Tag Archives: Alberta Education

Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design


Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.


The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?


Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/teaching-participatory-digital-world.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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Teaching in a Distributed Learning Environment

The readings for week three are wonderfully connected to my work and all attempt to answer questions about online teaching and learning that define my work as a teacher researcher in a distributed learning environment.  What does it means to teach online?  How is teaching and learning different when students and teachers are physically at a distance from one another?  What unique skills are required of teachers to be successful in distance learning?  How does research inform us as to best approaches for design and delivery of e-intensive learning?  How can we best train and prepare teachers for working in digitally enhanced and intensive learning environments?  And lastly, what are the implications for teachers working in digitally enhanced learning environments?   All four articles point to something that I feel to be true: there is something inherently unique about teaching online and at a distance.  Online teachers require a specific skill set and mindset.   These teachers are required to be both pedagogical content experts but also experts in digital tools that require a resiliency in approaching e-enhanced and e-intensive learning.

Many of my colleagues at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) participated in the Alberta Teachers Association study on the impact of digital technologies and therefore when the research was complete, it was used in discussion at ADLC about what it means to teach online and at a distance. This research along with many other studies helped to inform changes to ADLC as it transitioned from correspondence style distance education into an e-intensive online school.  I feel very fortunate in my role as a teacher researcher to have many opportunities to discuss the issues and implications as presented in this document with one of the researchers, Dr. Phil McRae.  The Alberta Teacher’s Association makes an interesting  point in that “the term distributed learning means different things to different people” (ATA, 2011, p. 9)  This is something I have come to find in my own research and personal experience and in researching best practices and research informed approaches to distributed learning.  This lack of consistency when it comes to defining the approach to learning makes it equally difficult to prepare teachers for teaching online and at a distance.  If the terms online/distance/distributed/blended were more clearly defined, teacher professional learning for each might be more effective.  As Yang (2014) concluded, the blended approach to teaching, “prompted the needs for new teaching approaches and skills that are different” (p. 202). Therefore new approaches to teaching require proper training and development.  Discussions during the ATA focus groups pointed to the need for continual training as the teacher’s believed, “substantial effort was required to attain mastery” in the skills required for e-enhanced learning (ATA, 2011, p.6).  The teachers in the focus groups also felt that their teaching context was unique and new teachers to their environments may  not be prepared in terms of “specific interests and aptitudes” (ATA, 2011, p 6).

As distance learning continues it’s shift in terms and approaches from correspondence, to distributed, to online and now to blended approaches to learning, a deep understanding of connectivism in essential for teachers.  As Starkey’s (2010) research clearly states, “The beginning teachers in this study were working from theoretical models that pre-dated the digital era” (2010).  In a connectivist approach to e-enhanced and e-intensive learning, the teacher shifts from the content knowledge expert who gives information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey 2010, ).  Starkey categorizes knowledge of digital tools as pedagogical content knowledge and stresses that in a connectivist approach to learning teachers would, “encourage students to go beyond the teacher’s existing knowledge base by making or enabling connections” (Starkey 2010).  This new role as teachers a expert  or lead learner who encourages their students to make connections by modeling learning, interaction and cognitive discourse for their students would require a unique skillset including; knowledge of learning theory, practical experience and a great deal of digital resilience.  As Ferriter (2011) points out, digital resilience is much easier for a connectivist as it is “easier for those of us who are willing to share what we know – and what we need” (p. 87).  As we work on planning our professional learning for our online teachers for the upcoming year, I will take away a great deal from the week three readings and apply it to our long and short range plans.  Recognizing the e-intensive teaching is an exciting profession that comes with many unique challenges and unique joys is the first step to creating professional learning that will help  online teachers see themselves as expert learner guiding their students to engage in critical discourse with the teacher, with each other, with the content and then connecting those experiences to their place in the world.


Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). 2011. The impact of digital technologies on teachers          working in flexible learning environments. Retrieved from http://engage.education.alberta. ca/uploads/ 1006/20100621inspiringact86934.pdf

Ferriter, W. M. (2011). Becoming Digitally Resilient. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 86-87.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244.

Yang, Y. (2014). Preparing language teachers for blended teaching of summary writing.Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(3), 185-206.

