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From traditional to constructivist epistemologies: a proposed theoretical framework based on activity theory for learning communities.

This article is concerned with how learning communities are transformed as they evolve from traditional learning epistemologies towards constructivist orientations and pedagogies. Adopting activity theory as a framework, the article discusses how transformations take place through a two-way process of appropriation (learning from one another as a two-way interaction process) at both the social-collective and individual-learner levels of interaction and cognition. We distinguish transformations at two levels: context and process, acknowledging overlaps between the two. Context transformations involve the macro-level activity system, whereas process transformations are concerned with in-situ micro-level changes. Through the concept of activity systems, we hope to illustrate how evolving transformations are captured from a historical frame of reference. The article also discusses technologies as enablers within a proposed framework in support of such epistemological transformations.


Recently, many sources of literature suggest the usefulness of communities for the service of learning (Barab, MaKinster, & Scheckler, 2004). Researchers in the area of Communities of Learners (CoL) (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999) have also shown in many interesting ways--through qualitative and quantitative data--how students (K-12) engage in authentic tasks as a community. In this article, we aim to draw out issues relating to the transformatory and evolutionary processes underlying the formation of learning communities. We illustrate a case example of how transformatory processes, from traditional to constructivist-oriented epistemologies, evolved through a school in Singapore. Activity theory and socio-cultural theories are adopted to illustrate the evolutionary transformations in a historical frame of analysis. Finally, we discuss issues on how transformations can take place from traditional to constructivist epistemologies in relation to collective and individual perspectives.

As a preamble, we describe the background context to the study of learning communities. We had initially adopted the concept of learning communities as described in the literature and applied the benefits of computer-supported collaborative learning environments (in the support of learning communities) towards constructivist forms of pedagogy. However, we failed in our initial attempts in encouraging students to engage in constructivist learning. We had initially thought that by engaging them with appropriate learning technologies in a communal context, students would naturally construct knowledge. Thus, our focus on the research shifted from that of observing knowledge construction through virtual communities to that of facilitating a transformation towards constructivist epistemologies in such environments. This shift in focus arose as we gradually saw a transformatory and evolutionary process taking place as we persisted in our efforts in facilitating learning communities.

Although the backdrop of this article discusses a research project implemented in a Singaporean school, the aim of this article is to illustrate the need to emerge and evolve a transformation rather than make the assumption that constructivist thinking will occur because a technology with particular affordances designed with that epistemology is adopted. It is not the intent of this article to report research data capturing context and process transformations. Instead the article highlights activity theory as a useful tool for capturing evolving transformations where techniques such as computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) can be used as enablers within the transformational processes. In the work described in this article we have used "Knowledge Forum" as a CSCL environment


Although communities have existed for centuries, researchers and educators have, in the last decade, begun to recognise the potentials of learning communities to schooling. Many research studies are now focusing on the effective design of learning communities, and the recognition that such designs can only, to a limited degree, be "designed" or planned (a priori). Some researchers now agree that communities emerge from within the community and that the dynamic structures of "living" communities are deeply concerned with issues of sociability rather than technicality or usability (Barab et al., 2004). Moreover, tensions arise in the design of communities because designers' conceptions of how communities should work may often times interfere with the evolving and dynamic nature of how things work among the members. The in-situ nature is congruent to the philosophy of situated cognition (Hung, 2003). Recent works also focus on the nature of knowledge, for example, how scientists form and create knowledge, and social structures and relationships between people become a central feature in the ownership and crafting of knowledge (Roth, 2002; Wenger, 1998).

Evolutionary processes over time are congruent to the concept of the historical and developmental process within situated cognition--the in-situ nature of cognition (Clancey, 1997). The evolutional process is the real-life development through which individuals such as students go through to achieve the goals and outcomes of a learning journey. We argue that learners must evolve or emerge from within themselves by creating shared worlds of meaning in the process. The epistemological basis of a relational and situated view of meanings is where inter-subjectivity can be established through negotiation of meanings. Relations in actions and situations through meaning negotiation are essential units to which participants orient themselves in their efforts in reaching understanding and inter-subjectivity (Barwise & Perry, 1983).

