New learning environments and constructivism: The student’s perspective
Current Event #2 - Constructivism
According to Gijbels, van de Watering, Dochy, and van den Bossche (2006) students’ perceptions of their learning environment influences greatly the way they perform. In this research the perceptions of students in two different learning environments were examined; the conventional lecture-based and the New Learning Environment (NLE) based on the constructivist model.
Harris and Alexander, Tynjala, and Bienbaum define constructivism as a process in which the learner is actively constructing knowledge (as cited in Gijbels, et al. 2006). Windschitl, points out that this knowledge can be constructed individually or socially as in groups (Gijbels, et al., 2006). The goal of constructivism is to foster students’ skills to communicate, think and reason effectively, make judgments about the accuracy of large volumes of information, solve complex problems, and work collaboratively in diverse teams (Gijbels, et al., 2006).
A Constructivist Learning Environments Survey, created by Taylor (Gijbels, et al. 2006) was given to students in both learning environments. This survey contains questions about the following seven key factors characteristics of the constructivist learning model.
One, “arguments, discussions, and debates” stresses learning as an active and cumulative construction of knowledge. Two, “conceptual conflicts and dilemmas” indicates that knowledge is not certain because concepts may create conflict in the mind of the learner. Three, “sharing ideas with others” emphasizes that learning is cooperative. Four, “materials and resources targeted towards solutions” focuses on learning being goal oriented. Five, “motivation toward reflections and concept investigation” highlights motivating the metacognitive aspects of learning. Six, “meeting students’ needs” recommends a student-centered learning environment. And seven, “making meaning, real-life examples” refers to the conceptual aspect of learning. (p.215)
Gijbels, et al. (2006) found that students perceived the NLE as more constructivist and helpful to their achievement as compared to the lecture-based environment.
One of the strengths in this article is the clear definition and goals of the constructivist learning model. The seven key factors give the big picture of what a constructivist classroom looks like. A classroom that places students at its center, a classroom that makes learning fun and social, a classroom in which students take the responsibility and opportunity to grow intellectually and socially. It is also interesting to note that conventional lecture-based environments also pay attention to the factors of constructivism: “materials and measures targeted toward solution” and “making meaning, real-life examples” (p.223). This shows that the learning process ultimately happens when the individual thinks through what he is learning and how he is learning, while seating and listening to a lecture or working with peers.
While this article provided a lot of theory on constructivism and project-based learning, it lacks examples of the questions in the survey. It would give a better idea of what areas exactly this research examined. I question, how did students know that they were in a constructivist learning environment? How does, students being aware of their learning environments help them succeed in academics. It was also difficult to make sense of the data presented, as it was only given in written form. A table or graph would have been useful to readers who are not familiar with statistical notation.
The researchers report that the new learning environments help significantly in student achievement, but they do not recommend it as the ultimate path in teaching and learning. This may be because the lecture-based environment also employs some of the seven factors in constructivism. The researchers do not recommend the full use of the new learning environments and/or constructivism and/or project-based learning, but rather a mixture of their elements depending on what is appropriate for the content being covered and the needs of our students.
The constructivist model seems to reflect a student-centered classroom and some elements of project-based learning. In such environments, some key factors involve students in discussions and debates, conceptual conflicts and dilemmas. In the science classroom, specifically biology, the topics of discussion always have complexity that lends itself to conflicts and therefore encourages critical thinking. Evolution, ecology, genetics, and cell biology are areas in biology in which students can be given the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions, which should be supported by solid evidence and research. Even the general public has the opportunity to do this by reading articles in everyday newspapers and magazines. Science can be very social and should be very social as scientists have the responsibility to share their ideas and research. According to constructivism, students can construct their knowledge on their own, but also socially by communicating with others, usually small groups. To make meaning and make connections between theory and the real word, students need to think through (metacognition) on their own and with others about what they are learning.
Constructivism could be a powerful model for me to adopt fully, as it involves many areas that I already employ and I would like to improve in my classroom. My ultimate goal is to motivate my students in learning science, and that would hopefully transfer in my students as a desire to pursue science careers. I now realize and begin to understand that employing simple motivation techniques is just not going to make the change I hope. I need to renovate my entire teaching environment; techniques, strategies, and all. After reading about constructivism, I find it very interesting that many of its goals and characteristics are those that I have and want to accomplish. I would like my students to communicate their knowledge and ideas efficiently, seek, analyze, and use information on their own, take initiative to solve problems, help others, work together, realize that the knowledge they gain cannot be taken away from them, understand how they learn, and use what they know to make a positive change in their lives and their community. It would be wonderful for students to understand and see the beauty of science all around them and in them. To help them do all this, I need them see that they own their classroom and learning. I see that constructivism covers all that, that I would like to construct; a student-centered environment; learning that is active, cooperative, and goal oriented; and learning that is cumulative, complex, and meaningful.
Gijbels, D., van de Watering, G., Dochy, F., & van den Bossche, P. (2006) New Learning Environments & Constructivism: The Students’ Perspective. Instructional Science: An Instructional Journal of Learning and Cognition, 34(3), pp213-226.