If I Profess to be a Constructivist, Why do I Teach Like an Objectivist?

During the process of writing design documents for this course, I have been asked to analyze the instructional design strategies I am applying to my designs. To my horror, in both cases, I find I am applying direct instruction, a design strategy clearly rooted in the objectivist theory of learning.

Now, to be completely fair, I am not designing these two projects for myself. I am designing them for college instructors who are most comfortable with the lecture format of traditional instruction. These instructors will have a largely objectivist background and philosophy of education. It is what they are comfortable with, and I am designing to meet their needs.

Still, it opened my eyes to the way I teach many of my own face-to-face sessions. When I teach online I model what I’ve been taught. My constructivist and collaborative beliefs shine through as I encourage my online learners to find their own examples, engage in discussion, and work together on teams to solve problems. But in the classroom, I tend to be the one doing most of the talking. Why is that?

I think some of it has to do with the way classroom teaching was modeled for me. From elementary school through college, classroom lessons consisted of the teacher up front lecturing and the students listening (or sleeping) with very few exceptions. Interestingly enough, the lessons that I remember, the ones that made an impact on me, where different. There was the unit study project where we learned about Taiwan. We learned about the customs, the culture, the people. I remember making a Taiwanese village from Popsicle sticks and cooking Taiwanese recipes and wearing traditional costumes and hosting a special day for our families to come and see what we had done. That was like 38 years ago yet the lesson sticks with me. I had a college instructor who took student-led instruction to the extreme. He would let us lead the discussion. If we got off on a tangent, he didn’t pull us back on topic. He must have figured there was learning in whatever topic we were on. Our class was lively and active and we learned a lot, though not always about technical writing. It was never boring.

Yet these few instructors are not the ones I emulate. I choose to imitate those who controlled their classrooms, however ineffective that method might have been. I question whether I am ego-centric, and just like to hear myself talk, or if I fear that my students (the faculty in this case) are incapable of constructing their own learning. The last thought really scares me, and that is the thought that creating student-centered instruction is just a lot more work, and perhaps I’m too lazy to work that hard on it.

I need to reassess what I believe and what I am doing with that belief. If I really believe in student-centered, constructivist, collaborative learning principles, then I should be modeling those methods for my faculty in the way I teach them. The only way they are ever going to try new methodologies is if they see them in action, and who is going to model them if I don’t? I need to start practicing what I preach.

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One response to “If I Profess to be a Constructivist, Why do I Teach Like an Objectivist?

  1. It sounds like you have a jump start on the experience of designing instruction since you do this for professors that instruct with different delivery systems. I can see where it would be difficult to design instruction for professors that has different instructional design methods than you do. I wish you the best in your plan to model your methodological practices for the professors.

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