The underlying principles of interactions between members of the learning community are largely constructivist in orientation, where learners are given autonomy to pursue learning goals and extend knowledge (Bielaczyz & Collins, 1999). Constructivism advocates the construction of knowledge in socio-cultural contexts through meaningful activities. Multiple perspectives and representations are recognized to be part of the knowledge building and extension process. Knowledge is shared and distributed in tools, people, and the community (Jonassen, 1999).

Constructivist versus Traditional Epistemologies

Constructivist epistemologies are inclined towards students' pursuing personal understanding and meaning making as goals for learning (Smith, Maclin, Houghton, & Hennessey, 2000). In contrast, traditional epistemologies in schools largely consist of memorizing a body of knowledge and finding the correct answers. In a constructivist epistemology and pedagogy, students are engaged in asking deep domain-specific questions that help them to develop an understanding of the core explanatory ideas in a given domain. In contrast, traditional epistemologies emphasize the need for students to ask procedural and factual questions.

Furthermore, constructivist epistemology stresses that students should be given the responsibility for deciding on the experiments they need to be engaged in, to test their ideas and hypotheses. In contrast, traditional pedagogies merely engage students in prescribed experimental procedures. Finally, constructivist classrooms are seen to engage students in sustained dialog-idea hypothesis, testing, and revision--within the community of learners; whereas traditional classrooms simply provide readers with a "rhetoric of conclusions" (Schwab, 1962). In essence, if we desire a community of learners to engage in constructing knowledge, just putting a group of learners together may not necessarily achieve the goals of constructivist learning. Rather, they need to assimilate the appropriate epistemology over time. Students need to be immersed in a context of participatory learning where constructivist pedagogies are preached and practiced.

Transformations in Individual and Collective Appropriation of Meanings

Much of the work focusing on learning communities and communities of practice spring from socio-cultural research (Wertsch, 1995), where learning is seen as participation in collective-communal activities within a social and situated setting, and that knowledge acquisition is seen as an appropriation from others through that social structure (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Learning and participation cannot be seen as separated but irremediably bound up with each other (Roth, 2002).

Similarly, Ricoeur (1997; 1998) defined appropriation as a transformation at both ends of self and the "text" (in terms of hermeneutical interpretation). This form of appropriation transforms individuals within a collective membership (by way of transformations of a reader's understanding when encountering a text). Within this evolving phenomenon, both subject and object are transformed just as reader and texts undergo a change process. In essence, text through the "constructivist epistemology" remains objectively the same, but the reader's (subject) understanding of the text (object) is perceived in a new light. In the same vein, as a school evolves into a constructivist learning community, the "constructivist epistemology" is objectively the same, but now perceived in a qualitatively different way as the school as a collective entity evolves its own understanding of this object.

Integrating the sub-sections of the literature review, we emphasize that traditionally-oriented (in terms of pedagogy) school communities can only be transformed into constructivist-oriented learning communities through sustained changes at both the collective and individual levels. These changes are enacted through the process of mutual appropriation and transformation. We discuss these issues in the later part of this article. As this article also proposes technologies as enablers for transformations, we consider the kinds of CSCL communities (as enabling technologies), which follow similar constructivist orientations or epistemologies of learning.

Technologically Supported Communities and Constructivist Epistemologies

Issues of sociability in computer-supported collaborative learning environments have become central in recent literature on virtual communities (Preece, 2000). Sociability refers to the social policies and technical structures that support a community's shared purpose and social interactions among the group members. These sociability issues (human-to-human as mediated by technology) are featured in contrast to usability issues in human-computer interactions. Salmon (2000) suggested that the sociability interactions can be categorized using a number of schemes but most importantly focusing upon knowledge developed through personal interaction with materials and learning tasks, and knowledge developed through interaction with others. In addition, integration skills of e-moderation such as the weaving and summarizing of issues highlighted by members of the community are needed to extend the life and value of the community to the participants.

