Last week, I was invited to speak in one webinar on the topic “How to be a better online teacher: A constructivist approach.” It was hosted by the Religious Educators Association of the Philippines and the Institute of Religion of the University of Santo Tomas. There, I realized how Filipino educators today have become more open, committed and enthusiastic to adapt to the changing times. To be true, schools are wasting no time to go online because of the pandemic. These crucial months are being used to train teachers on the use of technology to facilitate learning.
Online education is a pedagogy that goes by many names, like remote teaching, distance education and online class, among others. Its main characteristic is its indispensable use of technology and the internet. Many schools are said to be familiar with this method because, for years now, they have already combined face-to-face classroom set-ups with off-site teaching activities. Despite this, to conceptualize a fully online set-up, where stakeholders can be assured of an effective, efficient and cost-friendly education, still remains a tall order.
In education, the constructivist theory may inspire teachers, parents and students to view learning during the time of a pandemic with fresh hope. Proponents of this theory include Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who says the summit of learning is creating; Russian Lev Vigotsky, the theorist of the “zone of proximal development” where the student becomes an independent learner; and American Jerome Bruner, who underscores the importance of learning scaffolding for autonomous learners.
In sum, the theory holds that learning has to be dynamically linked to prior knowledge, which may be societal, cultural, geographical, even historical. Learning is believed to be experiential. Some may call it “hands-on.” But underneath it is the philosophy that learning is a product of human interactions and social collaboration. No authentic learning can happen without a deep personal and experiential search for meaning.
To note, the constructivist theory appears not to sit well with traditional classrooms, which it accuses to be a stifling environment to real learning. The classroom is seen as an epitome of boundedness: it is time-bound, activity-bound, space-bound, calendar-bound, etc. The theory thus challenges with the question: Why put constraints on experiences and meaning-making of students wanting to learn?
For constructivists, restraints make learning dangerously superficial. Its uniformity, homogeneity and monotony only disrespect and reduce the dignity of a student, who has a unique and personal take on information in his life. He has his own emotional state of mind, learning pace, learning styles, stages of development, abilities, talents and so on.
It seems the constructivist theory is appropriate for online learning. It may motivate the teacher not to neglect the individualities of students. So, in online education, instead of imagining himself going into a traditional classroom, the teacher envisions himself to be a facilitator in a “classnet.”
The classnet is an unstructured and complex multi-dimensional world of the learner, which is the opposite of the bounded traditional classroom. It is an online world created by the community of educators and students. It facilitates the dialogue between a student’s prior knowledge and new events, as well as the interactions of a student at home (especially with parents) and in the community. Here, the learner engages to personally construct his knowledge and deepen his understanding of the meaning of life.
It would be folly to think that the future of education is simplistically migrating the physical classroom to a virtual one. We could all be attending training, but retooling alone cannot usher educators as well as students to a desired state of learning without changing their perspective about education.
A new look for education calls for many reforms — from assessment tasks for students to the new training of educators to be facilitators and resources online. Educators need to embrace the fact that technology in education has shifted their roles from being “sages on the stage to being guides on the sides.”
Jesus Jay Miranda, OP is the secretary-general of the University of Santo Tomas. He holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management (ELM) and teaches at the Graduate School of UST and the ELM Department of the Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC–College of Education of De La Salle University-Manila. Contact him at [email protected]