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Constructivists Online: Reimagining Progressive Practice

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Notes from the Special Issue Editors

Helen Freidus, Mollie Welsh Kruger & Steven Goss

Rationalists wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves to right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.
   —Wallace Stevens, Landscape VI from
       "Six Significant Landscapes" (Greene, 1996)

In 1996, Maxine Greene shared these lines with educators to awaken them to a sense of possibility. She noted that Wallace Stevens does not strike out at rationalists for what they do but uses metaphor to orient readers “to fresh vantage points even in square rooms” (Greene, 1996). Today, digital pedagogy and online education offer new opportunities for possibility, once again calling us out of square rooms.

These new tools and spaces encourage us to "re-vision" our practice, connect with a wider audience of learners, and move away from the traditional confines of the square room. They do not diminish the value of the face-to-face classroom, but they do encourage new habits of mind that make it possible to engage learners of all ages.

In this issue of the Occasional Paper Series, we reimagine progressive pedagogy within the framework of digital pedagogy and online practice. Like Maxine Greene, Ellen Meier calls for educators to move beyond the familiar. In her essay, Beyond a Digital Status Quo: Re-conceptualizing Online Learning Opportunities, she suggests that new spaces are needed, spaces in which practices will allow teachers to do what they do best, teach to the needs and interests of all students. While the current state of online teaching poses very real challenges, it also provides opportunities for extending and re-conceptualizing practice in exciting and generative ways. 

In the first set of essays, Inside the Online Classroom, we present the experiences of educators who have entered the square room but have refused to be limited by its constraints. These are teacher educators who have designed their courses for the online venue. Some enthusiastically chose to teach online; others were mandated to do so.

Regardless of how their journey began, each author describes the work she or he is doing to bring constructivist practice online. To the surprise of each of these educators, they find that not only is the work possible, but it leads them to reframe the ways in which they approach their face-to-face teaching:

In the second set of essays, Beyond the Online Classroom, authors describe their experiences in a range of online contexts. These authors came to their work with a vision of how technology might offer new pathways for learning. They ask: what do K-12 classrooms, business school courses, teacher communities of practice, and museum spaces look like when infused with the new opportunities technologies offer?

The authors included in this section use constructivist practices to bring new visions to traditional experiences. They find that the outcomes are even richer than they had anticipated:

Across these articles, we find educators engaging with the challenges they encountered and emerging with new visions of constructivist practice. Authors who began as skeptics discovered possibilities. Authors who thought they understood the potential of online practice were struck by their students' and their own increased insight. The energy in these articles is palpable.

As you read about the journeys these educators took into rooms of different shapes, spaces, and sizes, we encourage you to look with new eyes and attend with open minds. Our hope is that the ideas presented in this edition of the Occasional Paper Series will encourage you to experiment with and document your own forays into online practice. We need more examples of teachers who have journeyed online to create constructivist classrooms and are willing to come back and share what they have discovered.