Cultural constructivism

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Beyond the immediate social environment of a learning situation are the wider context of cultural influences, including custom, religion, biology, tools and language. For example, the format of books can affect learning, by promoting views about the organisation, accessibility and status of the information they contain.

"[What we need] is a new conception of the mind, not as an individual information processor, but as a biological, developing system that exists equally well within an individual brain and in the tools, artefacts, and symbolic systems used to facilitate social and cultural interaction." (Vosniadou, 1996)

The tools (including language and other symbolic systems as well as physical tools) that we use affect the way we think. Salomon and Perkins (1998) identify two effects of tools on the learning mind. (1)they redistribute the cognitive load of a task between people and the tool while being used. For example, a label can save long explanations, and using a telephone can change the nature of a conversation.(2)the use of a tool can affect the mind beyond actual use, by changing skills, perspectives and ways of representing the world. For example, computers carry an entire philosophy of knowledge construction, symbol manipulation, design and exploration, which, if used in schools, can subversively promote changes in curricula, assessment, and other changes in teaching and learning.

Higher mental functions are, by definition, culturally mediated. They involve not a direct action on the world but an indirect one, one that takes a bit of material matter used previously and incorporates it as an aspect of action. Insofar as that matter itself has been shaped by prior human practice (eg it is an artefact), current action incorporates the mental work that produced the particular form of that matter. (Cole and Wertsch, 1996, p252)

Cobern (1993) writes of the world of subject matter and the internal mental world of the student as competing conceptual "ecologies", an image which invokes pictures of competing constructs, adaptation and survival-of-the-fittest. This is a somewhat more complex picture than radical constructivism. It highlights the need to consider both contexts fully, that of the student and that of the knowledge to be learned.

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Cobern, W (1993) Contextual Constructivism: The impact of culture on the learning and teaching of science. In: K. Tobin (Ed) The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education, pp 51-69, Lawrence-Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

Cole, M. & Wertsch, J. V. (1996). Beyond the individual-social antimony in discussion of Piaget and Vygotsky. Human Development, 39, pp 250-256.

Dougiamas, M. (1998). A journey into Constructivism,

Vosniadou, S. (1996). Towards a revised cognitive psychology for new advances in learning and instruction. Learning and Instruction 6, 95-109.