The need for creating an identity (which is rooted in one's beliefs and personal epistemologies) is also the basis of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's (1991) theory of Situated Learning.</p> <pre> Because learning transforms who we are and what we can do, it is an experience of identity. It is not just the accumulation of skills and information, but a process of becoming--to become a certain person or, conversely, to avoid becoming a certain person.... It is in that formation of an identity that learning can be come a source of meaningfulness and of personal and social energy. (Wenger, 1998, p. 215). </pre> <p>Wenger mentions two critical aspects that are required to create an "experience of identity"--a process and a place. These "processes" when situated in "places" foster rich learning opportunities (Wenger, 1998).</p> <pre> Viewed as an experience of identity, learning entails both a process and a place. It entails a process of transforming knowledge as well as a context in which to define an identity of participation. As a consequence, to support learning is not only to support the process of acquiring knowledge, but also offer a place where new ways of knowing can be realized in the form of such an identity. (Wenger, 1998, p. 215) </pre> <p>While Lave and Wenger (1991) proposed the notion of identity for physical workplace settings or, for Communities of Practice, our task is to understand the virtual equivalent of identity creation that could be used in particular towards constructivist identity in CSCL communities.

Thus, if we are to bring about or, enable, CSCL "experiences of identity" (that is, the constructivist epistemology or identity), we would have to consider the virtual equivalents of process and a place. As far as the issue of an online or virtual equivalent of a "place" goes, virtual communities offer rich opportunities that can be used to form the context in which learners construct meanings. They not only provide a virtual meeting place, but also sustain a channel of communication through which relationships and identities can be created and sustained. On the issue of an online or virtual equivalent of "process," recent advances in Internet technologies offer several opportunities through which knowledge can be shared and constructed. One aspect that characterizes communities is the nature of the social interactions between members of the community. People form communities to pursue shared goals or ideals. In the act of pursuing these goals and ideals, they construct knowledge and form social relationships. It is the nature of the social interactions through these relationships that sustains the community, or in the case of a community of learners, sustains learning.

Thus, if we were to create successful CSCL virtual communities, it would appear that we would have to include the means and mechanisms through which we can foster online or virtual social interactions that can enable learners to construct meanings and form strong relationships (Rheingold, 1994). These means and mechanisms have already been in existence for a long time. Online communication tools such as newsgroups, discussion boards, chat, and messaging programs, are used by many virtual learning communities. The issue here is not just the inclusion of the tools, but the manner in which they are used to create and sustain relationships. Now, there are mailing lists, message boards, chats, and virtual worlds (Kim, 2000) that foster virtual communities. But with the proliferation of such new tools, and subsequently of web sites that cater for online communities, there has been growing confusion on what actually constitutes a virtual community. In the following section, we describe and discuss the transformatory and evolutionary processes of an online learning community through the framework of activity theory.


Activity theory is a framework for analyzing activity structures inherently conceived through a socio-cultural research perspective (Kuutti, 1996; Jonassen, 2000). Its roots date back to Leont'ev (1978), Vygotsky (1978, 1981), and Marxist orientations. Besides the social and cultural emphasis, activity theory stresses the historical dimensions of phenomena (Nardi, 1996). In other words, the activity framework fits well into the dimension of the evolutionary processes. Many researchers interested in this kind of work employ activity theory as an analytical tool to develop representations of the state of the system (at any particular stage of its history)--see, for example, Engestrom (1999).

Activity theory is a framework that could be used to analyze teaching and learning activities within constructivist epistemologies at a particular instance. It examines the activities that teachers and students are engaged in, the types of physical tools/mental models that they use in the activities, the goals and intentions of the activities and the learning outcomes, and/or artifacts produced within the socio-cultural contexts in which they operate. See Figure 1 for the activity processes underlying a community structure using constructivist epistemologies as an example. The representation of activity systems in the form of a triangle in Figure 1 with its component dimensions such as "tools," "rules," and others are based on the conceptualizations of Engestrom (1999).


