Tag Archives: 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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Lipstick on a pig? Learning Theory and Instructional Design

Tonight I have learning theory on my mind.  In particular this involves learning theory as it is applied to instructional design.  I have just read  from Carr-Chellman (2010) that instructional design, “does work on the whole within a behavioral framework, meaning that the underlying notions of learning are those of information transmission rather than learner construction” (p.8).

This quote sits uneasily with me as I wrestle with unpacking its implications. I personally believe in the need to design learning experiences and opportunities for students that allow for co-construction of knowledge through constructivist and connectivist principles.  In this approach knowledge is co-created by students and teachers through a community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).  The implication is that teachers are not only content experts but, more importantly, they must help students to understand that the “capacity to know more is more critical than what is already known” (Siemens, 2005, p.4).  Knowledge is created by making connections through personal learning networks. This social constructivist or connectivist approach is somewhat counter to behaviorist learning theory that works on knowledge as directional transmission from teacher to student.


My question is, how do we or even yet should we marry these approaches to learning?  Carr-Chellman stresses that instructional design can be used to, “alter the model and work a constructivist solution within the behavioral model” (p. 9).  In my current work I find teachers who are tied to behavioral learning theory find it difficult to move into constructivist and even further into social constructivist or connectivist approaches to teaching and learning.  Is this altering of behaviourism, as suggested by Carr-Chellman, the best approach or do we need to approach instructional design from a more emergent and contingent model that leaves behaviourism in the past?  I worry that this altering approach may be as Bates (2015) describes, “old wine in new bottles” (p. 145).  This is just one of many questions that I lose sleep over and have yet to find the answer to.  I cannot wait to hear your thoughts!


Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge. eISBN: 9780203847275

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.


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Research as Reflexive Practice: Inquiry, Interpretation and Worth

This week’s readings led to a great deal of reflection on why we take up educational research.  The readings provided specifics related to how to conduct qualitative, quantitative and action research including how to conduct a literature review, literature mapping and the use of working titles from Creswell and  how to use reflection to guide research through reflexive inquiry from Hendricks. The more important reflection for me was that researchers need to truly understand what work is worth whiling over and therefore worthy of conducting a research inquiry.  Creswell (2014) warns that research projects require a great deal of time and energy and therefore a researchers must examine how their research topic can help fulfill them personally in the pursuit of understanding a topic of inquiry (p. 27).  Creswell provided questions that a researcher must ask oneself about whether a topic should be studied. Creswell addresses the standard questions such as does the “study add anything new to the body of research” and does the research add to the collected knowledge of a topic (p. 27).  Something new that Creswell adds to the discussion is the notion of how research can be used to further civil society.  He asks us to consider if the research inquiry “lifts up the voices of the underrepresented groups or individuals” (p. 27).  The idea that research can be a means in which to further social justice and to address ideas, beliefs and transform society is powerful and with it come great responsibility for the researcher.

Once such means of determining the worth of a research topic, which Hendricks (2013) addresses in Chapter 2, is through the use of reflexive inquiry (p, 31). Through this practice educators “place present thoughts and actions in the context of past thoughts, actions and history” (Hendricks, 2013, p. 31).  They therefore ground their research inquiry in their experiences acknowledging that they influence their beliefs and actions (p. 31).  Similar to that of of reflexive inquiry, Hendricks stresses that the nature of qualitative research “is to understand and interpret phenomena as they occur in natural settings” (p. 3).  This desire to study situations and contexts, rather than to control them allows researchers to “make meaning” from the deeply complex and nuanced situations that exist in our schools (p.3).  Jardine, Clifford and Friesen (2002) take up this work of using research to make meaning such as Hendrick describes.  In their writing they explain, “simply put that our research is interpretive in character.  It also means that classroom events that we are interested in are themselves interpretive in character” (Jardine, 2002, p. xxii).  Jardine acknowledges that classrooms are made of complex relationships and living histories that cannot be controlled but can be studied in order to make meaning together with students.  As we begin to consider our topics of inquiry for our research may we endevour to “while over a topic – working at it, composing it, composing ourselves over it, remember and cultivating one’s memory of it” and in doing so learn and share with others something worthwhile about ourselves and the world (Jardine, 2002, p. 226).


Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Hendricks, C. (2013). Improving schools through action research: A reflective practice approach (3rd ed.). Montreal, QC: Pearson Education.

