Module 4 Reflection, you need to critically analyze the connections among emerging technologies, learning theories, and theories of educational technology. Use what you have learned to extend these linkages to your own classroom instruction.
“Education is everybody’s business – the individual, the organization, and the nation state” (Gokool-Ramdoo, 2008, p.13)
Writing my synthesis paper has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I have spent the past few months researching multiple learning theories. These theories have provided me with new insights to my epistemological beliefs. Since the onset of this course I have been drawn to constructivism. By researching constructivism, I have discovered that I associate most closely with this learning theory. I structure my student’s learning environment to promote a scaffolding approach. I act as a facilitator who encourages my students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. I encourage students to make personal connections to what they are studying and share this knowledge with others.
The emerging world of online learning creates an interesting challenge for constructivists. In my job, I work exclusively with students taking online courses. So I was drawn to the articles addressing how to apply constructivism, specifically social constructivism, to online learning. The best synthesis of social constructivism principles applied to online learning can be summarized by Schweizer, H., Whipp, J., and Hayslett, C. (2003). They identified four key principles for creating online instruction based on social constructivist theory. First, the instructor must create a “complex environment and authentic tasks.” To create a truly authentic task, the outcome should not be predetermined. The results must be allowed to naturally occur. This is incredibly difficult for online math courses … they need a measurable solution in most cases. However, by structuring open ended discussions in each unit we are able to achieve some degree of authenticity.
Second, the instructor needs to insure “social negotiation of meaning.” Individuals must be able to test their cognitive constructions against one another and to gain new understandings from one another. This can occur as they reflect upon the variances among their individual conceptions. This area is where I come in. I make sure that the students work together to solve most problems. They argue and have to defend their conclusions.
Third, and most importantly, teachers need to facilitate “intentional learning communities.” Students must be encouraged and supported to work together as a community to achieve shared learning objectives and individual learning objectives. My student’s online courses provide minimal opportunities for collaboration. I have created a physical time and space for students to interact. Many of the students do not know each other before coming to me. They are able to create both a formal and informal learning community. This community provides them with academic as well as social support to promote their learning.
Fourth, instructors and designers of online education must provide “assistance for learners at varying zones of proximal development” (Schweizer et all, pp.145-146). The zone of proximal development “is the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978). In other words, this is the range of tasks and capabilities that an individual can accomplish with assistance, but are unable, at this time, to perform independently. Essentially what I do is provide students with support. I am their tutor, their learning coach and their mentor.
In the modern classroom, technology has become both a requirement and an important instructional tool. Educational technologies are the tools used to enhance understanding and comprehension of a subject matter. Online learning is the latest popular educational technology.
Modern technology is rapidly changing education. There are many emerging theories that are helping to define and develop the sociological and psychological shifts in education. In the 1970’s, scholars began to define distance education (Moore, 1991). In the early 1980’s, Transactional Distance Theory (TDT) was created (Moore, 1991). Distance education refers to more than just geographical distance. Distance refers to the disconnection or separation of understandings and perceptions that can be caused in part by the geographic distance. This distance must be overcome by teachers, learners and educational organizations if effective learning is to occur. This distance is often referred to as, “transactional distance”. TDT “… provides a tool that helps recognize the several distinctive issues that separate distance education from conventional education; helps us distinguish good practice from bad; and highlights the piecemeal and unplanned fashion in which many providing institutions operate” (Gokool-Ramdoo, 2008 p.11).
In essence what I have created is a hybrid online course where only an online course exists. The provider of the curriculum has developed an outstanding curriculum but high school students often do not have the internal motivation to stay on task or work at an appropriate pace. The district is financially supporting students taking online courses and wants to ensure the students’ success. What I have developed is a model for supporting both the online curriculum for both the student and the district. The district has actually taken my working model and has begun implementing it district wide for all students. The success rate for high school students has gone from 50% to 90% in just one year.
Through my research on constructivism, social constructivism, and emerging theories such as TDT, I have discovered many valuable application ideas and ways to put the theory into practice. I have also discovered new ways to apply educational technology to these learning theories. I have learned how various technologies used in the classroom can fit into a constructivist classroom to create more efficient learning experiences for the students.
Gokool-Ramdoo, S. (2008). Beyond the Theoretical Impasse: Extending the Applications of Transactional Distance Theory. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3), 1-17.
Moore, M. G. (1991). Distance education theory. The American Journal of Distance Education, 5(3), 1-6.
Schweizer, H., Whipp, J., & Hayslett, C. (2003). Quality control in online courses: Using a social constructivist framework. Computers in the Schools, 19(3-4), 143-158. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com.libproxy.boisestate.edu/doi/pdf/10.1300/J025v19v03_12
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society.