Within an activity system, participants work towards an object or goal, through which an outcome such as a project presentation or report is achieved. In order for the subject (e.g., the students in the classroom) to produce the intended object (e.g., a project presentation), tools (e.g., computer-supported collaborative learning software) are used to mediate the process. As subjects do not co-exist in communities by themselves, rules (e.g., working norms for doing project work) mediate between subject and community. In the same vein, division of labor mediates between the community and object. There are, in essence, different roles played by varying members of the community (e.g., teachers take on a facilitator role while students construct meaning) to achieve the object. This activity structure typically illustrates the kind of process that takes place within the activities of a community. The basic claim we are proposing in this article is that all the processes depicted in Figure 1 undergo some form of change and transformation as community members define the aims, which it is moving towards.

For example, if a community is striving towards a constructivist epistemology as its object, its conceptualization of what this epistemology is changes over time; the members of the community are transformed (subjects) as a result of appropriating this new pedagogy; and inevitably the rules and division of labor are adapted accordingly. Our conjectures of such an evolving process would similarly apply to the appropriation of technologies (tools) in the process or the customization of constructivist technologies to "fit into" the evolving nature of the entire activity system. Engestrom (1999) summed up what would be our aims in this kind of research.</p> <pre> I want to suggest that such methodology is best developed when researchers enter actual activity systems undergoing such transformation.... Such construction can be successful only when based on careful historical and empirical analyses of the activity in question. (Engestrom, 1999, p. 25-36) </pre> <p>Figure 2 illustrates a historical frame of analysis where activity systems are adopted to trace the evolving development and transformation of communities.

Figure 2 is an attempt to illustrate an evolving formation and process of a learning community as depicted by activity systems. The various components in the activity system such as the tools used ([T.sub.1] ... [T.sub.i] ... [T.sub.n] ... etc.) evolve over time (the assumption here being that the object or goal of the activity system remains as "constructivist epistemology"). The Subject (S) changes over time in tandem with the understanding of the Object (O). In essence, all the processes undergo change and transformation, albeit at different rates of change (for example, [C.sub.i-1] or [R.sub.i-2]) [C denoting community].


Emergence within Communities as Activity Systems--Case Example

In this article we propose to distinguish between context and process transformations within communities. Contexts include communities as a distinctive frame or context in consideration. Dimensions within each context include the specific settings, language and genres used, people and behaviors, tools and functions, and the rules and policies, which facilitate the interactions among people. By context authenticity we refer to the macrolevel evolving nature of the community at the activity system level. The moment we step into a community, we enter into its evolving state (for example, we bring knowledge into the community). This describes the evolutionary nature of the context.

By process transformations we refer to the in-situ emergent nature of actions and cognition at the micro-level, that is, at the individual processes of the activity system. For example, somewhere along our interactions with individuals, we may decide to change our plan and do something else, which is more productive. This describes the in-situ or emerging nature of the process transformations. Process authenticity is congruent with the situated cognition stand, that is, every thought is a (re)construction, and that the memory we possess is not a "stored" memory, but a process memory (Clancey, 1997), which denotes the emerging nature of cognition-in-action.

The recent emphasis of the in-situ emergence of situated cognition suggests the perspective of a truly authentic situation arising in the dynamic relations and interactions between people and not so much in the problem, task, or environment. This emergence takes the notion of situated cognition to its fullest extent by emphasizing that knowing and context are irreducible and coconstituted, and thus learning is conceived of as fundamentally constitutive of the contextual particularities in which it is nested. In this sense, the emergence in situated cognition takes a firm stand on the role of communities of practice as situated contexts through which cognition and the context are always codetermining in terms of authenticity (Barab, Squire, & Dueber, 2000). But this leaves little room for situated cognition to be manifested in schools if we make the assumption that only practice related contexts are truly situated. Instead we argue that schools are also legitimate situated contexts in their own rights and practices. Schools are also legitimate communities of practice (CoPs)--the education CoPs.

At this juncture we reiterate that it is not the aim of this article to present detailed research findings. The example of a Singaporean school context below is intended to illustrate the issues rather than to present substantial qualitative findings.

Table 1 illustrates by means of a case study, an example of a group of students undergoing transformation, how stages in the historical processes can be traced.

