Constructivism and the Student-Centered Approach
"When you make the finding yourself
even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light you’ll
never forget it."
The terms "guide on the side" and "sage on the stage"
describe two distinct educational models.
|Guide on the Side
|Sage on the Stage
The "guide on the side" describes the student-centered approach
where the teachers role is like a coach who facilitates the
The coach may transfer knowledge to players regarding techniques
and strategies, but the players are expected to develop those skills
through practice and experience. The same is true for the student-centered
The "sage on the stage" refers to the traditional
teacher-centered approach. In a teacher-centered course, the teachers
expertise is the center of the course. The students role is
to assimilate the knowledge by listening, watching, reading, and
Evaluation in a teacher-centered course is centered
on the students ability to remember key concepts, often via
multiple choice, true/false quizzes, and tests.
It is helpful to look critically at both teacher-centered and student-centered
courses to see which technique might be worth adapting and which may not
work for your course.
Student-centered courses focus on the learner rather than the teacher.
Student-centered teaching is based on the constructivist model in which
students construct rather than receive or assimilate knowledge.
In "The Virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits Via Computer
Networks," Roxanne Star Hiltz describes the student-centered constructivist
model of teaching:
"Constructivist learning models require active input from students
and requires intellectual effort and aids retention. The role of the
teacher in student-centered learning is to facilitate the students'
learning by providing a framework (i.e. activities for students to complete)
that facilitates their learning. For example, the teacher posts activities
or questions that students complete. Projects include: writing papers,
essays, and reports, publishing Web pages, conducting research, answering
open-ended questions, creating artwork, and organizing events."
Constructivists believe that for higher levels of cognition to occur,
students must build their own knowledge through activities that engage
them in active learning. Effective learning happens when students take
stock of what they already know and then move beyond it.
Key Concepts in Constructivism
- People create mental schemas or scaffolding on which to store
and recall the information.
- The broader a student's schema, the more that student is able
- Multiple types of experience and data relating to a subject
creates a strong foundation and multiple levels of information
can be easily added.
In most cases, if students have actually constructed their own framework
or schema by experimenting, they are more likely to retain the facts learned
Example: Eleven facts about a banana
Category = Fruit
| Type of fruit=Tropical
Skin = Thick and peeled from top down when
- Green = Not ripe
- Yellow = Ripe
- Black = Over ripe
- Not yet ripe = Starchy and bitter
- Ripe = Sweet
- Over ripe = Sweet and fermented
- Not yet ripe = Hard and starchy
- Ripe = Slightly firm easy to slice, break or mash
If we had never seen or tasted a banana we may have a hard time understanding,
remembering, or caring about these banana facts. After one bite of ripe,
unripe, or overripe bananas, the student will recall these eleven facts
and more, probably for a lifetime.
So, once we have constructed our own knowledge about something, we create
a schema or scaffolding on which to place the new information. By tasting
the banana we are able to assimilate more information about it. For example,
once you have tasted the banana you can understand and remember more information
about it, via teacher-centered techniques like lectures, text, videos,
graphics, etc. By tasting the banana and experiencing it firsthand you
create a schema that helps you store and recall a large amount of new
data relating to the banana. Cognitive psychologists believe that the
more solid and diverse schemas a person has, the easier it is to process
and assimilate new ideas, concepts, and facts.
A constructivist teacher will begin a lesson by asking students to recall
what they already know about the subject. Then they will involve students
in an activity that will take them beyond what they currently know. The
student must actively engage in the learning process by doing something.
Constructivist activities include:
- summarizing and reading
- conducting research and analysis
- articulating (writing, drawing)
In order to carry out these learning projects, students often need preparation
and guidance. This preparation and guidance in the online environment
- Instruction (text-based Web pages, listservs, emails chat session
or via audio or video streaming)
- other media (books/videos)
- collaboration with other students
A Constructivist Speaks on the Transition from Classroom to Online
"The Myth Of The Talking-Head"
Boise State University technical communications instructor Mike Markel
challenges the idea that teaching a distance learning course requires
a whole new pedagogy that substitutes an "independent-learning, student-centered,
empowering model" for the old "talking-head, teacher-centered, passive-student
model." Markel says the notion that instructors in traditional classes
spend most of their time lecturing is a myth; what they really do is
help students organize information, help them with their projects, give
students a chance to meet with their teams, and motivate the students.
And that's exactly what needs to be done in a distance learning environment
as well. Everyone will lose if traditional and technology-supported
forms of education are pitted against each other, because conscientious
instructors need to do the same thing, whether they offer distance education
or classroom-based education. The goal should be to think continuously
of what we are trying to accomplish in the teaching/learning process,
and to orchestrate the particular techniques and resources in the best
and most effective way to accomplish the complete set of specific educational
objectives. (Mike Markel, "Distance Learning And The Myth Of The New
Pedagogy," Journal Of Business And Technical Communication," v13 n2
This quote was found on the eduprise site Web site:
Project-based, student-centered, collaborative courses require a lot
of thought, energy, and creativity to build and facilitate both online
and face-to-face (f2f). They also require that the teacher relinquish
the center stage.
"Cognitive Versus Behavioral Psychology," by Fred T. Hofstetter
University of Delaware.
"A Template for Converting Classroom Courses to Distributed, Asynchronous
Courses," by Lowell H. Roberts, Director (1997-98) UNC-Chapel Hill
Institute for Academic Technology.