Sertel ALTUN, F. ‹lke BÜYÜKDUMAN
The main purpose of this research is to evaluate the effects of a constructivist ins-tructional design on a group of students and their teacher. The sample consisted of 26 students and one teacher. The research was conducted at Istanbul Technical University, School of Foreign Languages, English Preparatory Program. The ins-tructional design based on the constructivist learning principles that is developed by the teachers together with the class teacher was applied to the sample group. The data were gathered using quantitative data collection techniques, analyzed and in-terpreted. The findings emphasize that, in general, constructivist instructional de-sign has a positive effect both on the students and the teacher. On the other hand, because most schools in Turkey have an exam-oriented system, constructivist ins
tructional design does not appeal to some students.
Constructivism, Instructional Design, TEFL, Teacher Training, Higher Education.
© 2007 E¤itim Dan›ﬂmanl›¤› ve Araﬂt›rmalar› ‹letiﬂim Hizmetleri Tic. Ltd. ﬁti.
* Correspondence: Asist. Prof. Dr. Sertel ALTUN Y›ld›z Technical University, Faculty of Education, Davutpaﬂa Kampüsü, Davutpaﬂa 34210, ‹stanbul_ Turkey. E_mail: email@example.com
**Dr. Lecturer, ‹stanbul Technical University, School of Foreign Language.
Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 7 (1) • January 2007 • 30-39
Constructivist learning theory is based on Piaget`s developmental learning theory and Vygotsky`s socio-cultural learning theory. Ac-cording to constructivism, knowledge is actively constructed in the brain not only by means of physical growth and development, but also of social interaction.
Constructivists believe that learners construct their own reality or interpret it based on their perceptions or experiences. Therefore, individual knowledge is a function of one’s prior experiences and beliefs that one uses to interpret the events. According to Naylor (1999), Tsai (2000) and Fox (2001),
• Knowledge is constructed from experience,
• Learning is a personal interpretation of the world and an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis of experience,
• Conceptual growth comes from the negotiation of meaning, the sharing of multiple perspectives and the changing of our internal representations through collaborative learning.
To design an instruction from a constructivist approach requires that the designer produces a product that is much more facilitative in nature than prescriptive. The content is not pre-specified and the direction of the instruction is determined by the learner. As-sessment is much more subjective because it does not depend on specific quantitative criteria. Rather than that, it depends on the process and self-evaluation of the learner. The standard paper-pen-cil tests should be avoided in constructivist instructional design.
Instead, evaluation is based on drafts, learning journals, notes, port-folios, and rubrics.
In Turkey, the learning atmosphere is usually teacher-oriented and follows a traditional route, where learners are usually passive recei-vers of knowledge and the teacher is the purveyor of it. In contrast to this view, constructivist instructional design involves purposeful knowledge construction, multiple representations of reality, and ca-se-based learning environments rather than pre-determined ins-tructional sequences and social negotiation. The above mentioned constructivist learning principles encourage learners not to memo-rize but to internalize knowledge on their own. Therefore, as an al-ternative to traditional learning, constructivist learning has to be fostered in the education system. For this reason, the purpose of
this research is to evaluate the effects of a constructivist instructio-nal design on students and their teacher. For this purpose, the re-searchers seek answers to the questions below:
1. What are the opinions of students regarding the constructivist instructional design?
2. What is the opinion of the teacher regarding the constructivist instructional design?
The subjects of this research comprised of 26 students and their te-acher at ITU School of Foreign Languages, English Preparatory Program.
1. The development of constructivist instructional design
According to constructivist instructional design principles, indivi-dual learners are expected to construct the knowledge in their minds on their own. Therefore, the outcomes of the instruction are bound to be different for each individual learner. In other words, constructivist instructional design allows each learner to determine his or her learning goals by taking individual differences into consi-deration. After a need analysis, it was decided that the skills stu-dents needed in order to comprehend the reading text were found to be vocabulary knowledge, word order, using verb tenses effecti-vely, and the knowledge of transition words.