Table 1 illustrates our observations of Knowledge Forum (KF) teams (engaged in the process of Knowledge Building) working on scientific inquiry in a Singaporean school. Knowledge ForumTM is a computer-supported collaborative learning software package. In short, we refer to teams of students engaged in Knowledge Forum[TM] as KF teams. Initially when KF was implemented in the school, we attempted to "replicate" the work done in foreign countries such as Canada (under the auspices of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto). KF was shown in research (Scardamalia, 2002; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1991) to have profound efforts in fostering scientific inquiry and learning communities. In many parts of the world where KF has been implemented, studies showed that the affordances of the technology enabled learners to be scaffolded into constructivist forms of knowledge building--building upon one another's knowledge, theories, conjectures, and other scientific thinking processes. We modeled the contexts of KF studies by administering scientific problems for students to engage in discourse similar to the constructs of A[S.sub.1] (as the starting point of representing the activity system). In the implementation of KF in Singaporean schools, we were beset with problems where students were engaged in social chat rather than scientific discourse. As a research team, we met with the teachers and analysed the methods and constructs which we adopted, and over time, we continued to refine the process (depicted by A[S.sub.i] as an interim state in the evolutionary process) yet allowing the groups to evolve on their own. At this juncture of our research, we are at A[S.sub.n] (the terminal stage of our observations in this project), but by no means have these learning communities evolved to their maximum potentials with regards to constructivist epistemologies. As Table 1 illustrates, some dimensions of the activity system do not change, for example, between A[S.sub.i] and A[S.sub.n], the organisation of groups has stabilised. In other instances, additional tools are included into the scientific inquiry process, for example, between A[S.sub.i] and A[S.sub.n]--the use of simulations and data collection devices. In A[S.sub.n], the scientific inquiry procedure is refined. Thus, Figure 1 illustrates the plausible evolution of the activity system beginning from A[S.sub.i] to the point A[S.sub.n], as we have experienced in our study. The various activity systems (as depicted by AS) are a means to trace the historical path through which knowledge building and group-community processes evolved. Every instance in time of an evolving state of an activity system is depicted as A[S.sub.i]. In this sense, we have adopted activity theory as an analytical tool to depict activity processes in a historical time-frame.

As much as researchers and educators attempt to design or intervene with various strategies within the learning community, the formation of a learning community (e.g., the knowledge which the community constructs, the roles which the members adopt, etc.) may not necessarily develop according to the plans or interventions of the researchers. The need arises in research to "manage the appropriate balance" between evolving and predesigned constructs. For a successful community to evolve, a sustained purpose or goal, which the community moves towards, needs to be recognized by all members of the community.

To illustrate this point, our research was initially only ethnographic where we were merely observers to collaborative activity structures in the schools. Our naive conceptions were that students would "construct knowledge" as a natural consequence of adopting authentic tasks and collaborative technologies. However because of the lack of constructivist epistemologies among schools and students, we have now reconstructed our research agenda to a developmental and transformative process where change would occur from within the school context rather than as "imposing" structures from outside. The objective of fostering the constructivist epistemology among students is (now that it is reconstructed) aimed towards empowering participants to take greater control of their learning. As a result of this changed agenda, the entire transformative process becomes a coevolutionary process between participants and the envisaged/designed environment.


In the following sections, we discuss the transformatory changes in both participants and environment (context) in fostering learning communities based on what we have learned in our research studies. These transformatory changes can be typified by the transformations in: school structures and policies (context), designed activities for learning (context and process), and students' thinking (process).

Context Transformations--Transformatory Changes in School Structures and Policies

From our analysis, we posit that in the formation and sustaining of communities, a sustained and central object must be evident, for example, the "constructivist epistemology" translated to "a compelling need for scientific inquiry." There has been a rethinking of the context-object underpinning the school's policy. The school as a collective entity must develop its own beliefs and goals for learning--it needs an intentional effort to aim towards a constructivist epistemology. With an overarching aim towards such an objective, the school would have to reorganize its structures and processes toward such a goal. Gradually, a dialectical (or bi-directional) process then occurs between individual students and teachers as they acquire constructivist thinking and as they contribute their ideas--a collective version results as a process. This individual and collective construction is coevolved as the community forms.

