This page was originally authored by Jarrod Bell (2008).
This page was edited by Louise Thomson (2009).
This page was edited again by Ari Najarian (2009).
This page was edited by by Jay Dixon (2009).
Constructivist Learning Environments & Tools
Jean Piaget is regularly attributed as the father of Constructivist Learning Theory or Constructivism. This is an epistemology that states that learners build knowledge from both existing knowledge and new experiences with the help of others. Help may come from other learners, teachers, or experts in the field. The learning is generally initiated by the learner.
This article looks at several Learning Environments that facilitate learning from a constructivist point of view.
Constructivist Computer Programming languages
LOGO is a programming language created for constructivist teaching by Seymour Papert. While LOGO is often associated with young students and turtle graphics, it is a powerful programming language that can teach most programming concepts. LOGO is a wonderfully simple program that allows students to teach the computer how to think. In essence as the students think about thinking they, too, become epistomologists (Papert, 1980).
Squeak is a programming language based on Smalltalk programming language. It allows easy creation of objects for use in multimedia applications, educational programs, and commercial applications.
Squeak is featured in several notable projects such as
- One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the XO laptops http://www.laptop.org/
- Etoys http://www.squeakland.org/
- Seaside http://www.seaside.st/
- Croquet http://www.opencroquet.org/
- Sophie http://sophieproject.org/
- Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/
You can interact with the object pictured to the left (Squeak plug-in required) at http://www.squeakland.org/project.jsp?http://www.squeakland.org/projects/etoys/EtoysSimstories.004.pr
Scratch is an object oriented programming language built on the traditions of Seymour Papert's LOGO. It is an MIT project that enables very young learners to create rich multimedia objects and applications. The objects and applications can be shared in a well established online community at http://scratch.mit.edu/
Learners can build objects, sprites, and code separately and then put them together for a final work. Derivative work is also encouraged with the sharing ability in the online community.
From Carnegie Mellon University, ALICE is another program designed with the goal of teaching students the basic principles of object-oriented programming. The abstract concepts and procedures of programming are masked from students, however, by a storytelling metaphor. Nevertheless, these abstract concepts and procedures are at the very core of all activities within ALICE, and students cannot help but engage with them as they use the software.
Constructivist learning is contextual, and ALICE's approach does an excellent job of providing a tangible, familiar context (the activity of telling a story), in which students develop the skills they need to create something that is deeply expressive and personal.
ALICE is a free tool that can be downloaded from http://www.alice.org/. Educators can also find a rich community of users and a robust support network of educators and researchers to help them implement it on their own.
Constructivist Web Learning Environments
Moodle stands for Modular Object Oriented Learning Environment. Moodle is a free, open source, learning management system (LMS) created and maintained by a community of developers and users. It was originally created by Martin Dougiamas for his PHD thesis work with constructivist principals as a driving force in the design.
“Constructionism asserts that learning is particularly effective when constructing something for others to experience. This can be anything from a spoken sentence or an internet posting, to more complex artifacts like a painting, a house or a software package. The concept of social constructivism extends the above ideas into a social group constructing things for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture like this, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture, on many levels.” (Mungo, n/a) -Martin Dougiamas, creator of Moodle
Moodle incorporates tools such as forums, chat, wiki, group work, messaging, email etc. to promote collaboration between learning community members whether they be teacher-student, teacher-teacher, or student-student interactions.
Blackboard (aka WebCT) is another LMS that, similar to moodle, incorporates tools such as forums, chat, wiki, group work, messaging, email etc. to promote collaboration between learning community members whether they be teacher-student, teacher-teacher, or student-student interactions.
Blackboard however is a commercial product. Schools or companies using this as an LMS must pay license fees per seat used.
Both Moodle and Blackboard enable ease of creation of online materials for learning community members.
