Constructivism and Technology in Art Education

By Prater, Michael | Art Education, November 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Constructivism and Technology in Art Education

Prater, Michael, Art Education

Technologies such as the Internet and interactive CD-ROMs are relatively new to the art classroom and often leave art teachers puzzled as to how to use them effectively. Using links (mouse-click connections between separate files of information), learners form connections and relationships between art concepts based on their interests and questions. Over time learners can begin to construct their own understanding of art and art ideas. Answers to questions previously presented as unquestionable fact, such as "What is color?" and "Who were the German Expressionists?" suddenly become open to multiple interpretations based on each learner's unique perspective on the question.

Traditional methods of teaching art have not fit easily with the individualistic, connections-driven learning that interactive hypermedia technologies support. But a newer approach called Constructivism does. When an art teacher uses constructivist methods, art students can use resources such as the Internet and CD-ROMs more effectively. This article examines the relationship between constructivist instruction and the use of interactive technology in the art classroom.

The Constructivist Perspective

Constructivist methods are very different from more traditional Aristotelian approaches to curricula and teaching. From the traditional point of view, a discipline of knowledge is composed of facts that are "true" and considered constants, existing in a hierarchy that represents the structure of the discipline. Curriculum involves creating a sequence of objectives that expose students to the "facts" of a discipline in a manner that reflects their hierarchy (Greene, 1995).

In opposition, Constructivism refutes the idea of constants and their hierarchy within a discipline as the focus of instruction. Instead, individuals must construct meaning based on their experiences (Brooks & Brooks, 1995). New experiences are related to past experiences, resulting in a process in which knowledge and beliefs are constantly modified and seen as interconnected. In this way, an individual's understanding of content is more holistic and personally meaningful.

Three key features (Brooks & Brooks, 1995; Greene, 1995) of the constructivist approach are:

* The hierarchy of content is less important than the connections between concepts that the learner discovers.

* A constructivist plan of study reflects the inquiry process of the learner. Content is introduced as it is encountered or requested by the learner.

* With the instructor's guidance, learners determine their own objectives and tasks.

Theories of two famous cognitive psychologists, Piaget and Vygotsky, are at the foundation of Constructivism. Specifically, Constructivism relies on Piaget's theories about knowledge schemata and experience and Vygotsky's theories about how our social context directly affects our perception of our experiences.

According to Piaget (1970, 1977), learners acquire knowledge by grouping similar experiences into structures (called schema) that eventually acquire a name or category. The more experiences we add to a structure,

the more in-depth an understanding we construct for that concept. The created structures interconnect and form larger concepts. Each time an experience is had that directly contradicts an existing knowledge structure, the learner enters into the state Piaget called disequilibrium. A learner resolves this form of mental stress by ignoring the experience, beginning a new schema, or revising the existing one.

Vygotsky (1986) adds to the process of constructing meaning by suggesting perception is by no means a constant. When two people experience an event, they both experience the event in different ways. Their perception of the experience is largely shaped and affected by their social, cultural, and physical environment and the symbol systems that have been learned prior to the event. By interacting with others in relation to that event, learners incorporate different perspectives into their understanding of what they experienced. …

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