(De)Constructivist applications of technology

In Foundations of Instructional Technology and Design (or Instructional Design and Technology), the reading is deep into learning theories and instructional theories and how each intersect with instructional design and technology (and, naturally, theories of instructional design and technology).

Or as one classmate posted, “Theories, theories everywhere…”

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for instructional designers and ed-tech developers to rely heavily on behaviorism and information processing theories. Drill-and-kill and test prep programs rely heavily on these theories. Stimulus -> Response. The response is often positive, constructive, and immediate feedback that, theoretically, will guide the learner toward improved performance. Gamification and game-based learning uses these elements, as well, although we don’t like to think of educational games as being gussied-up drill-and-kill programs. Some games are certainly more complex and offer interesting scenario-based problems, but not all, and not enough.

What is less common and more interesting how technology can support constructivism, where the learner creates meaning, or as Driscoll states in chapter 4 of Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, “Learning is more a matter of going from the inside out.” Problem-based instruction and project-based learning have their roots in constructivism. Technological applications such as MIT’s programming software Scratch and Minecraft support constructivism. With each, “the learner actively imposes organization and meaning on the surrounding environment and constructs knowledge in the process.”

But what about deconstructing knowledge to then reconstruct it? How can technology help there?

This week two familiar ideas collided in just the right way. First, learning is a process of constructing mental models and schema. Second, it is very difficult to deconstruct these schema, which is to say, it is difficult to unlearn something or to relearn a new process or procedure.

So what if we delegated this problem to technology? Instead of using software to create meaning, visualizations, and worlds, what if we fed computers constructed information so that it could shake it up, and feed us back either parts or a reconstructed mental model? What might that look like?

Here’s where developments in AI could be useful. And here’s one example of what I envision.

For season two’s last episode of the podcast Flash Forward, host and creator Rose Eveleth took her 41 futuristic stories from each podcast and fed them via Mike Rugnetta, of PBS’ Idea Channel, to a neural network (AI). (For more about this process, Mike, and neural networks, read here.) She also added the script for The War of the Worlds and the script for the 1979 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play since AI’s need tons of fodder. The results are incredibly strange, and the story sounds like a magical realist sci-fi story written by postmodernist Donald Barthleme. From there, Rose Eveleth proceeded to bring in the experts, have conversations, and talk about this brave new world.

What this process didn’t do was provide any insight on any of the previous 41 stories, War of the Worlds, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

What it did do was create a whole new situation that was so far from any possible imagining that it provided a reason to hold intelligent conversations about 1) space travel 2) the theme of witches in science fiction 3) magic as technology 4) mythology.

Not only does this use of technology deconstruct and reconstruct information (stories), but it also forces the learner to compare and question mental models (like mythology and space travel in this case) to understand this new re-creation.

Again, there’s a caveat because this process didn’t really reconstruct old stories but create a new, but if we dial-back the technological application and make it a little less intimidating, how might we fiddle with technology to help us see old schema with new eyes?

How did my peers respond?

  1. The idea of deconstructing and reconstructing brought up Star Trek’s teleportation, and the mess that ultimately created.
  2. Technology might be able to scale what is often a difficult and necessary process to addressing misconceptions and accommodating new information.
  3. Deconstruction also helps establish new learning communities: “That is, not only does it provide an opportunity to enable better learning through the deconstruction of knowledge but it also presents to the opportunity to deconstruct initial biases one might have when entering a distance learning environment. We can deconstruct initial concepts of something that people take for granted and draw attention to unconscious assumptions everyone makes about a new experience.”

The professor connected this deconstruction with a paradigm shift and noted that expertise in one area can actually hinder new learning.

I’m curious to know your thoughts.  So, again, how might we use technology to deconstruct established scheme? Create paradigm shifts? And create big messes that ultimately bring us together in learning communities?

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