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Developing Multiple Literacies through a Curriculum of Action

Week 1 Reflection:  Developing Multiple Literacies through a Curriculum of Action

There is an interesting parallel between this week’s readings and the work we are doing prototyping curriculum development (http://inspiredcurriculum.ca/)  for Alberta Education’s Curriculum Redesign (http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/curriculum/curriculum-development-prototyping.aspx).  As I read Jewett’s (2011) discussion of exploring ICT literacy through real world experiences such as geocaching in the article Multiple Literacies Gone Wild, I am reminded of the importance of developing curriculum that allows students to pursue multiple literacies by engaging in work that is worth-while (Jardine 2002).  As a member of the curriculum synthesis team, we engaged teachers, students, parents and community members across Alberta in conversations about how curriculum could and should be developed.  We heard time and time again that curriculum must allow for authentic, worthwhile work as the means for students to develop competencies and literacies.  Jewett reminds us through the story of the boys in the article, that through the authentic and engaging task and experience while geocaching, the boys are able to develop multiple literacies that are clearly real world in application such as mapping, global positioning systems (GPS), and communication (2011).

As we prototype curriculum, we find ourselves asking the question, “what are the ways of being” for each discipline?  How do we honour the disciplinary skills and knowledge that lead to the habits of mind of a scientist, a social scientist or an artist?  Jewett observed through the boys experience geocaching that literacies come out of disciplinary contexts, social interaction and the ways of being related to the task at hand (Gee 2005, Street, 1995).  The boys developed their literacies not through the practice of independent skills but rather through the context of the authentic, engaging task.  They learned through trial and error and likely made some mistakes along the way: a map read incorrectly, a missing coordinate in the GPS, a misunderstanding of the cache owners instructions all would contribute to their experiences.  Regardless, there was no requirement to first be competent in GPS coordinates before heading outside.  The literacy was developed and strengthened in the act of engaging in the task.  Quite possibly some of these small errors and corrections along the way, lead to a deeper understanding of the literacy employed.  The literacies were developed through experience and measured through the boys ability to engage in the work of geocaching.

In Lau and Yuen’s (2014) study of ICT literacy in junior secondary students, the authors stress the importance of measuring this literacy in both students and teachers.  The authors explore the multiple existing ICT literacy measures and the need to develop a conclusive measure of ICT literacy in both students and teachers.  This measure contrasts with the idea of measuring literacy through engagement in authentic tasks.  The authors conclude that “ICT alone was not a catalyst for school wide improvements” (Venezky and Davis 2002).

As teachers, we might ask ourselves, how do  essential ICT skills and literacies impact our students’ learning?  Do these literacies need to be taught and evaluated explicitly using ICT scales prior to students engaging in authentic tasks?  It is possible that many of the competencies and literacies that we deem as valuable can be developed through the authentic work of the discipline, work that is worth whiling over (Jardine 2002).  These readings will once again focus my work on prototyping a curriculum of action that allows for students to develop and measure their multitude of literacies through engagement in work that is contextualized and placed in real-world experiences.

Gee, J.P.  (2005). An Introduction to Discourse analysis:  Theory and method (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Jardine, D. W. (2002). On the While of Things.  In P. Clifford, S. Friesen, D. W. Jardine, Back to the Basics of Teaching and Learning: Thinking the World Together. New York: Routledge.

Jewett, P. (2011). Multiple Literacies Gone Wild. Reading Teacher, 64(5), 341-344

Lau, W. & Yuen, A. (2014). Developing and validating of a perceived ICT literacy scale for junior secondary school students: Pedagogical and educational contributions. Computers & Education. 76, 1-9.

Venesky, R.L. & Davis, C. (2002). Quo vademus?  The transformation of schooling in a networked world.  

Zabala,J.S.(2005). Ready,SETT,go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap,23(6),1-3.

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What Grows Here?

dont-judge-each-day-by-the-harvest-you-reap-but-by-the-seeds-that-you-plant-22 (1)Blame it on the two feet of snow on the ground and the fact that it is May the 5th, but I have gardening on my brain.  Seeds are strewn across my table, potting soil is piling up in my garage, and my hands itch to dig in the dirt.  I want to get messy, scatter seeds, and watch, impatiently waiting for something new to grow.  I really want to tend my garden.  Sometimes people ask, why would I bother with a garden?  My backyard is the size of a postage stamp and there is barely enough space to kick a soccer ball around, let alone grow potatoes.  Gardening takes time, and hard work, and aren’t we busy enough?  Do we actually grow enough food to make it worth our efforts?  Those of us who garden know the answer is more than yes.  The work is challenging and the results are often unpredictable.  As we plant our seeds it is hard to determine if this variety and that soil will yield the best crop.  We read up to date science and apply our current best practice of gardening.   We bring this combination of knowledge and skill to our garden and hope and pray for the best.   When things fail, we adjust and redo.  When they thrive we record the winning combination to use again on future gardens.  It is more than worth the effort, as through the process we learn and grow ourselves.  Gardening  is not defined by the sum of it’s parts, it is defined by the iterate process.  It is through this process that we the gardener grow…not just our seeds.

