Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 9, Issue 1, Article 3 (June, 2008)
Wheijen CHANG
Challenges encountered in implementing constructivist teaching in physics: A qualitative approach

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Conclusion and Implications

Summarizing the results, the studentsí skepticism about constructivist teaching can be grouped into two types: the improvable and the controversial.

The improvable issue was the dissatisfaction with the teaching performance while using constructivist teaching methods. This included the discreteness of the teaching content, the frustrations experienced when confronting real-life questions, and the lack of details and structure in the instructions. All sorts of student complaints highlighted the complexity of adopting constructivist teaching (Roth, 1996). Throughout the implementation of the program, the researcher was aware of the challenges in the constructivist teaching program and put more effort into all aspects required for teaching preparation. In addition to reviewing the teaching content, teaching preparation involves the development/modification of real-life conceptual questions, re-organization of teaching sequences, investigation of studentsí backgrounds and learning attitudes, and even one-to-one interviews with skeptical or passive students. Some of these efforts may be unnecessary for traditional lecturing, but could be greatly beneficial to the outcomes of constructivist teaching.

The second type of criticisms are controversial, including raising issues about developing cognitive abilities or content coverage, conceptual clarifications or problem-solving practice, challenging vs. frustrating, enjoyable vs. frivolous, encouraging independence vs. insufficient support, etc. Possible reasons for the conflicting stances include (1) studentsí attitudes towards university study: genuinely expecting to learn vs. just for earning the required credits, (2) studentsí beliefs about the learning process: active construction vs. passive reception, (3) studentsí perceived priorities of their learning goals: development of learning ability vs. accumulation of knowledge, and (4) background knowledge in previous learning: insufficient vs. overwhelming difficulties/workload. The conflict may become significant if the students are more diversified, which is beyond the control of the teacher. However, teachers may still gradually grasp the optimal points to alleviate the conflicts. By means of accumulating experience in constructivist teaching, teachers may obtain better insights into the studentsí knowledge background, preferences for topics, and favorable strategies, which provide crucial information for on-going modifications of the innovative teaching program.

The results of this study have some implications for teaching practice dealing with the constructivist teaching reforms.

Firstly, this study reveals the complexity of the implementation of the teaching reform. The difficulty of implementing constructivist teaching is much greater than that of didactic teaching (Maclsaac & Falconer, 2002). The success of constructivist teaching depends on frequent responses from students, which are not easy to obtain in Taiwan. This finding is in accordance with Bell and Cowieís assertion (2001, p. 65) that uncertainty and risk-taking are two of the characteristics of formative assessment.

Secondly, this study found that novel challenges might emerge when the teacher tries to eliminate weaknesses. While real-life examples seemed to be appreciated by most of the students, a few were concerned about the standard of the course, the completeness of interpreting the phenomena, and the coverage of the topics. While many students criticize the didactic way of teaching in high school, some of them may not be prepared to learn independently.

Thirdly, the students taught using constructivist methods were also found to have a deeper comprehension of the learning process and outcomes, and as a result, became more critical than those in traditional classes. Several studies indicate that constructivist teaching is beneficial to developing studentsí perceptions of learning, in terms of independence in learning, coherence of concepts, and cognitive engagement (Chang 2005b; Elby, 2001). However, the outcomes of promoting the studentsí cognitive commitment in one aspect may result in the students being more critical in another. The studentsí criticisms/suggestions, such as requesting the integration of several concepts in designing examination questions, may be rarely found amongst students used to traditional teaching. The finding of the current study is coherent with Buncick et al.ís (2001) study. The studentsí criticisms may provide the teacher with important messages for improvement on the one hand, whereas the minor skepticism may also result in creating tension for the instructor, or even in undermining the willingness of the instructor to continue to implement the innovative teaching.

This study also highlights the significance of the open-form qualitative research methods. Through the open-form investigation, multiple perspectives of the studentsí opinions towards teaching and learning could be comprehended. Minor studentsí responses may hardly alter the statistical assertions, but they might have a vital impact on the instructor and/or their peers in real classrooms. Hence, in order to obtain in-depth understanding of the studentsí perceptions, qualitative studies are suggested. This study has highlighted the potential challenges that a constructivist teacher may need to confront. These challenges are more likely to occur in the early stages of the implementation. A variety of barriers may need to be faced and overcome before the teacher can enjoy the sweetness of the expected positive learning outcomes of the constructivist teaching design.

 

 


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