Critiques of Social Constructivism Written by Kim


Amy Mulholland
University of Houston

Through the use of a vignette, a narrated power point, a creative animated illustration and well organized paragraphs Ms. Kim attempts to define social constructivism, discuss theoretical issues and provide perspectives on learning.

The chapter begins with a link to a narrated power point and a vignette. Though I tried several times I was never able to open and view the power point. I was, however, able to open the power point script which closely mirrored the information provided in the chapter which followed. The vignette describes a high school English class where the teacher is struggling get her students engaged in the reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The teacher decides to divide the students into groups and have them make puppets to tell the class their assigned portion of the play. The vignette then describes how the participants assigned themselves roles within the group according to their interests and talents. The groups then added personal touches to the plays like the use of a Cajun accent and hip hop music chosen for the background. The work in groups allowed students to feel ownership in the final product and to learn from each other as each person contributed a new understanding of Shakespeare’s play based on their position in the classroom culture. The vignette is almost 1/3 of the content of the chapter and I think it was well worth the space. Kim defines social constructivism as having an emphasis on “the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Kim, 2001),” this definition is certainly supported by the vignette. Interestingly, though it is not credited to the site, this definition is very similar to the definition provided on the Wikipedia site ((Social Constructivism (Learning Theory), (2007)).

In the section entitled “What is social constructivism?” Kim further references the developmental theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Bandura as closely related perspectives. These theorists are indeed often cited as support for constructivist theories (Schunk, (2004) and Hamilton & Ghatala (1994)); however, Jean Piaget is noticeably absent and given his importance to constructivist theory an explanation of his contributions, I feel, is certainly warranted. I believe the definitions sections would be more complete with an explicit discussion of how social constructivism is situated in relation to constructivism, along with a historical perspective of its development. Specifically, how are they different? This explanation is particularly relevant given that another chapter within the wikibook is entitled “Vygotsky’s Constructivism.” I was confused by the titles and think perhaps the other chapter should be renamed.

The next section discusses the assumptions of social constructivists and provides more specific information on the fundamental assertions in regards to reality, knowledge and learning. These brief explanations provide further support for the vital nature of human’s social activities in constructing an individual’s reality, knowledge and learning processes. This section adds depth and clarity to the definition of social constructivism provided earlier. This understanding is further built upon with a discussion of intersubjectivity which is defined as “a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on common interests and assumptions that form the ground for their communication.” The vignette provided earlier was a very good example of this. Within the play’s learning communities for, students were not just able to learn communication skills but they were also able to gain new perspectives and knowledge through the interactions of group members. Within the section Kim effectively uses an animated illustration of two people discussing how rainbows are formed to further demonstrate how conversations between people can help to form new understandings. The development of these understanding can be affected by two aspects of social context which are briefly discussed in the section entitled “social context for learning.” Kim lists inherited historical knowledge like language, logic and other symbol systems which determine how and what is learned, along with the learner’s interaction with an erudite member of society. This last idea sounds like Vygotsky’s notion of a “more knowledgeable other (MKO)” but while it was attributed to him in the written power point script it was not credited to him within this chapter. Other than the reference within this section to historical knowledge having a cultural basis, culture as having an impact on learning is not specifically discussed within the chapter. As this was a primarily component of the definition provided earlier, a section devoted specifically to this would in my opinion make the chapter stronger.

The final two sections of the chapter contain descriptions of approaches to social constructivism and instructional models. Kim defines four approaches; cognitive tools, idea-based, pragmatic and situated cognitivism. In all four we find a blending of other philosophies and theories with the notion that learning has a social context and occurs within the classroom community in cooperation amongst the students. Similarly the suggested instructional models involve collaboration and exchange between students and include: peer collaboration, reciprocal teaching, problem based instruction and web quests, to name a few.

Overall I found this to be an instructive and helpful introduction to social constructivism. I found the paragraphs to be clear and well developed. In addition, supporting terms and theories are clearly explained, relevant and effectively used to provide clarity. The vignette, animated illustration and presumably the power point are effective ways of providing the information in a variety of modalities. One section that is noticeably missing is one on those currently working in the field. It was also disappointing that the link to the power point was not working, neither were several of the additional links at the end. As stated earlier my biggest concerns were in the lack of definition and discussion of the role that culture plays in social constructivism, as well as social constructivism’s overall position with in the larger theoretical base. One possibility maybe to covers less but in a more in depth fashion. I think that this chapter lays a great foundation for explaining social constructivist theory and with a few changes could be even stronger.

References


Hamilton, R. and Ghatala, E. (1994). Learning and instruction. New York: McGraw Hill.
Schunk, D. H. (2004). Learning theories an educational perspective. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.
Social Constructivism (Learning Theory). (2007, September 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Constructivism_%28Learning_Theory%29