CSCL-intro week 1: Constructivism

April 26, 2011, [MD]

It is very exciting to see the CSCL-intro course come to life! Monica and I have been imagining this for many months, and been discussing and planning intensely for the last few weeks. Suddenly, people are doing the readings, writing blog posts, and engaging! Which means we have to do it too, because one of the basic premises of this course was that we would participate in exactly the same way as everyone else - after all, I'm not organizing this course because I am an expert, and want to teach what I know, but because I need to learn, and want a group to learn together with!

So during the first week, we intended to have a soft startup, with some background readings, and more focus on getting to know each other, establishing the play rules, etc. We proposed a few readings on constructivism, and Communities of Practice:


I began with constructivism, and quickly got sucked down the rabbit hole... That's the dangerous thing about wikis after all, you start reading, and there are a bunch of links you want to explore, and before long, you are reading about Ernst von Glasersfeld, radical constructivism, and much more.

Relationship between epistemology and instructional approach

One of the things that struck me when reading the initial Edutech page, was the differentiation between constructivism as an epistemology - how can we know, how can we learn, how does the brain process and store data, how is knowledge represented internally with the learner - and the choice of instructional approaches. I think today we often link the two automatically and assume that if somebody is using a constructivist approach, then their teaching will include group projects, expressive writing, debates and the production of artefacts.

But the text states:

Constructivist learning theory does not necessarily imply that one must follow a "constructivist" pedagogical strategy. In other words, most researches firmly believe that knowledge is constructed, but some (e.g. main stream instructional designers) do not adopt an instructional design that is labelled "constructivist".

and indeed, there is no doubt that we can learn "constructively" from a one-way stream of information. What I just did when researching this topic was a great example - I read a bunch of different wiki pages and articles, while taking notes for this blog post, and also adding information to different pages on my own wiki.

So, while reading, I am constantly processing the information, plotting it in to different parts of my notes, or wiki, comparing it with other things I've read, other experiences, etc. Although the wiki did not have an instructional design, and certainly wasn't a collaborative learning experience, I learnt a lot. (And now I am hoping to learn even more, by sharing my ideas with others, and reading their ideas... And even the existence of this group is a great motivator for me. But there is no doubt that even without this, I could have learnt from these readings).

It's interesting that Stephen Downes is very much in favor of the lecture. Obviously not as the "best" way of teaching, but as one way of many, which can be efficient if used well.

Granularity of collaboration/sharing

I have done quite a bit of thinking about the "granularity" of collaboration - for example the idea of maintaining a private wiki, rather than contributing to a public one (I think both are very useful), or the way we do in this course - spending significant amounts of time on our own with texts and lectures, taking notes, thinking it through, maybe even creating mindmaps and outlines - before we share our ideas with the others in the course. An alternative to this would be to have a shared environment where we do our brainstorming, and immediately share our smallest thoughts. This is kind of what Knowledge Forum is all about, which we will read about later in this course.

(And of course, scientists "knowledge build" at a very low granularity - sharing the results of maybe years of research, experimentation, reading, synthesizing, experimentation, etc. But of course, there is hopefully much more high-granularity sharing within individual research groups, with advisors, etc).


Assessment is a topic that comes up very frequently when discussing new ways of teaching and learning. I already wrote one blog post today about grading, although it was focused on a different topic.

According to the web page on constructivism at UMass:

"Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress."

There isn't much justification given for this view, and I am not quite sure why that follows automatically. We talked a fair bit about group assessment, etc. I think my fundamental issue with it, and also the concept of "group cognition" (which we will also discuss later in this course), was the same thing that Martin echoes today: this group is only temporary, and in the end, a company is going to decide to hire or not this specific person. And this specific person will have to do a certain job.

An interesting counter-argument would be to say that when you hire someone, you're also hiring their network. This has long been true in lobbying and other contexts where personal networks are important, but with the growth of PLNs, perhaps you are not only hiring one person in isolation, but also the access that person has to knowledge and people distributed over that person's social network?

(This still won't help a doctor who needs to make a split-second decision in an emergency, but it's something to think about, which hadn't occurred to me before just writing these lines, which says something about the power of producing artefacts for learning, I guess :))

More about Communities of Practice later this week.


Stian Håklev April 26, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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