For a sustained transformation of learning epistemologies to be realised across the school, there should be a "sufficient mass" of initiatives and students/teachers engaged in the constructivist epistemologies, thinking, and practices; whereupon both the collective and individual are transformed as a result of this bi-directional (school and individual) appropriation of constructivism. Constructivist practices such as scientific inquiry when first implemented usually fail, and schools have to struggle to recast appropriated meanings borrowed from elsewhere. "Learning can be thought of as changing participation in the ongoing but changing collective praxis" (Roth, 2002, p. 12). The school environment needs a milieu of inquiry and constructivist thinking, and such a context leads to constructivist practices in the form of authentic activities in the classrooms. We recognize that authentic activities mediate between both context and process within the activity system.

Context and Process Transformation--Transformatory Changes in the Design of Authentic Activities

Implied in the previous discussion, students' and teachers' epistemologies must be gradually transformed to constructivist orientations through continued exposure to constructivist forms of inquiry and authentic problem solving. These are processes, which need to be transformed as "rules" for learning tasks and activities in the activity system. These authentic tasks are also designed in an evolutionary fashion, subjected to change, as the researchers and teachers consider how to provide scaffolding for students towards constructivist thinking and epistemologies. In other words, the authentic tasks as appropriated from foreign contexts through the literature would most likely "not work" in the local context. However, this predesign of authentic tasks has to be experimented with the students and cannot be conceptualised in isolation. The authentic and ill-structured problem solving through which students are engaged in should have inherent linkages to societal concerns and other pragmatic implications, for example, concerns of water supply in the Singaporean context.

On the part of the students, our research efforts aim to gradually see in our students the evolving epistemology behind ill-structured problems and the "big ideas" in science. "Big ideas" in science would be issues such as "why do leaves turn color at the change of seasons' or "what makes water drinkable" (now that Singapore has been charged with the problem of water scarcity and that alternative means of water supply such as desalination will probably be necessary in the future). Teachers initially assigned students with projects on scientific problems, especially those found in the curriculum. Alas, we found that students were engaged in the projects without a "buy in" to the projects. When asked: "Why are you doing this project," they answered: "because the teacher assigned it to us" (albeit unconvincingly). When further questioned for reasons, students recognized what we wanted as responses and candidly replied: "Because we are interested in the project." Initially, we have set the students upon a problem issue related to one of the curriculum topics where the teacher would teach the subject first and students would subsequently engage in a discourse. Students made attempts to explain the phenomena; however, no in-depth scientific inquiry and discourse was evident. As a result of these initial efforts, we have now moved away into situations where students explore their own authentic problem situations and where the scaffolding structure would be more appropriate.

Having discussed the project findings with teachers, we decided to make the activities more authentic or meaningful to the students, and relevant to the societal concerns. We also adopted other forms of learning tool such as simulations to keep the students focused on the concepts and tasks at hand. We felt that mere discussions on KF would not be sufficiently rich (an activity) for sustaining discourse. An authentic problem is illustrated in Figure 3 (as presented to students).

Due to global concerns of the curriculum, we have decided to do this during a proposed three-day summer-camp in their holidays. We hope that these efforts would gradually infuse scientific inquiry and cognition as mediated by technology. We stress at this juncture that the design of authentic activities is in itself a co-evolutionary process where we have ourselves as researchers learned through "experimentation" how to scaffold students' thinking.

Process Transformation--Transformatory Changes in Thinking and Beliefs

We recognize that our local students need time to learn about KF and the thinking that underpins such environments. The benefits of KF as a technology to mediate thinking have to be realized by students. Without this recognition, students will adopt other pragmatic ways to handle the problem situation (as presented as authentic tasks for students). Fortunately, KF also allows customization of its procedural scaffolds, and through the process, we appropriated scaffolds, which we felt our students would align their thinking with. In other words, KF allowed us to customize procedural scaffolds to "fit into" the evolving patterns of thinking among our students.

