Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Traditional versus Virtual

In its bare essence, social constructivism refers to learning that occurs because of some sort of social interaction. I was able to understand the importance of the theory of social cognitive development, after listening to Dr. Jeanne Ormrod explain one of Vygotsky’s examples. As we mature, we develop our own view points or opinions, and often find that they are different from others. As we discover other view points, we can expand our thinking to integrate information from their view point with ours. So gradually, we start thinking about various view points on our own and learn to explore dilemmas with more than one view point (Laureate Edition 2009). This expansion of knowledge could not be possible without the social aspect of sharing one’s view point.

I looked at several resources about Vygotsky’s theory and social constructivism trying to find any pointed reference that states that his sense of social interaction is, indeed, defined as a "face to face" interaction. Granted, back in the early 1900’s, there were limited social alternatives to being with other people; however, I think that his theory refers to any kind of social interaction and can be applied to our social mediums of today, such as online classes, virtual worlds, skype, and web cameras. It is all the same social interaction, just through new technologies. These technologies can expand and build on traditional forms of social learning, leading the way for improved and a more multidimensional approach to learning.

There are many advocates of the traditional learning approach, and they would argue that technology takes away from the real and tangible aspect of learning, thus leaves learners feeling isolated. Just the other day, I was talking to a retired Biology professor about my graduate studies online. “I don’t know how you do it these days, get a masters online, all that technology…I am glad I am retired” she said.  Clearly she is not part of the emerging social technology wave, and probably she will never be a supporter of online learning or see its true value. Another example, closer to home, is from my older sister. She opted to get her masters at a “brick and mortar” school solely on the principle of social learning. She felt that she would not gain the knowledge she needed online and said that she needed “real” social interaction to learn. In both cases, I argued that online learning is not isolated or muddled by technology but, just the opposite. Additionally, learning through technology does not necessarily mean doing away with the values associated with face to face communication. I don’t believe that I go through to either of them. Personally, when I was in college, I went to class and studied hard but could rarely tell you who was in my classes much less talked to them. (unless it was a class requirement) This is my first experience with online learning, and I have to admit that the reliance on self direction and motivation was a bit hard for me to get used to. However, I have interacted with more people, been exposed to more points of views, found a flooding amount of information via blogs, wikis and online libraries than I ever had in my college days. I now find it empowering and I feel that I have more control over my learning experience.

Betsy Barret's Second Life Classroom
 Perhaps there is a middle ground for those traditionalists and virtualists in learning online. For the traditionalists, there are new trends that use virtual worlds for education allowing for a simulated face to face and real-time experience. I found a compelling article about a popular virtual world simulator called Second Life. It highlights one contemporary literature teacher that creates a virtual 3-D world model of the books that she teaches. Students can meet in that world and explore the book’s setting, converse with the book characters and all classmates can have this experience simultaneously. This not a new concept, because more than 300 universities back in 2007, including Harvard and Duke, used Second Life as an educational tool (Sussman 2007).

Lastly, leading Instructional designers are getting on the 3-D education band wagon. Just this week, Karl Kapp blogged about conducting his first summer class in Second Life and included the comments from the students on their experience. (Kapp 2011) Something tells me that this new technology is not going to sway my sister or my friend, the retired Biology professor, to leave their traditional views and come on over to the virtual side-even with the face to face interaction….well, actually… avatar face to avatar face interaction.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Theory of Social Cognitive Development [Video program]. Dr. Ormrod.

Sussman, B. (2007, January 8). Teachers, college students lead a second life. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-08-01-second-life_N.htm

Kapp, K. (2011, July 13) Learning in 3D-First class summer 2011. [Blog message] Retrieved from http://www.kaplaneduneering.com/kappnotes/index.php/2011/07/learning-in-3d-first-class-summer-2011/

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