The class teacher has been teaching this class since the beginning of the academic year, so she knew the weaknesses and strengths of her students as well as what they needed. Prior to the application of the instructional design, an interview was conducted with the teac-her and a usual reading class was observed in order to view how the reading strategies are given to learners and the areas where students are lacking knowledge. Accordingly, it is understood that eight dents are in need of vocabulary knowledge completion. These stu-dents were directed to remedial classes.
2. Content selection
Constructivist instruction does not involve the application of
pres-cribed goals. On the contrary, because each learner is expected to construct his/her knowledge in their own mental process, he or she is left alone to have his or her own learning goals. However, since it is suitable to have a set content in this design, a reading text from the course book that has been used since the beginning of the se-mester was selected as the content of the design. The topic of the text is “Astronauts” which is appealing to students’ interests.
3. Planning the instructional design implementation
Prior to the implementation of the instructional design, the teacher was given three seminars, each lasting about an hour. In these se-minars the teacher was instructed in terms of constructivist instruc-tion principles, the role of the teacher and learner, material usage, asking questions, and cooperative-collaborative teaching techniqu-es. At the end of the first session, the teacher was requested to co-ver some materials on constructivist instructional design. At the se-cond session, the teacher asked some questions related to materials to clarify how she should apply it. At the last session, the researc-hers and the teacher went over the principles of constructivist ins-tructional design, asking and answering questions.
The second stage of the design was the implementation, which to-ok three class hours (50 minutes x 3). Each class hour was observed by both of the researchers by means of unstructured, participatory observation technique. At the completion of the implementation, the students were interviewed by the researchers to gather data about how they view the constructivist instruction. All interviews were taped and afterwards the scripts were analyzed thematically.
Results and Discussion
The findings obtained by observation analyses could be interpreted as follows: the students have a positive attitude towards the proce-dure. Student comments emphasize the usefulness of constructivist instructional design. It can be stated that during group work activi-ties, students were active all along the class hour, they acquired the-ir own learning, and that’s why they had the opportunity to concen-trate on the class and produce new knowledge. The students have voiced that during the implementation of the design, they actively participated in group work, and as a result of their interaction with
their classmates, they kept the statements and examples of their fri-ends more in their mind and they learnt the words more perma-nently.
The effects of constructivist instructional environment have been a widely studied area by many researchers. Brown (1996) supported the finding that constructivist instructional environment helps stu-dents gain the habit of working collaboratively and makes it easier to concentrate on the subject area. For Demirel et al. (Cited by Er-dem, 2001), constructivist instructional environment is an instruc-tional environment in which students enjoy group work, gain res-ponsibility, share ideas, do exercises on the subject and participate in the class actively. Kim, Fisher and Fraser (1999) proved that the students of constructivist instructional environment gain more po-sitive attitude towards learning as they share their experiences with their friends and teachers and as they experience increasing discus-sions and questioning in the classroom environment. By the fin-dings of ﬁahin’s study (2001), it could be said that constructivist ins-tructional design is more effective than the traditional design. Anot-her study (Wolf, 1994) proved that high school students experience meaningful learning by constructivist design. It has been observed by Caprio (Cited by Hanley, 2000) that by constructivist design, university students participate in the class with pleasure, take mo-re mo-responsibility of their own learning, and trust themselves momo-re.
In another study (Tezci and Gürol, 2002) an experiment has been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of constructivist design in terms of creativity by comparing it with teacher-centered instructi-on. As a result of the research, comparisons have pointed out an evi-dent difference positively on the experiment group.
Depending on the negative comments, it has been seen that stu-dents focus on the idea that within the present exam-centered sys-tem that kind of procedure will not be useful. According to Brown (1996), who has a supportive study of this finding, instructional de-sign should be approached as a whole. Because any change made in any component of the design will affect the other components equ-ally, the change should be done in all components. Evaluation tech-niques of the traditional instruction are replaced by process evalu-ation in constructivist design, that’s why a traditional paper-pen exam contradicts with all the bases of constructivism. A similar
con-tradiction also took place during the process of this research. In ot-her words, the students that participated in this study continued ha-ving their traditional exams. It is believed that this exam-orientati-on may have caused the students to evaluate the cexam-orientati-onstructivist ins-tructional design as “time-consuming”, “boring”, “unnecessary”, and “irrational” because they had to overcome traditional exams af-ter having their instruction in an “untraditional” way. It is also ar-gued that if the present system were transformed into process eva-luation, in line with the constructivist design, these comments co-uld have been replaced with more positive ones. However, this is-sue could be researched further in another study.