From the concepts of appropriation as described in our literature review, default procedural scaffolds, for example, "My Theory" and "I need more information on" may initially be alien to the students, and through the process of assimilation, students would gradually translate these genres into their language and thinking. Concomitantly, students may also evolve patterns of genre and cues which may differ from the ones provided in KF according to the evolving patterns of discourse. The students in essence transform "what was alien to them" into their own patterns of discourse according to the needs of the authentic tasks and concepts at hand. This authenticity in discourse is achieved from a coevolutionary process of interaction between the parties involved.

Members within the school community (at large) must have this sense of mutual dependency (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999) and trust where they will not "lose out" because they share their understanding with others. This form of distributed cognition or mutual inter-dependency must be developed over time as members learn to gain confidence in their peers. In our observations of KF groups, initially assigned group leaders or facilitators fade out and "natural" facilitators emerge. These leaders summarise the discussions, appoint sub-tasks to group members, and engage in other forms of coordination and communication efforts. Students in the KF groups need to work out their roles and responsibilities as they emerge as a group in relation to individual strengths and weaknesses.

In this regard, leaders, facilitators, and teachers within a community must gradually evolve and become evident through their contributions and respect they gained. These leaders or facilitators must constantly keep the community alive. This is when the roles or division of labor within the activity structure evolves. There must be a growth mechanism where newer members are "coached" or mentored into greater capacities within the "living" and dynamically-oriented community. Older members fade away over extended periods of time, and newer members take leadership.

There are probably other context and process transformations, which need to be considered. Transformations at both the macro- and micro-levels of the activity system must evolve over time allowing the different levels of the system to emerge with its own development. Although constructivist practices may be the direction to lead learners towards, learners must "do the walking" (Bopry, 1999) on the "path laid out." Context and process should emerge from the activities and processes from within the activity system.

Proposing a Framework for Transformations in Schools

From these discussions, context and process transformations involve three levels of dialectical change: first, changes in school structures and policies; second, evolving change in the design of authentic activities; and, third, change in students' and teachers' beliefs and thinking.

The first dimension--school policies--considers the school's context which includes culture, workflow processes which are in place, the design of the curriculum structure, reward systems, and the kinds of overarching beliefs and values held by a school. The authentic activities dimension is the pedagogies practiced and implemented during curriculum and noncurriculum time organized by the school. The third dimension is the individual teacher and student thinking and beliefs. If the design of school structures and reward systems influences the behavior and beliefs of teachers and students, then a traditional systemic structure would influence teachers to value teaching as transmission of information. On the contrary, if teachers believe that constructivist methods are ultimately better for their learners, they will practice the appropriate strategies which foster meaning-making, and over time, students are likely to manifest the appropriate behaviors in the classrooms. Transformations are only possible when we introduce change processes in all three dimensions in a mutually dialectical manner. Another important consideration is the technology enablers that are set in place. Teachers and students cannot perform effectively and efficiently unless they have good tools to work with. Hence, in implementing technology tools, school leaders have to ask: Are the enablers, for example, technology systems, network speed, infrastructure, and bandwidth adequate in supporting efficient and effective use? Table 2 identifies the kinds of enablers which could be incorporated into CSCL environments. Within such environments, techniques for facilitating productivity, information access, connectivity, visualization-simulations, and the reconstruction of knowledge should be possible.

In simple terms, oftentimes teachers adopt new practices and pedagogies but often experience frustrations. One simple reason, for example, is that learners or individuals do not possess the mindset or beliefs for constructing knowledge and that the school-structure of classroom or curriculum time allocations do not match the kinds of constructivist activities needed to facilitate the process of learning. In other words, if teachers are working with "new wine" (constructivist methods) in "old bottles" (traditional systemic structures), frustrations will abound. New wine is best suited for new wine bottles. In most instances, unchanged school processes are usually the root cause of many newer pedagogical innovations. From a Vygotskian perspective, social structures influence individual thinking and behaviors.


