learning, teaching and research (archive)

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Ideas scratch pad – collaborative learning and social constructionism

June 15th, 2009 · No Comments · Teaching & learning

One reason I started blogging nearly 4 years ago was to keep a sort of scratch pad of ideas, quotes, etc. that are useful and thought provoking. On the whole I haven’t done this but its never too late!

Interesting article on how MIT have discovered that small group collaborative work by students has improved learning of basic physics http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/us/13physics.html?_r=2&em.

“Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV,” Professor Mazur said, “likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.” I suppose you can demonstrate the thought processes in a lecture but this is not the same as the students going through it themselves and applying them to other similar problems. And many lectures do not demonstrate the thought processes – they report on the finished products.

The other thing I was pondering on today was how to get across the idea to research methods students that ‘social constructionism’ was unavoidable regardless of what methodological approach taken. This comes up in any debate about the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods and their respective strengths and weaknesses. Qualitative methods are accused of producing subjective  ‘just so’ accounts of behaviour and motivations; qualitative research is accused of shaping the outcomes by imposing meanings on questionnaire respondents that force data collected into preconceived theoretical structures – the so-called ‘imposition of meaning’ charge usually made against quantitative investigators. What is often missing from these debates is the fact that any account regardless of the research method used is a social construction. This is no more or less a problem (if it is a problem) for quantitative and qualitative research methods. Social constructionism, properly understood, is not optional. To say ‘I am not a social constructionist and I don’t believe in it’  makes as little sense as saying ‘I don’t use language  and I don’t believe in it’ and no doubt offer to argue the case for as long as you like.


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