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

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Uplifting Leadership


Over the next few days I will have the privileged of attending the Ulead conference in beautiful Banff, Alberta and one of the keynote speakers today was Andy Hargreaves. In his writing, Hargreaves has classified educational as having moved through four distinct periods, each with its own emphasis or approach to school leadership. His discussion will be useful when considering transformative leadership for blended learning. Hargreaves makes a distinction between each period of leadership by the roles that government, leaders, teachers and students play in learning. In the first period of leadership teachers were autonomous leaders in their own, often very small or one room schools. In the second period, school leaders became managers, concerned with accountability, standardization of both curriculum and assessment. This period took the autonomy away from teachers in an attempt to regulate learning and test scores. In the most recent, third period, leaders have shifted their focus to 21st century skills, performance, human capital, self-efficacy, targets, and technology. Strong and distributed leadership has been embraced by many learning organizations as a means to build human capital and increase performance.

Hargreaves believes that there is great potential in distributed leadership but warns that is must be taken as more that simply an opportunity for teachers to participate in decision making. Unfortunately, distributed leadership at its worst can be a way for leaders to offload responsibilities to teachers without giving teachers any ownership for decision-making. Distributed leadership at its best could and should create a culture and a climate where teachers feel they can bring innovation into their practice without waiting for an invitation or permission. This distributed approach to leadership has the potential to “raise institutional awareness, build support, and cultivate collaborative leadership” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 21). In a distributed leadership environment, teachers feel able to connect and collaborate to improve the learning outcomes of their students without waiting for instruction or directive from their leaders. As Garrison and Vaughan state, “Transformation must be driven by the need and demand for higher quality learning experiences” (p.4, 2008). Distributed leadership offer the hope for transformation where leaders see themselves as lead learners responsible for setting a direction, inspiring and supporting their teachers to design learning tasks that are of high quality.

In his presentation, a fourth way to leadership was offered by Hargreaves, in which the role of a leader moves beyond distributed to uplifting leadership. This fourth way of leadership relies on collective efficacy, participation and collaboration. Hargreaves describes uplifting leadership as having the following set of qualities. Uplifting leaders will set the direction for their organization by dreaming with determination. They will set the course based on clear, sound and defensible research and practice. Uplifting leaders are creative in their approach to system level change and work with the forces that may be perceived as resistant or working against them, turning perceived weakness into strengths. These leaders understand that there is great benefit in collaboration and they both push and pull their teachers to create communities of practice. Uplifting leaders do not use data to hold teachers accountable but instead measure with meaning to assure their various publics. Uplifting leaders understand that innovation must be undertaken in a way that is disciplined in order to manage and sustain growth as well as to reflect on practice and the impact that innovation has on learning. Uplifting leaders find opportunities that others have missed including embracing change even when things are succeeding. But most importantly, uplifting leaders know that their role is “to serve those who follow as well as, if not better than, they serve. Finally, and perhaps above all, remember that in all its forms, leadership without ongoing personal transformation is little more than management” (Workman & Clevelland-Innes, 2012, p. 323). Hargreaves agrees that in order to have transformational leadership, “we uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people who serve them.”

Hargreaves, A. (2015). Uplifting Leadership – Keynote ULead2015

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Leadership, policy, and organizational change (unpublished). Blended Learning in Higher Education.San Francisco : Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Workman, T., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2012). Leadership, personal transformation, and management. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 13(4), 313-323. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1383/2329

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Hydrangeas and other Sensitive Species

Why I love hydrangeas: They don’t flourish everywhere. They are sensitive. They are delicate.  They change colour dependent on the acidity of their environment. They are beautiful.  Many people wish to grow them. Very few people can keep them alive.

What do hydrangeas have to do with teaching? With learning?

We all are attracted to those things; plants, animals, and in particular people that are special and vulnerable yet attractive and beautiful. We all want to be able to grow a hydrangea, conquer that unconquerable goal, and help the most challenging student to learn.

What makes another person attractive to us?

