Posts Tagged ‘facilitator’

Giftedness and New Technologies

March 24, 2010

I’m not overly fond of the term ‘gifted’ as a distinct category descriptive of very intelligent people. Since intelligence exists along a scale, and may vary from one domain (or area of endeavour) to another, the point at which a person can be described as ‘gifted’ is to some extent arbitrary. I’m willing to accept the term as a convenient shorthand, however, while wishing to avoid any elitist implications.

I’ve already observed (following something I read a long time ago on a home-schooling website), that it seems absurd to adhere in the 21st century to a pedagogy developed at the birth of universal schooling during the Industrial Revolution. At that time, information was scarce, and school was the place where it was concentrated – in books and in the learning of the teacher. It was very much a transmission mode of learning. With the advent of increasing literacy, disposable income, cheaper books, public libraries, television and, more recently, the Internet, schools no longer have a near-monopoly on information. Arguably, children have access to more information outside the walls of the classroom than within them.

In addition, developmental psychology has increased our understanding of children as learners. The role of the teacher has consequently changed, from a transmitter of information to a facilitator of learning. The focus is now on giving children the tools they need to solve problems (and, ideally, real-world problems), including the framing of questions, the conducting of research, the filtering of information, and the formulation of their findings in multiple formats.

With these points in mind, it was interesting to hear a ‘Meet the Listener’ segment on Radio National’s ‘Life Matters’ program yesterday: Meet the listener: Stella Ward, what can go wrong with gifted children. Not only was this listener’s experience typical of the problems encountered by some gifted people (e.g. social isolation), but her comments about the Internet, which wasn’t even dreamt of during her 1950’s childhood, reveal the possibilities afforded by this medium, particularly for those with an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

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Constructivism

March 14, 2010

Constructivism is an appealing pedagogical theory for a philosopher, and it is noteworthy that its history has been traced back to the Socratic dialogue. I believe that motivation is the single biggest factor in learning, and finding solutions to real-life problems is a significant source of motivation. Through its emphasis on real-life problems, inquiry-based learning, and collaborative work, the constructivist approach is far more likely to engage students, and encourage them to own their learning. The sorts of transferable skills that constructivist methods develop will be more useful to students at higher levels of education and in the workplace.

Having said that, I believe that implementation of a constructivist approach requires good planning and experienced teaching. One of the criticisms of Constructivism is that it neglects traditional skills. I believe it is up to the teacher to ensure that traditional skills are acquired in school, even if a constructivist ethos prevails in the classroom. Students will still be judged by their literacy and/or numeracy skills in the upper levels of education and in the workplace.

Web 2.0 is well suited to a constructivist pedagogy. In fact, it is almost a perfect embodiment of it. Web 1.0 gave people unprecedented access to a staggering amount of information. Web 2.0 allows them to interact with this information in ever more creative ways – linking to it, adding to it, discussing it, and so on. Moreover, it does so in a collaborative way. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of this, with people reading, creating and modifying content in the main article pages, and often hotly debating the content and justifying their editorial choices on the related article talk-pages.

Blogs are another good example of a Web 2.0 technology that embody the constructivist paradigm. In the classroom, blogs can be a way of conveying information, garnering feedback, checking comprehension, encouraging debate, inculcating multiliteracies, and so on. I also believe that students are far more likely to engage with this technology after school hours. If the technology is used wisely, ‘homework’ may lose its dire reputation, and students might look forward to going home to continue projects that were begun during the day.

I see no point in sticking with a pedagogy that was developed during the information-impoverished Industrial Revolution: books were scarce and schools were places where knowledge could be acquired from expert teachers. We live in an era when even children can access vast amounts of information. The role of the teacher must become the constructivist one of mentor and facilitator, ensuring that students acquire the critical skills necessary to negotiate this 21st-century world.