A brief look at Social Constructivism

One of the key theories that will inform this project is the sociological theory of Social Constructivism. I have outlined some of my findings thus far and how they relate to my area of investigation.

A key text that I have read on this subject over the winter break is –

PRITCHARD, Alan (Alan M.) and John. WOOLLARD. 2010. Psychology for the Classroom Constructivism and Social Learning Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ;: Routledge.

In this book Pritchard and Woollard describe how a social constructivist classroom operates:

This theory of learning fits brilliantly with what I hope to achieve in this project. Social constructivism is a useful vehicle through with complicated interdisciplinary problems can be understood, debated and solved.

This way of approaching teaching through active engagement and critical thinking pairs almost exactly with a lot of the original ideas I was throwing around with the Mindhive project in GDE730. Much of the ‘teaching’ element of that project was based around group project work – what I’ve now discovered to actually be called IPjBL (Interdisciplinary project based learning).

Brassler, M. , & Dettmers, J. (2017). How to Enhance Interdisciplinary Competence—Interdisciplinary Problem-Based Learning versus Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 11(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.7771/1541-5015.1686

There is a lot that I have taken away from my initial look at these areas. The sources that I have engaged with so far have opened up a number of further avenues of research that I would like to continue down.

What is Constructivism?

Funnily enough, constructivism is a theory that I am reasonably familiar with in the context of Fine Art. I was first introduced to it through the works of Russian artists like Naum Gabo. Gabo was a great sculptor that I’ve loved for a long time and who engaged in constructivist thought throughout his career.

Naum Gabo (1890-1977) Construction in Space with Balance on Two Points Perspex Height: 11 3/8 in. (29.1 cm.) Length: 13 ¼ in. (33.7 cm.) Executed in 1936-1946

The underlying theory of constructivism is based on the presumption that all knowledge of the world is essentially a construction inside of our minds; a reaction to external stimuli that is made meaningful through the ways our brain interprets it. This theory describes how though our shared sensory experience may be similar, the way that we construct our understanding of it within ourselves is as much a product of brain chemistry and our past experiences as it is to do with the stimuli itself.

When we expand these theories out to the classroom setting they become a useful lens through which to understand the complexities inherent to learning spaces. My hope is that by utilising social constructivist learning theories and teaching strategies I might better create learning environments that accommodate a complex array of variable perspectives as might be expected when working with interdisciplinary teams.

Some key terms:

Social interaction and social learning are integral parts of interdisciplinarity and are the focus of social constructivism.
I plan to look deeper into the work of Piaget, Bruner and Bandura. I have already started to look at Vygotsky.

Pedagogy / Andragogy

I had not encountered the term Andragogy before, only Pedagogy. Of course the above distinction makes sense, especially when applied to Vygotsky’s theories such as ZPD (Zone of proximal development). It is going to be important to consider the differences between andragogical and pedagogical teaching methods throughout this project.

To summarise

Though this is a very brief look at the theory of social constructivism, from what I have read so far the characteristics of the social constructivist classroom appear to support the aims and objectives of my project very well, namely the creation of a course dedicated to teaching IC (interdisciplinary competence). Social learning is key to developing IC and some of the most effective known techniques that have been used in the pursuit of interdisciplinary learning have utilised it. I hope to do so too through the output that I generate in this project.

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