For constructivist epistemologies to be formed within school communities, there should be authentic and evolutionary processes through which these pedagogies can be established between all parties and levels in the schooling system. There should be a gradual "buy in" of constructivist epistemologies. Concomitant with a "living organism" metaphor, communities cannot be predesigned per se but must evolve. In other words, as in our earlier emphasis, all the processes within the activity system undergo an evolution. In a dynamic system, in order for schools to evolve towards constructivist learning, there must be inter-subjectivity between the subjects of the community and the "constructivist epistemology," which transforms both as a consequence. In Ricoeur's (1997; 1998) understanding of transformative interpretation, both reader and "text" are "transformed." Similarly, in this coevolutionary process (i.e., mutual appropriation) the school learning communities (appropriating constructivism) is gradually transformed and gets a new perspective in ways that are transformative and novel to them. We hope that this article has in some ways highlighted the delicate task of fostering dynamically evolving learning communities.


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Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Table 1 Observations of Learning Community Formation among Knowledge
Forum Teams

 Object: Constructivist
Process in- situ epistemology Subject

A[S.sub.1] To engage in scientific Student Knowledge
 inquiry related to Forum (KF) Group
A[S.sub.i] To engage in scientific KF groups are regrouped to
 enquiry related to facilitate roles
 curriculum & played
 societal needs
A[S.sub.n] To engage in scientific KF groups are
 discourse related to stabilised
 curriculum & societal

Process in- situ Community Tool

A[S.sub.1] Other Knowledge Knowledge Forum with
 (Forum KF) Groups embedded procedural
A[S.sub.i] Other KF groups KF tool with refined
 and experts; procedural cues based
 on specific steps in
 scientific discourse.
A[S.sub.n] Other KF groups, KF, use of simulations
 experts, and observers; or learning objects,
 More knowledgeable & data collection
 peers and experts devises.
 are observed to coach
 and mentor the
 team members.

Process in- situ Rule Div. of labor

A[S.sub.1] Time frame Not defined
 for project.
A[S.sub.i] Time frame readjusted; Facilitator; Summariser
 Specific coordination or synthesiser
 norms for working; (i.e., Rise-above
 Everyone follows function in KF);
 the discussion. Organiser
A[S.sub.n] Time frame readjusted; Facilitator; Summariser
 Specific coordination or Synthesiser
 norms for working; (Rise-above in KF);
 Everyone follows Organiser. Refinement
 the discussion; of scientific
 thinking procedures.

Present the problem of water shortage in Singapore through newspaper
articles etc.
Engage our students on the problem by motivating them with a difficult
problem of how water can be purified through means of a simulation or
learning object.
 1. Given a set of processes: A B C D E F G H I J (e.g., Ozone
 Treatment), select and arrange in a correct sequence for water
 purification by manipulating the icons on the right of Figure 5.
 2. Some processes are must-haves, some processes are optional, some
 processes can be inserted anywhere along the chain, some processes
 can be swapped some processes must be followed lock-step
 B C D E are essential and must follow one after another (not
 necessarily consecutively)
 F G H are essential but can be inserted anywhere; the rest are
 non-essential and can be inserted anywhere
 B C D F E G H
 B A C D G E H F
 A B J C I D G E F H
 A B C D I J F G H
 H F G E B C D I J
 H G B C D I J E
 The students are to work out the logic of the water purification
 simulation through Knowledge Forum.
 After this simulation exercise, students will be presented with how
 to help Singapore by suggestions of alternative means through which
 water can be supplied. This issue will be discussed through KF and a
 presentation by the groups for the proposals.

Figure 3. An authentic problem on water issues in Singapore

Table 2 Types of Technology Enablers that can be Incorporated into CSCL

Tool Function/Usage

Productivity Enhance or facilitate teaching and learning processes
 according to specific pedagogies.
Informational Facilitate easy access to information.
Connection Allow people to communicate with one another anytime,
Visualisation/ Facilitate the visualisation and simulation of physical/
Simulation abstract phenomena.
Reconstruction Allow people to re-construct and experience phenomena
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Article Details
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Author:Koh, Thiam-Seng
Publication:Journal of Interactive Learning Research
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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