Negotiated Meaning and Constructivism

Johanssen (1992) notes that goals would be “negotiated and not imposed” on the learners in a course, I do not know how this would apply in this situation. The instructor does not use a formative evaluation or survey to my knowledge. The course does not use discussion boards or other tools to ask students what they hope to get from the course to formulate questions. There simply exists a lot of (I might add, very interesting) text for students to read, pictures for students to view (which support the text quite well), and music or sound clips for students to listen to. It ia almost like an experience of the instructor’s life and the great travels the instructor has had. The instructor writes a lot of good information about the different cultures around the world; however, I do not think students really know where to go first, then second. This might suggest that, while somewhat constructivist in it’s appearance, it is more due to poor course design and communication of expectations.

Also, Johanssen (1992) states that task and content analysis focus less on prescribing a single correct answer. “These tools, and the environments containing them, should not only accommodate but also promote multiple interpretations of reality.” In my opinion, discussion boards and essay tests that are typically scored low do not necessarily invite multiple interpretations. This instructor is looking for specific answers to essay questions as opposed to an interpretation of the content (at least in my mind). This might also suggest that the course is not necessarily constructivist in design nor in assessment practice, but appears that way due to the information rich environment.

In his third example, Johanssen (1992) asserts that a constructivist approach with instructional technology, “Rather than presenting instructional treatments, designers would provide generative, mental construction “tool kits” embedded in relevant learning environments that facilitate knowledge construction by learners.” I assume mental tool kits might be a summary of key ideas our instructor is trying to convey with his text, images, sounds, and videos that learners can use as a basis while they are reading. I suppose the announcements serve this purpose to some degree, as do discussion posts and the summative essay questions.

In his final example, Johanssen (1992) is arguing for a less goal oriented assessment and utilization of practices that value a wider variety of responses. Due to low test scores, it appears that this too is not what this instructor is attempting to do. Based on these examples, perhaps Johanssen’s suggestions on what a more constructivist approach might look like does not seem to apply in this particular course. The instructor has stringent requirements on assessments, but provides little or minimal guidance for students (one of the factors asserted by Kirschner, Sweller, Clark (2006) that are typical of constructivist approaches).

Thank you Dr. Ching for helping me think this through a bit more and come up with a more reasonable explanation for the low success rates. Perhaps the low success rates have more to do with instrutional strategies (scaffolding or study guides), poor course design, poor communication, and cognitive overload as opposed to labeling it a constructivist environment. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might approach and encourage this instructor to make some changes to the course? We are dealing with a very old school instructor that has a hard time even developing a Powerpoint without someone holding the hand!

Jonassen, D. (1992). Objectivism versus constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical paradigm? ETR&D, Vol. 39, No.3, pp.5-14.
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based experiential and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

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