To cite: Can, Tuncer "Learning and Teaching Languages Online: A Constructivist Approach" Novitas-ROYAL, 2009, Vol.: 3(1), 60-74.
Learning and Teaching Languages Online: A Constructivist Approach
The recent advances in technology have necessitated first new approaches and then new methodologies in the area of foreign language learning and thoroughly teaching. The Internet and the virtual learning environments have diversified the opportunities for school teachers, instructional designers as well as learners by varying and broadening the alternatives for learning and teaching of languages. Employing tools and applications, other than classroom and course books, in the learning of foreign languages requires reconsidering the pedagogy, methodology, applications, teacher roles, interaction types, and teaching environment itself. And also multiple selections of channels, through which the teaching materials can be implemented mandates the revision of traditional one way communication between the teachers and the learners. An acknowledgement is brought about by the constructivist approach with its assumptions about learning and knowledge, multiple perspectives and modes of learning and the complexity of learning environments. Constructivist approach is promising at promoting learner’ language and communicative skills as well as at fostering their autonomy, social and interactive skills contributing to their development into more confident, pro-active and responsible individuals by supporting incentives on diverse media in language learning and teaching.
According to Driscoll (2000:375) “Constructivism has multiple roots in the psychology and philosophy”, among which are cognitive and developmental perspectives of Piaget, the interactional and cultural emphases of Vygotsky and Bruner, the contextual nature of learning, the active learning of Dewey, the epistemological discussions of von Glasersfeld and the paradigm and scientific revolutions of Thomas Kuhn.”
Constructivist assumptions about learning could be summarized as “knowledge is actively constructed by learners as they are trying to make sense of their experiences, learners form, elaborate and test candidate mental structures until a satisfactory one emerges (Perkins, 1991), particularly conflicting experiences will cause perturbation in the new structures, so that they can be restructured and constructed anew to make sense of the new information (Piaget 1973; Bruner 1966; Vygotsky 1978). That is, knowledge is not representing and corresponding to the external reality, but is viable (von Glasersfeld 1996). According to Vygotsky learning is a social negotiation of meaning.”
Driscoll (2000:378) summarizes Eco’s metaphor “rhizome” for constructivist learning; “The rhizome is a tangle of tubers with no apparent beginning or end. It constantly changes shape, and every point in it appears to be connected with every other point. Break the rhizome anywhere and the only effect is that new connections will be grown. The rhizome models the unlimited potential for knowledge construction, because it has no fixed points (no nodes or basic representation units) and no particular organization.” Cunningham (1992:171) states that “the rhizome concept alerts us to the constructed nature of our environmental understanding and the possibilities of different meaning, different truths, and different worlds.”
Constructivist approach acknowledges leaning in context (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991:8) and learning of knowledge could only be achieved through meaningful activity, learning is a continuous, life-long process resulting from acting in situations (Brown, 1989:33). Learners should identify, pursue and reflect on their own learning goals while solving the genuine problems in the world.
In this respect, the necessary constructivist conditions for learning (in Driscoll, 2000:3822-3 and elsewhere) are summarized as follows:
1. Embedded learning in complex, realistic and relevant environments. (Duffy, Jonassen 1991; Cunningham, 1991; Honebein 1996)
2. Provide for social negotiation (cooperative and socio-moral atmosphere) as an integral part of learning,. (Piaget 1973, Vygotsky 1978 and Bruner 1966, De Vries 2002)
3. Support multiple perspectives and the use of multiple modes of representation. (Duffy and Cunningham, 1996; Honebein 1996)
4. Encourage ownership in learning. (Duffy and Cunningham, 1996; Honebein 1996)
5. Provide adequate time for learners’ investigation and in-depth engagement. (De Vries, 2002)
6. Nurture self awareness of the knowledge construction process. (Jonassen 2003, Duffy and Cunningham 1996, Rogers)
Constructivist Approach in Online Learning and Teaching
From the constructivist principles above it is so obvious that the achievement of these conditions for learning in the classroom and by course books only would not be possible. For this teachers and instructional designers need to liberate the learners from the restricting walls and pages. Freeing especially the language learners from rigid and restrictive rules of grammar and classrooms is even more important.
