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Constructivism in Education  

Charlene Tan and Connie S.L. Ng

In light of the broad, multidimensional, and contestable nature of constructivism, a central debate concerns the object of construction. What do we mean when we say that a learner is constructing something? Three general categories, with overlaps in between, are: the construction of meaning, the construction of knowledge, and the construction of knowledge claims. To construct meaning is to make sense of something by understanding both its parts and overall message. To construct knowledge is to obtain what philosophers traditionally call “justified true belief.” There are three conditions in this formulation of knowledge: belief, truth, and justification. Beliefs are intentional, meaningful, and representational, directing a person to attain truth and avoid error with respect to the very thing that person accepts. As for the notions of truth and justification, there are three major theories of truth, namely the correspondence theory, coherence theory, and pragmatic theory; and seven main types of justification, namely perception, reason, memory, testimony, faith, introspection, and intuition. Finally, to construct a knowledge claim is to indicate that one thinks that one knows something. The crucial difference between knowledge and a knowledge claim is that the latter has not acquired the status of knowledge. There are two main implications for teaching and learning that arise from an epistemological exploration of the concept of constructivism: First, educators need to be clear about what they want their students to construct, and how the latter should go about doing it. Informed by learner profiles and other contingent factors, educators should encourage their students to construct meanings, knowledge, and knowledge claims, individually and collaboratively, throughout their schooling years. Second, educators need to guard against some common misconceptions on constructivism in the schooling context. Constructivism, contrary to popular belief, is compatible with direct instruction, teacher guidance, structured learning, content learning, traditional assessment, and standardized testing. In sum, there are no pedagogical approaches and assessment modes that are necessarily constructivist or anticonstructivist. A variety of teaching methods, resources, and learning environments should therefore be employed to support students in their constructing process.


Authenticity in Education  

Lauren Bialystok

Authenticity is a concept with an impressive history in Western philosophy and a significant hold on the modern imagination. Inseparable from conceptions of truth and individual fulfillment, authenticity remains a powerful ideal, even as it eludes precise definition. Recently it has also become an organizing principle for many educational initiatives. Education, like authenticity, is opposed to dissimulation, ignorance, manipulation, and related states of misalignment between truth and experience. There is widespread enthusiasm for the promotion of authenticity across different types of education and in the personal identity of educators and students. Most of the scholarly literature pertaining to authenticity in education falls outside the scope of philosophical inquiry. But in all cases, the pursuit of authenticity in education rests on various philosophical assumptions about the nature of truth, reality, ethics, and, ultimately, the aims of education. With the influence of Dewey and 20th-century progressive movements in education, authenticity entered the vernacular of educational theory and practice. Attention to the relationship between learning environments and the “real” world has generated pervasive commitments to authentic learning, authentic pedagogies, authentic curriculum, and authentic assessment practices. Here, “authenticity” is used to track the verisimilitude of an educational practice with respect to some external reality. It constitutes an ontological claim about levels of “reality,” as well as an epistemological attitude toward learning as the construction of knowledge. In this respect, authenticity intersects debates about constructivism and relativism in education. Likewise, teachers are exhorted to be authentic qua teachers, elevating their true selves above institutional anonymity as a key part of effective teaching. This phenomenon trades on the values of truthfulness and autonomy that are prized in Western modernity but also problematized in the personal identity and ethics literature. The authenticity of students has also been championed as an educational aim, even as the methods for eliciting authenticity in others have been criticized as self-defeating or culturally limiting. Personal authenticity stands in a contested relationship to autonomy, which has been promoted as the key aim of liberal education. The project of creating authentic people through education remains an intense site of research and debate, with important implications for educational ethics and liberal values.


Understanding Adult Pedagogy and Technology Use  

Mary Dereshiwsky

Theories exist in number that concern how adults learn. Despite surface differences, these theories also contain common themes relevant to adult learning. They include self-direction, problem- or need-based motivation to learn, the ability to anchor past experiences to make meaning from current learning, and the skills to self-assess one’s learning experience. Given the prevalence of technology in virtually all areas of personal and professional life, a solid understanding of how to use technology effectively is essential for 21st-century adults. At the same time, these adults are often hampered by anxiety and past negative experiences related to technology use, especially in the learning process itself. How can instructors leverage the best practices of adult learning theory to create meaningful learning experiences for adult learners? In order to address this question, it is important to understand the unique characteristics of adult learners as a first step. Instructors should also self-reflect and consider how their own attitudes and experiences can shape how they use technology with adult learners. With learning theories in mind, designing meaningful learning experiences with technology for adult learners can optimize learning experiences.


Museum Education and the Epistemological Turn  

Irene Pérez López

Education has been part of museum identity since its inception. However, in the second half of the 20th century, the educational role gradually became the main goal: the museum has become a social institution whose educational nature legitimizes its social relevance and secures its survival in the 21st century. The spread of education to all areas of the museum, commonly called the “educational turn,” is the reason behind the conceptual change that is taking place in the postmodern museum, which has its origin in educational theory. In the last decades of the 20th century, the concept of learning as the transmission of information from an informed source to a passive receiver was replaced by the constructivist notion that learning is an active process dependent on the learner’s previous knowledge and experiences. At about the same time, critical pedagogy—as critical museology—brought a critical attitude within the museum, directed to identify structures of power and authority in order to give voice to traditionally excluded communities, and postmodernism added the idea of knowledge as something unstable and skepticism about the Western metanarratives of modernity. Constructivism, critical pedagogy, and postmodern theory contributed to the epistemological turn that the 21st-century museum faces. The change in learning theories and communication models in the postmodern museum, as a result of the epistemological turn, threatens the role of the institution as the only interpretive authority, by turning its message—previously considered a universal truth—into a point of view. The museum faces the challenge of becoming a meaning-making scenario where visitors can make connections and design their own learning experiences. The museum of the 21st century has forged a more egalitarian relationship with society.