Question, Research, Plan, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Repeat.

This is the same hope and aspiration we have for our curriculum development prototyping work.   We are often asked questions like: Why bother to contribute to this process?  What if anything in schools will really change?  Will the effort you put in produce?   When asked over and over why we would take up such challenging, unpredictable work the answer is because we grow through the work.  That is the intention. It is the same hope we have our students in our schools.  We develop curriculum prototypes just as we would garden.  Through an iterate process that is as important if not more than the finished product.  We plant seeds of thought, seeds of hope, seeds of inspiration and pray that our future students will reap the rewards.  When we notice students are no longer thriving, we will analyze, evaluate and once again begin the iterate planning process with an essential question:

“What grows here?”

Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp envisioned for Alberta Education a Curriculum Development Process that would allow for iteration to be applied to curriculum that is flexible, responsive, relevant, inclusive and engaging for all students.  It is a process that at its heart is about learning and growing.  Not just for students but for all of us in our community (garden) of learners (growers).

Curriculum Development Process

“So what grows here? In the end, I guess we do. And isn’t that why we garden in the first place?” -Lois E. Hole

When envision what a curriculum prototype could look like, my colleague Alison Van Rosendaal posed the question, “If the metaphor for our old curriculum was the industrial model or more specifically the conveyor belt, what is our new metaphor for curriculum?”  In our conversation, she shared the following video.  We found this to hold a lot of potential for creating a new metaphor.

Keep planting, keep sowing and never ever stop growing.








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It’s a small world


So this just happened.

In September, I wrote a blog post Ways of Knowing about a Ukrainian artist, Olena Kulchytska.  This artist, for reasons I cannot explain, moves me.  I feel like she grounds me, connects me to the exact place in the universe I need to be.  At the time I was deep into thinking and working on a potential prototype for the Curriculum Redesign for Alberta Education and had been spending time with the notion of Ways of Knowing as introduced to me by Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp.  I felt that the way in which I was was able to recognize and connect with the art of Olena Kulchytska was truly another way of knowing.  It was not memorization or recall, it was entirely instinctual.

Although I don’t find blogging easy, my connection to Olena Kulchytska was something I wanted to capture before the feeling was lost or muddled.  I’ll admit, I’m an emotional blogger.  I tend to only write when I have an emotional connection to a topic.  Olena Kulchytska is very emotional to me.  I believe there is a reason I found her work, a reason I am continually draw to her.  In that blog post, I discussed my cousin, Anna and her husband Andry Kuchabska who are both artists in the city of Lviv where I had spent my summer, and with whom I credit for my passion for art.

Months later, after the post had gone quiet and I had once again been stuck with writer’s block, I received a notification in my inbox that I had a new comment on my now stale blog post.  My first thought was, weird.  Who would have found this post now?  The answer was Marina Kushnir, an artist from New York.

Dear Laurel! My name is Marina, I was Anna’s and Andri’s college friend, and also Anna’s roommate in Lviv. I was looking for them for years (actually I found them briefly once, and then, unfortunately, lost again…) This time I tried to Google them and was soooo thrilled to find your story! Please give your aunt/sister my FB page link, and I hope never to lose her again!!! Thank you so much :)

After some digging, I confirmed that Marina was in fact my cousin Anna’s roommate and is living in New York as an artist.  Anna was thrilled and just as amazed as I that this old friend from another time and place could find her, via my blog.  It just goes to show that sometimes our instincts or our ways of knowing that something needs to be be written are for reasons we could never predict at the time.

My response to Marina was this:


What an amazing surprise it was to receive your comment on my blog. It never ceases to amaze me what a small world we live in. One can never guess which connection will lead to the next. I have spoken to Anna and she is thrilled to hear that you found this blog post and her. I will send her you contact information. I am happy to be able to help you reunite.

Are you living in America? We worry very much for all of our family in Ukraine and pray for democracy, freedom and prosperity for their people. A beautiful country with so much pain.

If you are ever in Calgary, AB Canada. Please contact me. Friends of Anna and Andri our friends of our. :)

I once again revel in the notion that once we are connected and tap into all the ways of knowing, it is truly amazing what a small world  we live in.  And I keep telling myself that these three things  matter:

Keep creating, keep sharing, keep connecting.