Employing technologies like the Internet, websites and the virtual learning environments, creating Microworlds and Hypermedia designs for learning, applying collaborative learning, problem-based learning and goal-based scenarios, making Open Software and Course Management Tools accessible to learners, and using distance learning applications like computer-conferencing and videoconferencing could serve to implement the multiple constructivist conditions for learning. (Driscoll 2000; Duffy and Jonassen 1992, Schank 1994, Lebow 1996, Can 2006)
The Internet, websites and virtual learning environments provide autonomy, embedded learning in complex and relevant environments. Microworlds and hypermedia, with their potential for authentic language activities, assist in rich learner centered learning environment and social negotiation. Goal-based, Problem-based and collaborative learning prosper the task environments and skills, and contribute into the implementation of variety of resources, technology, solutions via multiple perspectives, multiple modes of representations and reality, and helps in reflection on reasoning and ownership in learning. By creating conversation and collaboration among students, Open Software and Course Management Tools supply rich resources in construction and creation of new knowledge, encourage ownership, autonomy and reflection in learning.
Constructivist Approach in Online Learning and Teaching of Languages
Reinfried (2000) summarizes the constructivist principles in foreign language learning and teaching. According to Reinfried constructivist language learning should be action oriented where language is learned through collaboration, free creation is praised, learning is achieved by actively doing projects and self teaching. Constructivist language learning should be learner centered that supports individualization of learning and autonomy. Learner should develop awareness not only for learning but for the language itself and for the intercultural aspect as well. The last but not the least, constructivist language learning is to be holistic with content orientedness, authentic and complex learning environment. In this aspect, implementing online applications, using instructional technologies and diverse media in the process of learning and teaching languages is advocated by constructivist approach.
The Education Committee of European Union have defined the language learning and teaching experience in their comprehensive “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages”(CEF) as process oriented, including linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic competence, skills and abilities for learning. Promotion of plurilingualism has been of concern for the European Union, for this the Education Committee has outlined some key concepts in language learning and teaching. Among these are action oriented approach that is encouraging active learning of the language learners, autonomy and self awareness in learning, cognitive and social aspects of learning, using instructional technologies and diverse media in the process of teaching and learning languages, promotion of life-long learning. (CEF 2001) These concepts are in line with the constructivist learning conditions mentioned above.
The implementation of computerized online applications, CALL applications, the Internet, websites and the virtual learning environments (i.e. LOGO, Second Life, interactive websites, chat-rooms, interactive games) in the context of language learning could benefit learners with enriched resources and possibilities for language use, creation and practice. Self study websites and CD ROMs have the potential to free the learners from the rigid rules of grammar and classrooms, and taking learners away from classrooms could assist in self awareness and autonomy by providing opportunities for ownership in learning.
Creating Microworlds and Hypermedia designs for language learning where collaborative learning (i.e. working in groups for creating a content website, film making or preparing presentation on a specific language piece using wikis), problem-based learning (i.e. solving real life communication and interaction problems between people, creating focused wikis) and goal-based scenarios (i.e. creating scripts for events and texts, writing for blogs) are elaborated could construe a prosperous context for meaningful language input, real life and simultaneous language practice, comprehensive output, pragmatic and discourse awareness. This would boost the learning opportunities and contexts as well as other skills necessary for technology and knowledge creation.
Distance learning applications like computer conferencing and videoconferencing for language learning and teaching could be used by schools to enrich the classroom experience by connecting them to learning parks, museums, experts and even other schools worldwide through television monitors and video cameras. All other types of electronic communication (including typing, electronic drawing, the viewing and manipulating of websites, the playing of prerecorded video, etc.) can occur within, or concurrently with, a videoconference. Along with the instructor on one end a facilitator could be employed on the other end. Thus, a conventional classroom is enriched. The facilitator could act as a helper, guide, example or interactor, communicative pair in activities. These aspects of conferencing and videoconferencing could bring into language learning the real life, real interlocutors and the target culture, which in return could serve as a valuable resource for meaningful language input, real life and simultaneous language practice, comprehensive output, pragmatic and discourse awareness. (Can 2006)
Employing technologies like the Internet, websites and the virtual learning environments, creating Microworlds and Hypermedia designs for learning, applying collaborative learning, problem-based learning and goal-based scenarios, making Open Software and Course Management Tools accessible to learners, and using distance learning applications like computer-conferencing and videoconferencing could serve to implement the multiple constructivist conditions for learning. (Driscoll 2000, Duffy and Jonassen 1992, Schank 1994, Lebow 1993, Can 2006)
Al in all, according to constructivist approach and constructivist learning principles online learning and teaching of languages could be promising at promoting learner’ language and communicative skills as well as at fostering their autonomy, social and interactive skills contributing to their development into more confident, pro-active and responsible individuals.
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To cite: Can, Tuncer "Learning and Teaching Languages Online: A Constructivist Approach" Novitas-ROYAL, 2009, Vol.: 3(1), 60-74.
Lecturer at Istanbul University,
Hasan Ali Yucel Faculty of Education,
English Language Teaching Department
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