Bermuda College: Faculty Focus on Active Learning and Student Success
Web 2.0 Meets Constructivism: Innovative Teaching Strategies for Biology
What do Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, and Gardner all have in common? If the neural capacity for how students learn has ever sparked your interest, you're probably already quite familiar with their theories of learning. Each of these individuals has made significant contributions to the Constructivist Learning Model. Through careful observation and research their findings have evolved and solidified from hypotheses to widely accepted theories that have become the bedrock for Inquiry-Based Learning.
Constructivism has ignited an array of innovative teaching strategies, and with the ubiquitous presence of computers and educational technologies, we are now capable of developing even more powerful learning communities. Rather than have students use the Web simply for fun or for mastering content through drill-and-practice exercises and games, educators can now take increase student engagement through independent research, virtual collaborative group work, and relevant real-world activities using Web 2.0 technology. Sound intriguing? Are you ready to marry Web 2.0 tools and Constructivist Strategies?
Before implementing these strategies in your learning environments, first consider the needs of your students, particularly their current technology experience and their access to technology. Even with today's tech-savvy learners, or "digital natives" (Prensky, 2011), merging inquiry-based learning strategies and Web 2.0 applications requires that students have sufficient time with and exposure to the technology. Here is an innovative teaching strategy that was conducted over a 10-week period in a preparatory biology class.
Student Background. Students were 18-21 years old with varied technology experience, and a minor digital divide existed among students in terms of computer and Internet access at home.
Assignment Overview. Biology students first conducted traditional face-to-face laboratories on areas such pH, Photosynthesis, Cellular Respiration, Enzymes, and Organic Compounds. These labs were followed by a specific question that was forwarded to students, requiring them to develop their own hypothesis and design independent investigations in a follow-up face-to-face lab. All lab content was then presented online using the proper methods for displaying scientific investigations through proper lab report writing. These biology elements were the foundation for student web pages; however, each group was charged with developing authentic and dynamic web pages that would engage viewers.
Technology. Students were directed to explore various free website development packages, and Weebly seemed to meet the needs of most students. Students were then equipped with very detailed instructions for creating instructional and informational websites on their chosen lab topic. In addition, rubrics were provided to guide students.
Assessment. Websites were monitored over the 10 weeks and were graded on accuracy of biology content; layout and basic graphic design elements; functionality; and use of innovative, original multimedia and Web 2.0 extensions, such as blogs and wikis.
Suggestions for Educators. It is important to recognize that training is essential for students who may not be comfortable with the technology or may not have consistent Internet access. Providing prior student examples, setting aside class time for training and orienting students, and making the necessary technology available for students will make the experience more successful.
If educators are willing to acquire this new subset of technology skills and embrace educational technology, the divide between veteran faculty and their digital-native students can be minimized and student engagement in learning can flourish.
Web 2.0 Meets Constructivism: Innovative Teaching Strategies for Biology was prepared by Alnisha L. Simmons, Senior Biology Lecturer /Educational Technology Specialist at Bermuda College.
Prensky, M. (October 2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. From On the Horizon. MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5.
Roblyer, M. D. (2009). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 5th Edition.
A Pedagogical Potpourri
Many faculty members at Bermuda College are implementing active pedagogy and technology as tools to foster student success. Employed methods include Resource Based Learning, Cooperative Learning, Digital Storytelling, and Social Networking. Lecturer Ru-Zelda Severin decided to invigorate her three-hour night course, Foundations of Early Childhood Education, and its potentially sleepy participants by incorporating a minimum of three active or technology methodologies per session. This pedagogical potpourri supported the critical thinking and progressive mastery of content outlined in the course learning outcomes; it also modelled a breadth of learning approaches for the aspiring educators.
- Concept Mapping. Students compare and contrast theorists and theories of learning.
- Either/Or, Four Corners, Continuum. Students discuss and debate several concepts including nature vs. nurture and inclusion variations for learning disabled students.
- Advanced Organizers. Students organize tabs to reinforce and summarize developmental stages and characteristics of Piaget, Erickson, and Freud.
- Concept Attainment. Students establish essential attributes and definition of language.
- Role Playing. Students demonstrate language development and emergent literacy.
- Toy/Game Playing. Students identify cognitive, physical, and social considerations of play as work for young children.
- Mini Teaching. Students practice constructivist approaches to teaching math/science to young children.
- Skype Lesson from Kenya. Students integrate the arts into core subjects via a hands-on session with arts integration specialist, Joanne Ball-Burgess.
- Social Networking. Students initiate and contribute to discussions and blogs, as well as upload relevant videos and photos onto the Ning Network.
Student response to this multilayered approach has been positive. They reported enthusiastically anticipating lessons due to the diverse activities rather than textbook-driven lectures. They used words such as "dynamic," "creative," and "well-planned attention to detail" to describe content delivery. Others transferred some of the delivery tactics, such as concept mapping and advanced organizers, to other courses as study tools. Students stated that the variety of learning methods deepened their comprehension of topics, whether introductory or revisited.
The social networking component, Ning, caused students to take greater care in the preparation of content, documentation, and conventional grammar application. The aspects most students appreciated about Ning included learning from other students, heightened self-esteem when providing feedback to their peers, and having a forum to immediately share life and classroom connections. One student wrote of riding the bus seated beside a tourist who observed her reading an education text. The tourist revealed she was a preschool teacher in America. The student relayed how she could not resist interrogating the tourist regarding concepts discussed in class. She described excitement at gaining practical knowledge and being able to immediately share the experience on Ning.
Severin admits that class planning and maintenance of the social networking site is labour intensive, but insists she would repeat the experience without hesitation, because of the obvious student benefits: demonstrated learning, the extension of learning outside of class time; and the inspirational effect that modelling teaching methods had on her students—Bermuda's future educators.