One of the projects I’m working on is the AMORES project, headed by CARNet in Croatia, and funded by the Comenius programme http://www.amores-project.eu/. The aim of the project is “Discovering a love for literature through digital collaboration and creativity” a phrase that took us a long time to develop, but time well-spent as this focuses our attention on the key goals of the project – yes we’re hoping to promote literacy and reading, but the actual aim is generating a love for literature, if literacy improves as a consequence, then great. The means by which we’re hoping to do this is by creating learning activities in which schoolchildren in five different European countries (Denmark, Croatia, Poland, Sweden and the UK) create digital artefacts, mainly videos, and share these with each other.
The first task in the project fell to me, which was to look at the work that had been done in this area before the project started, and also gather together the experience of the contributing practitioners. The report covered the theoretical bases of the work (constructionism, storytelling and experiential learning, looking at previous similar projects) – a key one for us was the Sheherazade project http://www.sheherazade.eu/sites/default/files/deliverable/d3/deliverable3_EN.pdf – and also tried to identify where some of the problematic areas in what we were trying to achieve might lie. The full paper can be read from here http://www.amores-project.eu/results.html (you’ll need to register first, though).
Putting together the report was an interesting process, and it went through many revisions (thanks here should go to the people who read through it, commented and provided additional information – they are Vedrana Vojković Estatiev, Gordana Jugo, Tina Richardson and Geoff Walton). There’s too much in there to cover in a single blog post, so below I’m just going to pick out a few key things.
1) There’s no consensus on what constructivism or constructionism mean.
Moving from the physical sciences to the humanities as academic disciplines over my career hasn’t been that difficult, apart from in one aspect, the ambiguity around terms. In physics, people might disagree about – say – how many dimensions there are, but they use the same terminology to have that argument in. In educational theory constructivism is variously defined as learning by building things, as learning by building knowledge, learning by building on knowledge, and so on. And the word constructionism is often used interchangeably with these. I don’t find this very helpful, so have tried to impose a set of definitions that disambiguate the terms (although looking over my paper now I realise I’ve used constructionism at one point where I meant constructivism, which doesn’t help either).
I’ve picked constructionism as a term to describe what we’re doing, because well Papert. Since he wrote a lot of the early theoretical stuff on this I’ve gone to him. I like his definition of constructionism because it encompasses a lot of the concepts of constructivism, but divides them into two main aspects. I find taxonomies make things easier to get your head around, although there’s a danger in mistaking the map for reality. The two main aspects of making things are that learning happens because of the creation of an artefact (which is some people’s definitions of constructivism) but also the creation of the artefact involves a social collaborative activity (which is defined by some as social constructivism. Therefore by cherry-picking various definitions we can come up with a clearer definition of what we’re doing i.e. constructionism = constructivism + social constructivism. I’ve used the specifics of actually making things as the basis for our terminology because the more general idea that the learner builds up their knowledge through adding ideas together is pretty much captured by the phrase cognitivism. But from now on, can we all agree to pick one word to mean one thing?
2) Constructivism has had an upgrade
I like the idea of making stuff and learning by actually having physical things, because I’ve seen it happen in virtual worlds. OK I’m stretching the meaning of the word “physical” but you know what I mean. By actually coming together to build something that has an external reality people develop a shared understanding of what they’re working on, and see each other’s perspectives. There’s also a whole lot of science about embodied cognition, that holding and shaping things works directly on the brain. That’s what we’re trying to do in AMORES (other reasons below). However, one thing I came across in the reading for this, which I think is worth passing on, is that THE VERSION OF BLOOM’S TAXONOMY YOU ARE USING IS OUT-DATED). Well if you’re using the one I learnt, it’s outdated. There’s one put together by Krathwohl in 2002 which places creating at the top of the hierarchy, i.e. it involves all the other stages to get to it (these are Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analysing, Evaluating by the way). If you find using Bloom’s terms helpful, you might want to read the paper. Andrew Churches in 2008 came up with terms drawn from digital technologies, just to bring them really up to date.
3) Face-to-face co-creation is plentiful, online co-creation is rare
People use a lot of social media, but despite this, they rarely use social media to actually replicate online the social dimension of co-creation that Papert describes. People tend to upload stuff, and go as far as liking or commenting on it, but the incidences of actually sharing and mixing artefacts in an educational context are rare. It’s another part of the myth of the digital native. There’s some interesting studies (Scardamalia, 2004 and Colasante, 2010) using annotation tools to generate “artefact-centred” discussions, but these don’t happen in mainstream education at all. Although we found some great papers on the role of creating artefacts in education (video is very popular, take a look at Allam (2007) for example, I still have boxes of the proceedings in the attic if anyone’s interested). Furthermore, when we looked at the experience of the schools involved, they’ve all got experience of creating videos in the classrooms, but none had really used social media in their education. Indeed, one or two were very reticent about the whole idea, I think a reaction to how it’s been demonised by the educational establishment in their countries. In identifying which areas of the project are at risk, this one stands out – not only is there not a background of online content creation, and the social learning that can triggered by content creation, in the literature as a whole, using social media to support learning is not something the schools really do.
4) Experiential learning and storytelling are very similar
Learning is always more effective when it’s reflected upon. We’ve all seen this (you might know it, but do you know that you know it?) Reflection is also an opportunity for students to learn metacognitive skills (how do you learn what you need to learn). For these reasons scaffolding the creation of artefacts and the social aspects of creation into an experiential learning cycle provides a chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. That would be a given in a set of learning activities. However, reading through the Sheherazade report I came across Dahlsveen’s model of storytelling. I can’t reproduce it here (no rights to it), but you can check it out in the original report. It shows the stages that a story goes through from shared creation, to performance, to reaction to revision. This is (according to Dahlsveen and I’d have to agree from my own experience) is what makes storytelling such an engaging and motivating experience. What struck me is if you take her model and bring it round into a cycle, it looks like Kolb’s learning cycle (which is itself based on Lewin’s idea of an engineering feedback loop). Here’s a picture of Lewin’s experiential learning cycle and Dahlsveen’s storytelling model as a cycle:
So ideally we could scaffold the students’ experience of storytelling so that it could become an experiential learning experience at the same time as being a motivating, engaging and most importantly fun experience for the children. However, if the performance and audience feedback is also going to take place online, then we’re stuck in the same impasse of needing to support the social interactions through social media. It’ll be something to aim for, and exciting to see, but I think this is one area where we will need to place a lot of resources and evaluate what we’re doing very carefully.
Allam, C. (2007) “Using filmmaking to teach students about Shakespeare, urban regeneration and other stuff” in Childs, M., Cuttle, M. and Riley, K. (eds.) DIVERSE Conference Proceedings 2005 & 2006, Glasgow: Glasgow Caledonian University
Churches, A. (2008) Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally, Tech & Learning, 4th Jan, 2008 http://www.techlearning.com/studies-in-ed-tech/0020/blooms-taxonomy-blooms-digitally/44988
Colasante, M. (2010) “Future-focused learning via online anchored discussion, connecting learners with digital artefacts, other learners, and teachers”, Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010, 211 – 221
Krathwohl, D.R. (2002) A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview, Theory into Practice, Volume 41, Number 4, Autumn 2002,
Scardamalia, M. (2004). CSILE/Knowledge Forum®. In Education and technology: An encyclopedia (183-192)
Sheherezade Consortium (2011) Sheherazade, 1001 stories for adult learning Theoretical background for methodology: summary, http://www.sheherazade.eu/sites/default/files/deliverable/d3/deliverable3_EN.pdf