The theoretical approach I have chosen is constructivist theory where in its broadest description
“… is the theory that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_%28learning_theory%29).
I have found this theory useful as it recognises that the learner brings capacity, that the learner constructs meaning through experience, and that interaction plays a key part in developing ideas.
However, given that the majority of students that I teach are generally novices to not only Social Anthropology but also to Occupational Therapy, my application of constructivist theory also has a caveat with it in that I have developed some set guidelines to help students work through this course. I provide support structures in class and via Moodle to offer a framework for their thinking as they begin to explore SA. Some of these structures are quite set and they step students through a certain activity- with the aim of the students participating more independently towards the end of the course.
Criticisms of a purely constructivist approach for novice learners have claimed that teaching/learning should encourage “…cognitive activity rather than behavioural activity, instructional guidance rather than pure discovery, and curricular focus rather than unstructured exploration”. (Meyer, 2004 P.14). Meyer goes on to argue that it is important to focus on theory-based research which explains how people learn (Meyer, 2004. P.18). Recently, there has been some in-depth research looking at this theme of best evidence (in determining positive learning outcomes for students) within a New Zealand context in the compulsory education sector.
One particular piece of influential research has been the ‘Best Evidence Synthesis’ by Timperley, Wilson, Barrar and Fung (2007) and ‘Te Kotahitanga’ by Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh and Teddy (2009) which focuses on the educational disparities faced by Māori. These both have had a major influence and provide the backbone of recent education policy changes developed by the Ministry of Education including ‘Ka Hikitia’ and also the redevelopment of the Pasifika Education Plan.
A key outcome from Bishop’s work is the focus on the relationship between teacher and student and how this directly impacts on learning outcomes for students. Although this research is within the compulsory sector, the demand for quality relationships between students and ‘lectures/facilitators’ and how this determines education outcomes will also be a challenge for the post-compulsory sector. The post-compulsory sector will have to think of innovative ways to realise this and blended learning certainly plays a part in addressing this, as well as understanding the learning needs of students and facilitators in a post-compulsory setting.