Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

Reading: Allen, M. (2008). Promoting critical thinking skills in online information literacy instructions using a constructivist approach. College and Undergraduate Libraries, 15 (1-2) 21-38.

So from the abstract I could extrapolate that the author presumes that more constructivism champions a more active learning style than students are accustomed to from “traditional” approaches.

Conducive environment…
On page 31, Allen argues that, “in order to provide a true constructivist-based learning environment, instructors and instructional designers must plan carefully from the beginning of the instruction to the end.”

On. p. 33 she continues, “creating true constructivist-based instructional materials and online learning environments can be difficult, time-consuming, and not warranted in every situation” (see below for more detail)…

p. 33, quoting Bostock (1998): “A radically constructivist course would be more difficult to implement within the constraints of large numbers, resources, and institutional culture, so it is cheering to think that a partial implementation of constructivist principles may actually be optimal for the majority of students.”

Students who succeed…
Allen compares solving complex, “ill-structured” problems as one of the core principles of constructivist learning. “This type of problem, conceived of by the instructor or designer, may be a case study, scenario, or ultimate desired goal statement that provides the learner with important component information, but offers no direction and no obvious solutions to the stated problem. The use of the ill-structured problem is typically used in instructional settings where the learner already possesses a great deal of prior knowledge. The the learner must use his or her previous skills and apply them to the proposed situation to formulate a plausible solution” (pp. 31-32) — italics are mine.

On p. 33 she continues, “In environments where students are so inexperienced that they have very little prior knowledge to build upon, a constructivist-based approach would likely overwhelm them.”

The latter quotations reinforce my sense that students who succeed within constructivism have prior experience with the subject matter or processes required to answer their research questions.

She writes, “some learners simply do not thrive in a constructivist environment. As Bostock observes, ‘Some students will enjoy the challenges of constructivist learning while others will sometimes find them uncomfortable and need more objectivist instruction.”

I will look up Bostock; I wish Allen were more specific about why some students enjoy constructivism and others do not thrive.

Strategies:
On p. 33, Allen says, “It may, in such cases [where students are inexperienced], be more advisable to provide a more straightforward, objectivist approach….”

on p. 33, quoting Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger: “Designing suitable activities requires careful planning and greatly increases preparation time. Finding perfect examples and problems that will lead students to an appropriate ‘Aha!’ experience is difficult requires a great deal of intense, time-consuming work,” (145).

I searched for the Cooperstein & Kocevar-Weidinger paper through the a couple databases on the OSU library site and couldn’t find it but will look again.

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