Costs for Blackboard are often negotiated by the company. A Moodle discussion group has released some numbers available at http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=28182
Desire2Learn is an alternative to BlackBoard (WebCT) with a similar suite of services for communication and collaboration, and as such, has similar constructivist affordances in its design. Its distinguishing feature, however, is a module called the ePortfolio. This tool allows students to chart and map their learning experience and the progression of their ideas throughout time. Students can upload assigments, photos, videos, recording or any other kind of media, add reflective notes on individual items or collections, and publish selected collections as public ePortfolios. These portfolios can then be shared with an authentic audience, consisting of teachers, peers and colleagues, and even prospective employers.
The process of reflecting on - and synthesizing - learning artefacts, and verbalizing one's learning process are all elements of a constructivist learning model, and Desire2Learn's ePorftolio affords this kind of activity quite well.
Elluminate (aka vClass) allows people to meet and learn online synchronously as well as asychronously. Elluminate integrates a whiteboard, chat, audio, video, questions, responses, multiple choice responses, embeding of PowerPoint, sharing of applications, etc to create a very powerful learning and meeting environment. Online learners can even work in groups in Elluminate and come back to present to the whole class.
In 2006 Elluminate and BCCampus signed an agreement that supplies licensed Elluminate classrooms to all K-12 schools in the province of British Columbia. http://www.elluminate.com/press/bccampus.jsp
In addition to distance learning, Elluminate is frequently used in webinars (web seminars), professional development across distance, meetings and collaborative projects.
Other Constructivist Tools
There are many other tools on the web with affordances for constructivist learning. While these are not necessarily designed with educators or students in mind, they possess feature sets that can be incorporated quite effectively into an instructional design model. Here are a few examples of these tools. (Please feel free to add to this list).
A mash-up is created by retrieving and remixing data from multiple online sources. For example, one could pull geotagged images from a photo-sharing site such as Flickr, and superimpose them onto a map of the world from Google Maps. This is done by sending requests to each online service, using standard protocols to retrieve data (often formatted using XML, a standard markup language).
Mash-ups are often RSS-based - popular RSS mashups include Google Reader, NetVibes, Pageflakes, AllTop. Each of these services polls a number of websites for new articles, reformats and reorganizes the data, and then displays it all at once to the viewer.
Mash-ups are excellent tools for both constructivist and connectivist learning environments, as they help students 'train' information to find them. A student can create a personal learning network by subscribing to content from various sites, thus channeling this information to one easily accessible location.
Social bookmarking leverages Web 2.0 technologies to help individuals organize, manage and find information collaboratively. Rather than create a list of organized bookmarks on a personal computer through desktop web-browsing software, social bookmarking sites allow users to create an account, store, organize, annotate and share their bookmarks by using an online database. The benefit for individual users is that their bookmarks become accessible from any computer with an internet connection.
The 'social' aspect of social bookmarking is very powerful in an educational context. Users can create networks to send and recieve bookmarks from other users. As a tool in a learning environment, this allows students to form research networks, exchange information, subscribe to the instructor's bookmark library, and locate information that has been vetted by a global audience.
Insofar as social bookmarking websites afford collaboration, exchange with an authentic audience, and the active construction and organization of a body of knowledge, they complement a constructivist instructional design model quite well.
Microblogging can be an extremely versatile, convenient and powerful addition to a constructivist instructional design model. These services enable users to collect and post short updates, organized chronologically, to the web. These updates can include text, links, quotes, images or other media.
The most popular microblogging service on the web is Twitter, which limits posts to 140 characters. This encourages brevity, concision and clarity of expression. Users of Twitter can subscribe to others' Twitter feeds, which will be displayed alongside their own in chronological order. They can also interact with other users through direct messages (both public or private), allowing two or more users to have asynchronous conversations, or allowing multiple users to passively follow a conversation between members in their extended network.
Many users are attracted to Twitter because of the relative ease of updates, compared to more cumbersome blog posts that require heavy editing and drafting. Jeffrey Young identifies a number of ways in which Twitter can serve educators and students in constructivist contexts. David Parry has compiled a similar list of potential uses.
