Constructionism at Work

John running camera photo by Angie Kim

I often advocate for using technology, especially within the realm of a constructionist-minded scenario, for learning. I often, however, have not had these types of experiences in graduate school. Our team from EDLP 705 had a great scenario penned by our own Joe Koontz. As I joined this team, I was quite pleased to learn that they wanted to make a movie instead of acting-out the scenario live. I have a few reasons for thinking that the video production might be a richer educational experience.

For one, the level of technique required for the acting must be tighter. It’s got to be more rehearsed. Practiced. And this time of rehearsing and practicing adds hours to the total time for the project, but the pay-off is more refinement of thought. We had discussions as we “read through” the script, about why some things were written the way they were. The “originator” of the script had to defend his thinking, while the actor added his 5-cents as to why changing a line would had even more complexity to the story. This was rich stuff.

Second, we get to control what the audience sees. This is limiting for the audience, of course, but its also a critical decision-making process for us, creating the video. The camera angle, the surroundings, and the costume and other elements which are possible thanks to digital technology all play-into refining what we want the audience to see. Done well, we can actually take-away text from the script, and in the process, make the story richer by inviting the viewer to put more of the pieces together. At some point, we cross-over learning about ethical frameworks and into the art of movie making, but as long as we have some of the basic skills, the process of learning about the content–in this case the ethical frameworks–is a richer, more rewarding experience. Making choices about what the audience of our film sees taps our own higher-order cognitive reaches along the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

Third, the use of technology still invites conversations. By placing our movie online, we can tap-into the social tools that make sites like YouTube and Vimeo so popular. And these conversations can be had by folks we don’t even know. This is the read/write web at its best.

Fourth, the ethical challenges faced by the characters in the movie in dramatic fashion applies the art of storytelling as its own teaching mechanism. This speaks more about our “Option B” assignment than the movie itself, but the story we told–albeit one made up–started as one man’s scenario, and it was strengthened by forming into a script for a play. It further got refinement from all of us (using an online collaborative tool) when we packaged it for a movie. The resulting artifact enabled each of us to develop our own twenty-first century skill of “teaching others,” and that artifact now has the potential to inspire others to think more critically about their own ethical challenges, and more importantly, how to work them out with solutions they can live with.

We want to whet your appetite with the trailer for our movie:

I know the creation of our scenario into a movie has well-prepared us for the “play” version of our tale next Saturday at VCU. But the collaboration we each contributed towards making the video was another learning experience in its own right, and I’m glad my colleagues pushed us–even in times of doubt–to do this. I took an acting back seat in order to think more like the director and I edited the footage into the movie. Angie, Derrick, Joe, and Shawnya (our big lead role!) were a great team to work with.

You know, constructivist and constructionist-designed learning experiences haven’t received the amount of attention they deserve by evaluators. But when you engage in project-based experiences, you simply know you’ve had a more profound learning experience. And the emphasis should be on the word “experience.” These learning experiences take extra time, but as leaders, we ought to look for the opportunities to do so – for ethical reasons or simply because we want to have examples for those we work with, our own kids, or ourselves when we question taking-on steep challenges.

I look forward to comparing our movie-making experience with the live-theater experience on Saturday – perhaps that will be another blog post.

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