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Videoconferencing and Pedagogical Implications in Maximizing Student Learning: A Social Constructivism Approach

Module by: Kevin Hankinson. E-mail the author

Summary: Technology will inevitably continue to challenge instructors to reconsider pedagogy and to transform methods of instruction, but videoconferencing should not present insurmountable barriers to learning.

In efforts to meet shrinking budgets without jeopardizing class choices for students, school districts have become increasingly more creative. For example, the influx of educational technology has made online learning and distance education more common and reliable. This past fall, an International Baccalaureate (IB) public high school in southeast Michigan offered IB Higher Level Mathematics via videoconferencing. This initiative enabled 21 students to enroll in a course offered 20 miles away, an opportunity only possible with the assistance from videoconferencing equipment. Within the constraints of this educational environment, one wonders to what extent distance education creates obstacles for distance instructors and learners. Furthermore, one questions how pedagogy must change from a traditional classroom in order to provide an environment conducive for distance learners to generate genuine understanding and to attain success in academic achievement. My topic question is as follows: What pedagogy best equips secondary mathematics teachers to facilitate learning in remote sites so that distance learners succeed despite their separation from the teacher and many of their peers?

As a theoretical frame, social constructivism serves as an excellent lens in analyzing the answers to the proposed questions. In 2000, the National Council of Mathematics (NCTM) recognized the theory’s application to its discipline as mathematics pedagogy underwent major reform. As NCTM President, Stiff (2001) found social constructivism to empower students. While the transmission of mathematical knowledge was once unidirectional, that is, from teacher to student, social constructivism enabled students to powerfully engage the teaching and learning process as active participants, creating a series of multidirectional teacher-student and student-student exchanges. Student relationships rest at the core of social constructivism in education (Vygotsky, 1978), and the collaboration among students enhances the learning environment by transforming the student’s role in the educational process from one of receiver to creator of knowledge. Crawford (1996) found Vygotsky’s emphasis on activity in the mathematics classroom to manifest itself in two ways: actions and operations. Student actions were active, conscious decisions driven by the satisfaction to attain a goal; whereas, student operations were habitual, unconscious responses in order to meet an objective. Traditional mathematics encouraged memorization of axioms and properties, that is, operations, in order complete problem sets and summative assessments. However, a social constructivist approach in the mathematics classroom promoted student actions: “interpreting the meaning of mathematical information, defining a problem, selecting strategies, and evaluating the results of problem solving efforts” (p. 51). Because the latter type of activity adequately aligned itself with the planned trajectory of mathematics, the NCTM adopted the precepts of social constructivism to prepare students for a future that would value critical thinking and collaboration.

As mentioned, however, distance instructors and learners face a unique set of obstacles as social relationships often struggle to transcend the typical learning environment (i.e., the physical classroom). Lawson, Comber, Gage, and Cullum-Hanshaw (2010) reviewed the literature discussing videoconferencing and uncovered students and teachers identifying a spectrum of reactions to student attitudes and attainment, ranging from elated, successful primary students to self-conscious, underachieving secondary students. Smyth (2005) proposed a pedagogy that championed a learner-centered approach. In his framework, he encouraged instructors to move away from a one-to-many mode of delivery, where a lecturer taught students, to a some-to-some mode, where groups of students engaged other groups of students. As instructive pedagogy moved towards constructive pedagogy and activity and learner-centeredness increased, student autonomy and control of learning would consequently increase. Likewise, Gillies (2008) found high levels of student interaction to be explicitly linked to student attitudes and achievement. Overall, the research frames the medium of videoconferencing as a method of instruction susceptible to the same shortfalls as traditional instruction, continuously wrestling with the goal of maximizing student learning while simultaneously maintaining high levels of student motivation and engagement from all students, regardless of teacher proximity.

In response to the challenges of teacher proximity as it relates to student learning, researchers have identified numerous instructional practices that hold social constructivism as its core. For example, Johnson and Aragon (2003) found active learning to be an excellent source for creating student interest and maintaining student engagement among virtual learners. Through collaborative problem solving and decision making, students utilized the opinions of others in order to develop understanding. In particular, instructors encouraged small-group discussions during synchronous online sessions to provide opportunities for genuine interactions, where students discussed course content. Then, small-group interactions led large-group discussions as students from various locations reported out to the class. Furthermore, Dixon (2010) found “it’s all about connections” (p. 8). Her quantitative cross-sectional, explanatory study revealed that online learners that interacted with students and teachers often reported higher engagement. In addition, she challenged instructors to move beyond the consideration of interactive lessons and into the wide implementation of collaborative activities, where instructors forge meaningful communication opportunities among students. In addition, Johnson and Aragon (2003) found an instructor’s ability to require and facilitate high quality interaction among learners led to increased motivation and engagement.

Social constructivism in education enables students to build the skill sets necessary to succeed beyond the high school classroom. Teachers that employ social constructivist approaches to learning uniquely sharpen intellectual prowess and creative problem solving among students by encouraging collaboration and dialogue (Ward, 2001). Draper (2002) similarly found significance in student conversations because they revealed “what the learner is prepared to learn (wants to learn) and how to orchestrate experiences and more conversations so that the learner is able to construct meaning, understanding, and knowledge” (p. 522). While videoconferencing alters the physical space of learning, the goals of learning remain the same: to develop content mastery and to enhance skill development. Technology will inevitably continue to challenge instructors to reconsider pedagogy and to transform methods of instruction, but videoconferencing should not present insurmountable barriers to learning. Secondary mathematics teachers of distance courses can facilitate learning in remote sites so that distance learners receive the same degree of education as their peers in the same physical space as the teacher. However, they many need to alter current teaching practices to embrace a pedagogy that focuses on learner-centered activities and useful students interactions to generate genuine understanding.

References

Crawford, K. (1996). Vygotskian approaches in human development in the information era. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31(1), 43-62.

Draper, R. (2002). School mathematics reform, constructivism, and literacy: A case for literacy instruction in the reform-oriented math classroom. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(6), 520-529.

Dixson, M. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1-13.

Gillies, D. (2008). Student perspectives on videoconferencing in teacher education at a distance. Distance Education, 29(1), 107-118.

Lawson, T., Comber, C., Gage, J., & Cullum-Hanshaw, A. (2010). Images of the future for education? Videoconferencing: A literature review. Technology, Pedagogy and Education 19(3), 295-314.

Johnson, S., & Aragon, S. (2003). An instructional strategy framework for online learning environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, (100), 31-43.

Smyth, R. (2005). Broadband videoconferencing as a tool for learner-centered distance learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(5), 805-820.

Stiff, L. (2001, July/August). Constructivist mathematics and unicorns. National Council of Mathematics News Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/about/content.aspx?id=1238

Ward, C. (2001). Under construction: On becoming a constructivist in view of the standards. Mathematics Teacher, 94(2), 94-96.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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