens when they are both correct. These are the occasions where I often need to step in.
I recognize that there is no one theory that is best or “right”. Growing and improving as an educator and as a learner means opening your mind to new theories and ideas. I am drawn to constructivism and learning communities because I believe that those theories will immediately improve what I do every day. Technology has caused major paradigm shifts in society and education. How we interact and learn must adapt to the constantly changing world around us. I need to keep researching and exploring additional theories that will enhance working in an ever evolving technical world.
Hill, J.R. (2012) Learning communities: Theoretical foundations for making connections. In D. Jonassen, & S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. (2nd ed., pp. 268-285)
Yilmaz, K. (2008). Constructivism: Its Theoretical Underpinnings, Variations, and Implications for Classroom Instruction. Educational Horizons, 86(3), 161-172. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov.libproxy.boisestate.edu/PDFS/EJ798521.pdf