A Re-Examination of Key Curriculum Debates and Directions in South Africa  

Crain Soudien and Linda Chisholm

The key issue with which the South African debate around curriculum reform has been concerned, as has been the case in many countries around the world, is what should be at its core. There is agreement in this debate that the curriculum should deal with South Africa’s apartheid legacy of exclusion and that it should prepare young people for the complexity of living in a new modern world order. There is little agreement, however, about what counts as valuable knowledge for meeting these purposes. In the process, as the new curriculum has been developed and revised, multiple schools of thought have emerged. Two, however, have taken clear form: social realism and social constructivism. The former took issue with what they described as post-modern relativism in the new curriculum. The target of their critique was the lost opportunity to affirm the importance of what they called “powerful knowledge.” The new curriculum manifested a susceptibility, in its weak delineation of the boundaries of different disciplines, to the prominence of everyday knowledge. What children needed to learn was powerful knowledge that contained understandings of the deep grammars, restricted codes, and specialist areas of knowledge. In response, constructivists argued, through concepts such as “funds of knowledge,” that South African children inhabited a world of multiple knowledges and that it was important that they were able to valorize the legitimacy of these knowledges, including indigenous forms, in their formal learning experiences. The debate is ongoing and reaches into the heart of policymaking in South Africa.


Documentary Filmmaking as Curriculum Inquiry and Film as a Means to Broaden Portrayal of Curricular Phenomena  

Daniel Chapman

There are three areas where the Documentary Studies’ and Curriculum Studies’ literature overlap. Firstly, both literatures concern themselves with the social construction of reality in opposition to scientism and objective truth. Secondly, both literatures speak to the ethical implications of representing other people, particularly when the one doing the representing has more social capital than the represented. Lastly, both traditions speak to how the authors should account for their own biases. A case is made for Curriculum Studies scholars to use documentary filmmaking, in addition to writing, as a means for communicating the ideas, commitments, and critiques that Curriculum Studies offers.


Cognitive Early Education  

H. Carl Haywood

Cognitive early education, for children between ages 3 and 6 years, is designed to help learners develop and apply logic tools of systematic thinking, perceiving, learning, and problem-solving, usually as supplements to the content-oriented preschool and kindergarten curricula. Key concepts in cognitive early education include metacognition, executive functions, motivation, cognition, and learning. Most programs of cognitive early education are based on conceptions of cognitive development attributed to Jean Piaget, Lev S. Vygotsky, A. R. Luria, and Reuven Feuerstein. Piagetians and neoPiagetians hold that children must construct their personal repertoire of basic thinking processes on the basis of their early experience at gathering, assimilating, and reconciling knowledge. Vygotskians and neoVygotskians believe that cognitive development comes about through adults’ mediation of basic learning tools, which children internalize and apply. Adherents to Feuerstein’s concepts likewise accord a prominent role to mediated learning experiences. Followers of Luria believe that important styles of information processing underlie learning processes. Most programs emphasize, to varying degrees, habits of metacognition, that is, thinking about one’s own thinking as well as selecting and applying learning and problem-solving strategies. An important subset of metacognition is development and application of executive functions: self-regulation, management of one’s intellectual resources. Helping children to develop the motivation to learn and to derive satisfaction from information processing and learning is an important aspect of cognitive early education. Widely used programs of cognitive early education include Tools of the Mind, Bright Start, FIE-Basic, Des Procedures aux Concepts (DPC), PREP/COGENT, and Systematic Concept Teaching.


Comparative Case Study Methodology and Teacher Education  

Meera Pathmarajah

Case study researchers have traditionally focused on micro-level analysis of a “bounded” case, yet this approach has come under methodological scrutiny in a world where phenomena are rarely isolated from globalization’s expansive reach. Social science and policy-oriented research in particular are nearly always subject to local and global histories as well as socio-cultural, political, and economic trends. Furthermore, the experience of individuals, organizations, and institutions are often tangled in interconnected webs of influence, such that a case study that does not trace these underlying relationships is likely to be analyzing only the tip of a phenomenological iceberg. Hence critical scholars call for the need to repurpose traditional case study research methods to embrace shifting contextual factors that surround a research project at multiple levels. Comparative case study methods answer this call by making socio-cultural and political analysis an explicit part of the research process. They expand the researcher’s methodological lens by advancing the analysis of processes across three axes: the horizontal (through distinct research sites), the vertical (through scales; e.g., local vs national) and the transversal (over time; e.g., historically). The methodology is particularly useful for social science research and policy studies, where complex interactions between actors and institutions are tied to socio-cultural, political, and economic contexts. Teacher education research is an area where comparative case studies can potentially contribute to policy formulation. Using the example of case study research on teacher education in India, the comparative case study methodology is shown to be an effective research tool. Through insights into the socio-cultural and political context surrounding pedagogical reform, case study research can generate corrective measures to improve policy effectiveness.