The Accidental Constructivist
In 2006, I was teaching three online course at Red River College for the past three years and was redeveloping the courses when the acting director of Distance Education told me she wanted them redesigned using a Constructivist methodology. I had no idea what she was talking about and, really, she didn’t appear to either. She moved onto another job so nothing ever came of it.
In my past teaching experience, I primarily used Behaviouralism and Cognitivism, since I primarily taught software applications, web design and development, and graphic design. I used some Constructivist techniques when I taught full time to the same group of students using group assignments, critiques and having students propose the direction and form of their assignments. But in hindsight, the students would have benefited from more group work and more collaboration. The assignments would likely have been more creative and the students would have learned more from one another.
Fast forward to 2014, and I found myself employed as the E-Learning Specialist at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights: A digital museum based on the “Museum of Ideas” model and Constructivism: experiential, personal knowledge seeking and meaning making, time for reflection, “situations that involve learners in real problems and encourage learners to refine their understanding and responses (Ertmer & Newby, 2013)“ and “collaborative interactions in meaningful contexts” (Hein, 1991).
In my research while working at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) I came across George E. Hein’s work on the Constructivist museum. Hein’s work heavily influenced my thinking and helped me shape the museum’s online learning and programming strategy and program development. One idea I developed for our national student and professional development programs was to use a blended learning model using a LMS and/or PLE supported by a suite of social media for: pre-visit learning, discussions and activities; to support learning and discussion, and project sharing while visiting the museum; and to provide follow-up discussion and sharing of final projects when learners return to their communities.
Constructivism runs throughout the other disciplines I have worked in: IT and web design and development, especially in regards to open source technologies, where local and international communities communicate, collaborate and share ideas, documentation and code very freely.
Developing Community of Inquiry
While at the museum, I reached out to other museum educators across North America who shared their experiences, ideas, products (i.e. lesson plans, activities, programs) to assist me in developing CMHR’s online learning and programming strategy and who were willing to assist in developing and testing our video conferencing programs. I had created my own Community of Inquiry, without knowing the term, and tapped into an existing one composed of two other Canadian institutions: Royal Tyyrell Museum in Alberta and Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario. They shared technical information on video conferencing equipment and software, tested each other’s technologies and video conferencing programs, collaborated on delivery of joint programs, opened up access to new customer markets (USA and Australia), and shared documentation and research. They were excited to have another Canadian institution to collaborate with.
I recently attended Winnipeg WordPress Camp, a conference for WordPress designers and developers. They also host monthly meetups. I could benefit from great participation in this localized Community of Inquiry and larger online ones. I am more of a visitor than a resident.
My current career does not involve teaching, but I will be facilitating face-to-face training sessions in web and document accessibility to UM staff this winter with two other people as part of UM’s commitment to embracing The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA). We do not know what this will look like exactly yet but it does involve face-to-face training sessions that will be recorded, online training modules and instructional videos. The use of a Web 2.0 tools, such as a wiki and blog would be beneficial for sharing documentation and updates, and Twitter for allowing for community of inquiry.
I have long considered pursuing a Master’s degree in teaching with technology but I have put it off primarily due to work, family, and funds. My children are teens now and I have more time. I took this course because it was offered for free to Extended Education staff due to low enrollments and to get myself back into learning.
However, after over 15 years of teaching and training experience, I have more of an interest in design than in delivery and I have little interest in face-to-face delivery, so I may pursue an MA in Instructional Design instead. I’ve researched ID programs at universities across Canada and have spoken to Iwona about her studies at University of Edinburgh. But I also have an interest in accessibility and may pursue a Master of Design in Inclusive Design at OCADU. I have to decide soon for admission in fall 2017.
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an instructional Design Perspective. Retrieved from: https://www.uwplatt.edu/files/ttc/idarticle.pdf
Hein, G. E. (1991). Constructivist Learning Theory. Retrieved from: http://www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/constructivist-learning