More importantly, what is the purpose of being attracted to others?   Many of us have “magnet moments” were we are drawn to another person whether it be same-sex or opposite.  Often people we have never met before.  Why? Many philosophers believe that there are no coincidences, simply opportunities to connect and learn from others that are often missed.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s. – It was a principle that Jung felt gave conclusive evidence for his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, in that it was descriptive of a governing dynamic that underlies the whole of human experience and history — social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Concurrent events that first appear to be coincidental but later turn out to be causally related are termed incoincident.- Wikipedia

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”
James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy: A Pocket Guide to the Nine Insights

“We know that attention acts as a lightning rod. Merely by concentrating on something one causes endless analogies to collect around it, even penetrate the boundaries of the subject itself: an experience that we call coincidence, serendipity – the terminology is extensive. My experience has been that in these circular travels what is really significant surrounds a central absence, an absence that, paradoxically, is the text being written or to be written.”
Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

“We often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post. I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”
C.G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

Therefore if Jung is correct and nothing is a coincidence, how can we relate synchronicity to our experiences teaching and learning?

As educators, we must remember that the students that come to our classrooms each year are not a coincidence either. We have drawn them to us for a magnitude of reasons. If we were not destined to learn from each other, these students would have wound up in someone else’s homeroom. Therefore, we must take these most sensitive of “hydrangeas” under our wing, those students who are special and vulnerable. Those students that we find the most frustrating, the most challenging. We must learn from them too.  In fact, it is from these hydrangea-like students that we have the most to learn.  It was synchronicity that brought them to us and us to them. If we applied this theory to every person that crossed our path, if we remembered that they were there for a purpose to teach us something about ourselves, how would that change the way we interact?

My sister has a saying that even in our most frustrating moments, “god is in fact there too.”  god (by whatever or whichever name you call it) is everywhere drawing us like magnets to those people we have the most to learn from.

My attempts at growing hydrangeas and teaching complex students have taught me a great deal about frustration and patience, about risk and reward.  People have told me year after year that hydrangeas can’t grow in Calgary, that they will not survive our harsh environment.  Just like we are often told that certain students can’t and won’t learn.  In the face of these assertions, we have to be relentless.  I currently have two hydrangeas growing in my garden. They aren’t thriving yet, but they have survived…and I am vaguely confident that the longer I watch and listen and learn, the more likely they will be to grow and flourish.  Sound like any of the students in your class?

Until then, I will cherish their sensitivity and admire how they change and grow to reflect the conditions that surround them. Hydrangeas are symbols of love, gratitude and enlightenment. I guess it’s not a coincidence that, for me, they too are magnets.

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Platypuses – Aligning Innovation with Pedagogy

In our last Innovation, Research and Learning Resource Development Meeting (yes, we have a group by that lofty name) we discussed platypuses.  The platypus was our principal’s  analogy between new pedagogical ideas in education and the British naturalist of the 1800s.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, we (I) were jammed up by trying to figure out how project based learning relates to UDL.

This is a good thing, and started me thinking about how we try to process new ideas or try to integrate old ideas into what we do at ADLC.

We are like the British naturalist in the 1830’s. The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge would send people to the far reaches of the globe and they would bring back specimens of flora and fauna, many of which were “unknown” to science.

A platypus was dropped on desk in London in 1835.

Everyone gathered around said, “What the hell is that?”

We are exploring new world and bringing new ideas back to our desks every day.

I think we may need to be more thoughtful about how we do this.When we come across a new idea, here are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves and put some effort into answering as we introduce the idea for discussion:

  • What is our personal understanding of the idea?
  • Why is idea important?
  • How does the idea relate to the larger frameworks that we frequently reference?
  • How would the idea help us improve/change in a positive way
  • What further research does the idea require?

We need to start making our implicit thinking explicit so we can uncover our core beliefs about teaching and learning.

If we can better understand that, we will be able to better judge each new idea and innovation against what we believe and act on the ones that will have the most value to our students. – Jason Wiks (Associate Principal of Research, Innovation and Learning Resource Development ADLC)

Today,  I am reading and thinking and writing.  I have come to realize it takes more than simply reading and tweeting  to really understand how a pedagogy fits within an institution’s goals and vision for the future.  Nor do we serve our students but simply moving from one pedagogy to the next with no reflection on how they fit with current practice.  Having worked for a good school that jumped from one edu-bandwagon to another, I see the need to investigate pedagogy and ask ourselves how they fit (or don’t fit) with our organizational beliefs and goals.  Just because something is a “good” idea doesn’t mean it is right for us, right now.

Our first goal at ADLC is “success for every student.”  Every innovation and pedagogical shift must be run through this filter.  How will it improve outcomes for our students?  Are the resourcesrequired worthwhile in terms of return on investment?  And being that the investment is our students’ future…I think it is a question requiring daily reflection, how about you?

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