Dr. Bridgette Chandler and I will be presenting this week at the Centers for Scholastic Inquiry Fall 2015 Conference in Charleston, SC.
Abstract: Research on constructivist, learner-centered teaching indicates that it helps students learn more and understand better (Felder & Brent, 1996). Furthermore, students learn more when collaborating and exploring with other students (Vygotsky, 1978). Teaching is not something that can only be done by a professor. Students need to be involved and participate in the process. Constructivist activities should promote multiple perspectives, knowledge construction and collaboration, problem solving, and exploration (Murphy, 1997).
Additionally, in a constructivist model, learner-centered course, participants develop skills that can be used in current or future careers. Prospective employers prefer people who know how to take responsibility for their learning (The Conference Board, 2013) and have identified a list of skills that are essential for success as citizens and workers in the 21st century (Partnership for 21st Century skills, 2013)
The "Are they really ready to work report" results suggest that graduates of all levels are lacking in professionalism, teamwork and communication skills, and other 21st century skills as well. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified a list of skills critical for today's graduates. In addition to mastery of content, this list includes lifelong skills that must be practiced and refined while learning content.
To reinforce these necessary lifelong skills, it is essential that course designers construct online classrooms that foster inquiry and higher order thinking. Although it may appear easier to use a constructivist model in a traditional land-based classroom, it is also possible to implement such a model into a virtual classroom as well.
Recommendations for implementing begin with course design - whereby content is chunked into inquiry-based lessons delivered using the PAR model of learning (Petty, 2009). New material is "presented" with adequate detail to intrigue without exhausting the topic, followed by questions for students to answer. Assignments require "application" of content and presentation of findings via a variety of digital tools. A teacher-led "review" includes summary and clarification of key points.
The second recommendation is to create an environment that fosters communication and collaboration; both require that positive, trusting relationships be built. There are a variety of asynchronous and synchronous communication strategies that help achieve this goal. Last but not least, to build a productive, energetic and enthusiastic learning community the instructor must also use a variety of strategies to set the tone for interaction.