Another microblogging service designed with educators in mind is Edmodo. This service allows instructors to manage groups of accounts, to create a secure microblogging network for a class, or even a school. Edmodo has a much more robust feature set, designed specifically to be used in an educational context. For example, it supports the sharing of links, alerts, events, assignments and even files with individual students, an entire class, or just the instructor. Each profile also has a calendar view, where items can be organized by date, and a 'locker' where items are stored until they are organized by the student. In this way, Edmodo's design affords its use as an all-in-one tool for exchanging and interacting with media within the closed environment of a traditional classroom.
Other microblogging services, such as Tumblr or Pownce offer their own take on the basic feature set, with support for posting and sharing multiple types of media, all organized by date posted. Users of these services also have the ability to create both public and private social networks, which can be used as forums for the exchange of media and ideas among students, all under the watchful eye of a facilitating instructor.
Google offers a wide variety of Web 2.0-based services, many of which can directly benefit educators and students working in a constructivist context. The most significant of these offerings is Google Docs, which is Google's subscription-based productivity suite. Just as Microsoft Office provides a word processor (Word), a spreadsheet application (Excel) and a presentation manager (PowerPoint), Google's productivity suite is comprised of Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations.
There are several features of Google Docs (the umbrella term for this software suite) that distinguish it from Microsoft Office:
- The service is free of charge,
- The user accesses the applications themselves through a web-browser.
- Users' files are not stored on the local computer (though a copy can be downloaded if desired), but rather remain hosted on the Google Docs website, allowing users to access their files from any internet-enabled computer.
- Google Docs is designed to be collaborative. Users can invite other Docs users to view and/or edit their documents as collaborators. The software tracks and logs each user's contributions, which can be reviewed later by the instructor.
These affordances in Google Docs' design make it a powerful tool for constructivist learning. Students can work collaboratively with peers, to create products that synthesize the knowledge they have actively created. The instructor can watch students' learning develop, and offer constructive advice and direction along the way. Depending on the way in which Google Docs is integrated into an instructional design model, it can greatly enhance the possibilities for constructivist learning.
Like the page you are currently reading, "a wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis. All wikis share set of key affordances that contribute to their constructivist potential.
A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, video, and documents. It is web based and allows people to login from anywhere in the world and leave comments in several formats. It includes voice, text, audio files, or video. VoiceThreads can even be embedded and/or exported to other locations. It is user friendly and can be applied to many learning environments at any age level. It is an excellent free of charge presentation tool and interactive learning environment.
Concept Map Software
Concept Maps are groups of linked thoughts and ideas that demonstrate connections between ideas. Software tools available for the construction of concept maps allow users to work collaboratively in shared spaces or to work individually as they construct their own learning on a subject area. Often an excellent aid for visual learners these maps are extremely popular for use in the field of education.
Concept Map Software Examples:
CMAP Tools http://cmap.ihmc.us/conceptmap.html
Developed in 1995 at San Diego State University by Bernie Dodge with Tom March, WebQuests allow students to focus on the learning and not the finding of source material. Students, often working in groups, are guided through a series of challenges in order to learn about the WebQuest's topic. Bernie Dodge’s early and oft-quoted definition states, "A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet…" (Dodge, 1995).
Example of WebQuest evaluation site:
Best WebQuests http://bestwebquests.com/
CMAP Tools (concept mapping)
Best WebQuests (WebQuest evaluation site)
- Dodge, B. (1995) Some Thoughts About WebQuests. Retrieved January 22, 2009, from http://webquest.sdsu.edu/about_webquests.html
- Wikipedia, (2008). Jean Piaget. Retrieved March 1, 2008, from WikiPedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Piaget
- Papert, S. (1980) Mindstorms, New York: Basic Books.
- Mungo, R (n/a). The Case for Moodle. Retrieved February 10, 2008, from Robert Mungo Web
- Squeak Image Example taken from http://www.squeakland.org/project.jsp?http://www.squeakland.org/projects/etoys/EtoysSimstories.004.pr