The constructivist revolution in education is a decade or more old. It is an even newer idea to educational technology. It is so new to some educational circles that some perceive it as a fad. We think not. Constructivism is an old idea to sociology, art, and philosophy. As a way of understanding the learning phenomenon, it is ageless. People have always constructed personal and socially acceptable meaning for events and objects in the world. Since evolving from primordial ooze, humans have interacted with the world and struggled to make sense out of what they experienced; this is as natural to humans as breathing. The popular Chinese proverb about forgetting what you tell me and understanding what I do bears witness to the ageless belief that knowledge, meaning, and understanding do not exist outside of meaningful, intentional activity. People naturally construct meaning. Formal educational enterprises that rely on the efficient transmission of prepackaged chunks of information are not natural, yet they are pandemic. The modern age values understanding less than it does progress (i.e., efficient transmission of culturally accepted beliefs). It doesn't have to be that way. Modernism can support meaning-making as well. This book looks at how modern technologies such as computers and video can be used to engage learners in personal and socially co-constructed meaning-making and problem solving.
For many, constructivism represents a new way of conceiving the educational experience. Yet constructivism as a philosophy and as a pedagogy is now widely accepted. This is a time of theoretical foment, where nearly all contemporary theories of learning (constructivism, situated learning, social cognition, activity theory, distributed cognition, ecological psychology, and case-based reasoning) share convergent beliefs about how people naturally come to know (Jonassen & Land, 2000). This book is not about theory, but it shares the beliefs of these theories.
Learning to Solve Problems with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective is about how educators can use technologies to support constructive learning. In the past, technology has largely been used in education to learn from. Technology programs were developed with the belief that they could convey information (and hopefully understanding) more effectively than teachers. But constructivists believe that you cannot convey understandingthat can only be constructed by learners. This book argues that technologies are more effectively used as tools to construct knowledge with. The point is that technology is a tool to think and learn with.
How can technologies be used as meaning-making tools? In this book, after contrasting different conceptions of learning, we elucidate our conception of meaningful learning. Meaningful learning is active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative. How do we engage students in active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative learning activities? By asking them td solve problems. In Chapter 2 we briefly contrast different kinds of problem solving and then describe how technologies can best engage and support problem solving in schools. Technologies can effectively support information searching, modeling, decision making, and designing. Each of these is either a kind of problem solving or an important process in problem solving.
In Chapter 3 we show how learners who articulate a personally meaningful goal or intention can explore the Internet in search of ideas that help them construct their own understanding. Sharing their own understanding by constructing personal and group Web sites completes the knowledge construction cycle.
Another problematic belief of schools is that learning is always an individual endeavor, so schools focus only on assessing the knowledge that resides in individual heads. Learning in everyday and professional (non-school) contexts is rarely individual. Rather, individuals rely on peers to help them accomplish tasks and to learn. Chapter 4 provides many ideas for how the Internet can be used to foster community building within schools, districts, states, countries, and around the world.
Chapter 5 describes numerous activities in which students can use video cameras, editors, and digitizers to represent their ideas. Constructing video presentations requires that learners articulate an idea well enough to represent it through video. In this chapter, video is used not to teach students, but rather as a tool that learners can teach and learn with. Students are natural video producers.
From video, Chapter 6 adds sound, graphics, and multimedia computers as tools that students can use to represent what they know. While producing multimedia programs, students become sensitive to the needs and desires of the audience for whom they are producing. They work harder and use more skills, without complaint, than they ever would with pencil and paper. Multimedia represents a new form of literacy that students will learn only by participating in the production of multimedia.
Chapter 7 is a new chapter that focuses on immersive, exploratory environments. Microworlds enable learners to speculate about phenomena in a simplified representation of the real world, and to test hypotheses. This chapter also briefly introduces virtual realities, which are only beginning to find their way into educational venues. Virtual reality environments hold great promise as the most engaging, authentic, and interactive environments yet. The technology is not yet available to make these environments widely available; that will change soon.
Chapter 8 is also a new chapter that presents a number of environments that are designed to engage problem solvingthe purpose of this book. These environments do not cover the curriculum, but where they are available, they will surely engage learners in meaningful learning.
What you sow, so also must you reap. Translated into educational vernacular, if your goal is constructive learning, and if you engage your students in meaningful constructive activities, then you are obligated to assess constructive learning. This congruence is an underlying assumption of the book. Chapter 9 shows how to develop rubrics that can be used to assess constructive teaming and problem solving.
We have tried to standardize our descriptions of technology-enhanced learning activities in this book. For most learning activities, we first describe the activity and then comment briefly on the learning processes (active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative) engaged by the activity, the problem-solving processes engaged by the activity, and the role of the teacher in supporting the activity. We have tried not to be overly prescriptive. Some teachers have asked for detailed lesson plans for each of the activities. We decided on principle not to provide them, not because we are mean, but because lesson plans would violate the assumptions of the book laid out in Chapter 1. We have tried to describe activities that will allow teachers to engage learners in constructive learning. That kind of learning is unlikely to happen if we tried to script every part of the lesson. Also, lesson plans cannot account for the myriad variables that influence success in your classrooms. We have no idea who you are, what your beliefs are, what kinds of technology and technology support you have available, what your students are like, what values they bring to the classroom, what your colleagues are like, and so on. In order to write meaningful lesson plans, we would have to know all of those things. So you as a teacher must also construct your own understanding of the activities and the roles of technology by experiencing them. Some will likely be the most effective activities that you have ever tried, and others will doubtlessly failthat is the nature of real learning. To learn to integrate technologies more effectively, you must experience successes and failures. You will quickly learn what factors are most important to you in your settings. We certainly wish you the very best of luck.
Bear this in mind as you experience these activities. We live in the information age. In order to function in that world, students must learn how to be information producers, not just consumers. This book provides a new look at how educational technologies can support knowledge construction through production rather than knowledge reproduction. When educational technologies are used as knowledge construction tools, students are naturally and necessarily engaged in meaningful learning, which should be the goal of all educators.