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Ways of Knowing

follow your instincts

While traveling in Ukraine over five years ago, I spent a great deal of time looking at art.  My aunt, Anna Kuchabska and her husband Andri are both artists, Anna a professor at a college in Lviv and Andri an art teacher for young students. Seeing art through their eyes has been a gift I will treasure all my life.  On one particular day we at lunch at an artists’ cafe, Dzyga, in the city centre surrounded by the old walls that protected the city from invasions over the centuries.  We finished eating and decided to step foot into a small art shop.  More of a junk shop than a formal gallery, art and antiques  strewn throughout the space, we wandered and explored each finding our own way through the store.  And then my eyes hit it painting above and I stopped.  I didn’t move, I didn’t speak.  Instead, the piece of art spoke to me.  It spoke as if we had spoken before, as if we knew each other.  Andri found me standing alone and came to see what I was seeing.  I couldn’t explain it but I was moved by the emotion of the piece and I had a tear in my eye.  He took one look at the painting, then at me, and smiled.  Yes, he said, she is beautiful.  It is Olena Kulchytska, a much celebrated Ukrainian folk artist.  Motioning his around the room he asked, how on earth did you find her in all of this?  I couldn’t explain how.  I just knew.  I left the shop without buying the painting that day.  And over the years I had long forgotten the name of the artist, but I never forgot the image of the mother and her baby and they way it made me feel.  Not ever.


I have been fortunate enough to have returned to Lviv, Ukraine two other times for both work and pleasure.  Each time I searched out the small shop near the cafe to see if I could find the painting.  Each time the shop was closed. This summer, I returned once again to the city I love with my family.   We ate lunch as we always do at the small artists’ cafe where my art shop no longer lives.  I smiled quietly at the boarded up door.  Then as we got up to leave, I  noticed another small junk shop across the way.  Curious, I motioned for my family to go ahead without me and I stepped inside.  It was tiny and crowded and full soviet memorabilia.  I looked around seeing war medals and weapons, not my kind of thing.  Then I looked up and a tiny painting caught my eye.  It was of a woman sweeping and I asked the man to take it down for me.  He told me that it was expensive as it was made by a famous artist. Having traveled to Ukraine many times, I know that tourists are often told these things and they are not always true.  I told the store owner in my broken Ukrainian that if the artist was so famous, please write the name down for me and I will check with my aunt who is an art professor.  I expected him to gaff at this request but he did not.  He simply wrote one word in Cyrillic on a tiny scrap of paper.  I couldn’t read it so I thanked him and walked away.  That night, I showed the paper to Andri who once again smiled and laughed.  You know who this is, yes?  No. I replied.  It is her, Olena Kulchytska.  The artist you loved many years ago when you visited.  I couldn’t believe it.  In all the art in Lviv and trust me there is a lot, I had found another tiny work by the artist I had once so loved.  This time, I bought the painting, and it now hangs in my office where I can see it everyday I work.  It reminds me that sometimes you just know something and that way of knowing is just as valid as any other.

Women's Work

Intuitive ways of knowing are where you know you know something, but you just cannot explain how. You feel it, in your heart, in your mind, your body.  The knowledge comes from your lived experience.  There is no evidence or explanation for your knowledge.  This way of knowing, and feeling the knowledge in your whole body is what we call intuition.

Intuition in education is viewed as a key element to discovery, problem solving and gaining understanding.

In the initial stages of inquiry, intuition can be considered  as a basic source of evidence to support a theory.

Intuition is the capacity for attaining direct knowledge or understanding without the intrusion of rational thought or logic.

Intuitive knowledge comes to the surface seamlessly when a person is confronted with a complex problem.

When used intelligently, intuition has the potential to enhance executive judgement and decision making.

(Parsons and Beauchamp)

Intuition as a way of knowing by feeling or embodying knowledge can be counter-intuitive to everything that we have been taught in schools.  In schools where evidence rules supreme, trusting our intuition as evidence is rarely if ever encouraged or rewarded.  Yet, most people can agree or attest to having similar experiences to the one I described above.  If we sometimes know that we just know something, why do we not encourage this way of knowing in our students?  As we begin the process of rewriting the Alberta Curriculum for all students in our province, we have the opportunity to embrace and celebrate the many, varied ways of knowing.  It is imperative that our curriculum developers do so.

In order to know what is true, one must have a complete understanding of what is considered to be knowledge, knowing and truth.


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