The Constructivism-Computer Connection

IN 1999 Professor Hank Becker of the University of California at Irvine began publishing the results of his 1998 Teaching, Learning and Computing Study. TLC 1998 was one of the first major national research studies to examine teachers and students who use Internet computers on a regular basis. Becker and his colleagues looked at schools with high technology use - in other words, schools where teachers and students had easy access to Internet computers.

One thing they discovered is that constructivist teachers were more likely to have students use Internet computers than traditional teachers. Those teachers who were more comfortable with constructivist teaching style were much more likely to have students use computers. Constructivist English and social studies teachers turned out to be most likely to use computers. In contrast, those teachers who were much more traditional, who preferred to stand in front of the classroom and give a lecture and who didn't encourage their students to be creative thinkers were much less likely to have their students use Internet computers. Says Becker:

This [computer/constructivist] relationship is perhaps due to the fact that technology provides students with almost unlimited access to information that they need in order to do research and test their ideas. It facilitates communication, allowing students to present their beliefs and products to broader audiences and also exposes them to the opinions of a more diverse group of people in the real world beyond the classroom, school and local community - all conditions optimal for constructivist learning.
Another interesting find in the TLC study has been the relationship between constructivist practice and professional development. As Hank Becker and Margaret Riel write in their third TLC snapshot, Teacher Role Orientation: Classroom Focus Collaborative Professional Practice:

Teachers' instructional styles mirror their own interaction patterns.... Teachers who learn from their peers, lead their peers, and present their ideas and opinions to their peers are more likely to have their students do the same in the classroom. They conduct their classes in a manner similar to the way they conduct their professional activities.

What might this tell us about teachers? If you're uncomfortable with sharing your thoughts or interacting with your colleagues in a constructivist, you may be just as uncomfortable using constructivism with your students. If teachers want to make the best use of the Internet - utilize its interactivity, collaboration opportunities, creative opportunities - the teachers themselves must be open to interactivity, collaboration and creativity. And unless we're able to get teachers so they're comfortable with these constructivist concepts, chances are they won't be comfortable having their students do these things either.

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