Exploring the educational implications of 'making construals'
Making construals is a new digital skill that resonates strongly with the key conference themes : connect, collaborate, create. Construals are interactive artefacts whose significance is determined by connections that its maker can experience - connections such as that, for instance, between an examinations spreadsheet and a body of student results. Like spreadsheets, construals support collaborative interaction and interpretation, may be created through the joint effort of many makers, and reflected on from diverse perspectives by several different human agents. Creating construals has qualities akin to Papert's 'constructionism': as the evolving construal is incrementally developed it potentially exposes personal provisional conceptions to public scrutiny. Making construals may also play a role in creating software artefacts with a formal objective semantics.
Basic concepts, principles and environments for making construals have been developed in a well-established programme of research in computer science at the University of Warwick that draws on major contributions by research and project students, and on feedback from MSc/MEng students on taught courses in computer science. Informal empirical evidence suggests that making construals may be useful in many different educational contexts (e.g. primary/secondary school education, life-long learning, vocational training). Demonstrating the merits of making construals as a means of creating open educational resources and disseminating the practice to the wider educational community is the primary aim of the ongoing EU Erasmus+ CONSTRUIT! project.
An emerging challenge in the CONSTRUIT! project is knowing how best to deploy making construals in school education. Unlike many computer-based learning resources, construals are typically rather untidy, unruly and unconstrained artefacts that acquire their meanings through live interaction and, in these respects, are ill-suited to teaching a specific topic in a closely prescribed manner. Construals we have developed on the broad theme of learning about money (e.g. recognising coins, mastering the estimation of cost required for shopping, giving change, using different currencies etc) shows potential to integrate a variety of quite disparate learning agendas. For instance, is our target audience: primary school children learning about money? primary school teachers designing classrooom activities to support such learning? teachers introducing basic concepts of computing in the 'unplugged' tradition? or computing specialists who can appreciate the elegance and flexibility of a novel approach to framing simple algorithms? Likewise, what is the relationship between making construals and established learning theories with which it has some clear points of connection, such as Papert's constructionism, Kolb's experiential learning and inquiry-based learning? Understanding these issues is vitally important if the potential that making construals brings to connection, collaboration and creation is to be fully realised.
In this three-part workshop session, we shall introduce this agenda, illustrate key issues through hands-on activities demonstrating three distinct generic ways in which a construal of the natural numbers could potentially be deployed to enhance basic numeracy, elementary knowledge of arithmetic and number theory, and invite participants to discuss the pedagogical implications with reference to educational contexts and learning theories. Our workshop will be supported by the new learning technology we have been developing in CONSTRUIT! - the online environment for making construals at the url: http://jseden.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/scifest16 and its associated project repository.