Some students have defined the constructivist instructional design as a “waste of time”. They have reasoned their definition by stating that they are preparing for the proficiency exam and since they will be dismissed from school if they cannot be successful in the exam, constructivist classes waste their precious time. In addition, they are accustomed to teacher-centered instruction. In a study by May-pole and Davies (2001), three of the university students who parti-cipated in a qualitative study held in an ordinary classroom environ-ment stated that they appreciated certain aspects of the class but emphasized that constructivism is difficult as it requires too much work. Those students liked the traditional method as it was easier to handle in terms of both learning and teaching. On the other hand, it is interesting that other students expressed that they had learnt a lot more in an enjoyable classroom environment and been more successful in fulfilling their duties independently.
The teacher view, in general, related to constructivist instructional design, is positive. It is also interesting that ‘the teacher’s beliefs about her students’ have increased. From that viewpoint, it could be inferred that students can not express themselves in a traditio-nal student-centered class as well as they do in a constructivist class. Surely, the teacher’s personality, her epistemological percep-tions and her belief on the instruction affects the quality of the class. In a research (Cited in Howard, 2000), 41 graduate teachers were introduced with constructivist instruction. The findings have shown that after a four-week instruction period, the teachers chan-ged their objectivist knowledge philosophy into constructivism.
It is positive that the teacher, depending on the design principles,
doesn’t have the role of directing the procedure. She guides the students to find the correct answer while the students were discus-sing collaboratively and she helps them find the clues and key words from the text. That could be interpreted as helping the stu-dents reach the correct answers faster, which causes an effective le-arning. It could be said that this finding is in line with the research findings of Simon and Schifter (1993). Their research found that in the activities applied to primary school students, students showed a positive attitude towards mathematics after the teacher implemen-ted constructivist teaching principles. Furthermore, it has been de-termined in other research (Geraldo, Zelia, & Watts, 1999; Howard, 2000; Powell, 1996; Steele & Widman, 1997) that in constructivist design, the teacher’s qualifications have a great deal of importance and the teacher should be away from the role of a traditional all-knowing position. In the constructivist design, the teacher should act as a guide and facilitator for students to structure the knowled-ge. On the other hand, it is not surprising that the teacher finds the design difficult. The teacher also talks about the reason of the dif-ficulty. The constructivist instruction is not a suitable model to me-asure the knowledge by the traditional pen-paper exams; because it is the process the design deals with, not the product. As a result, if the problem that the system being exam-oriented is solved, it can be said that constructivist design could be implemented more ef-fectively. The results of the research could be beneficial if teachers are given in-service training so as to use the constructivist instruc-tional design effectively. On the other hand, depending on the fin-dings of the research, it is believed that constructivism could be used either as a syllabus design or an instruction design because it helps the students to work collaboratively and to produce new knowledge.
The suggestions depending on the results of this research could be summarized as follows: By applying the constructivist ins-tructional design in different classes and different groups, student comments could be analyzed, compared, and tested whether they are consistent with each other. Moreover, new research should be conducted at least for one semester, but not restricted to three ho-urs as it has been done in this research. Since constructivist instruc-tional design is based on the principle of relating the new
knowled-ge with the old one and requires higher level thinking skill, it could be inferred that the procedure applied on tertiary level has been ef-fective both on the teacher and on most of the students. However, that doesn’t mean that constructivist instructional design is not ap-propriate for other levels of education. On the contrary, the more quickly the instruction starts, the more quickly one starts construc-ting knowledge in his mind and this will enable him/her to manage his/her mental activities effectively and construct his/her own lear-ning strategy in the following years. As constructivism is not a well known system in primary and secondary education levels in Tur-key, it could be said that at tertiary level, it is an easier instruction design to apply. On the other hand, it should not be ignored that as the constructivist instructional design requires more time, it may cause some students to have some problems in our country where exam-centered system is common.
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