Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is a new flavor of social constructivism coming? (Or is it already here?)

Here's a paper I wrote up last week in one of my GWU courses...

It is useful that this week’s discussions opened with a “nuts and bolts” focus on a taxonomy of educational computing. The taxonomy proposed by Taylor (1980), and expanded upon by Knezek, Rachlin, and Scanell (1988), offers a practical set of “buckets” into which to categorize educational computing solutions: tutor, tool, tutee, and telecommunication. When dealing with a broad array of technological solutions, it is vital to have a simple means of mentally organizing them, so that when it comes time to engage with an institution’s teachers to investigate technology integration options, the tools are readily retrievable.

But beyond the utility of a taxonomy in helping me to organize my “tool box” of technologies, I question its role in shaping my overall philosophy of educational computing. For philosophical questions, I continue to look to “old standards”, such as behavioralism and constructivism, to inform and shape my personal ideologies. At this point in my (relatively new) teaching career, I am most drawn to social-constructivist concepts, and find myself superimposing them upon this semester’s technologically-oriented conversations. However, I begin to question whether some aspects of the 21st century landscape might require an expansion beyond “old school” thinking, leading me to my central question: Will the rapidly-evolving nature of networked computing technology force an evolution and expansion of the educational philosophy of social constructivism?

The two classic pillars of social constructivism are those erected by Piaget and Vygotsky. While both saw a socially-based co-construction of knowledge as being the center-point of the learning process, Piaget favored peer-to-peer learning, whereas Vygotsky thought that the most powerful co-constructions take place when a less-experienced person interacts with a person with greater expertise (Woolfolk, 2008).

From the standpoint of these two classical theorists, it is clear that Internet-based social-networking technologies that have risen to the fore over the last few years offer powerful new platforms for both Piagetian peer-to-peer co-constructive learning and Vygotskyesque neophyte-to-expert co-constructions. As Larry Lessig said in a recent interview (2008), Web 2.0 technologies are making the Internet into an increasingly “read/write” medium, in which learners not only receive information, but they synthesize it, transform it, and then inject new knowledge back into the Internet – social constructivism on steroids.

Against this shifting socio-technological landscape, I hold up my personally synthesized version of Stager’s (2008) triangular paradigm of educational computing, in which I bring Piaget and Vygotsky clearly into the picture, each of them associated with one corner of the triangle. The big question mark for me lies in the third corner of the triangle, the corner associated with the ideas of Alfred Bork, who saw the potential for computers to replace teachers. While the present “read/write” Web 2.0 world (of social-networking sites, blogs, wikis, etc.) seems to be bringing Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s ideas to vivid new life, I intend to keep a lookout for areas in which the computer (or the computer network) itself takes up a more potently central role in the co-construction of knowledge. The network currently plays an obvious supporting role in modern social constructivist processes. Will there be a point in the not-too-distant future when I as a learner will consider my computer itself (or the networks to which it gives me access) to constitute a fully-fledged partner in the co-construction of knowledge, in a peer-to-peer, or even student-teacher relationship? Or has that point already arrived, and I am simply not yet fully aware of it?


Knezek, G. & others (1988, January 1). A Taxonomy for Educational Computing. Educational Technology, 28(3), 15-19.

Lessig L. (2008, November). Interview with Charlie Rose. Retrieved, February 13, 2009 from

Stager, G. (2008). What’s a computer for? It all depends on your educational philosophy. Retrieved February 12, 2009 from

Taylor, R. P. (1980). The computer in the school: Tutor, tool, tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.

Woolfolk, Anita (2008). Educational Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Since I wrote this, a couple of loosely-related postings have come up on the New York Times site...

    Exploring a 'Deep Web':

    An op-ed that discusses development of technology that makes the voice of a computer indiscernible from the voice of a person: