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137 - Reconstructing Constructionism by Construal


Noss and Clayson (2015) sets out an agenda for 'reconstructing constructionism', identifying as a major challenge for research: "... to transform constructionism from a framework for action into a set of ways of conceptualising what people do in constructionist environments that can simultaneously assist in designing those environments." This paper relates this challenge to an approach to constructionism based on 'making construals' within the alternative conceptual framework for computing of Empirical Modelling (EM). Making construals is a digital skill based on three fundamental concepts: observables, dependency and agency ("ODA"). Its application will be illustrated using the online Construit environment. Making construals promotes an empirical and experiential perspective on computing that is complementary to 'computational thinking'. Its epistemological roots reflect the deep appreciation of the role of personal experience that characterises the pragmatism of William James and John Dewey.

This paper reviews and illustrates an EM approach to constructionism with respect to six topics: provocative modelling, programming paradigms, objects-to-think-with, definitive programming, Scratch as a 'broader constructionist methodology', and emerging empirical perspectives on computing and learning. The progression of topics relates an EM approach to ideas, tools and practices to which current trends in computer support for constructionism are converging.

The concluding section considers a central problem, articulated by diSessa and Cobb (2004) and cited by Noss and Clayson, concerning constructionism as a framework for action where theories "are relatively inexplicit, complex, and often involve multiple very diverse elements that cannot plausibly be brought under a single umbrella." It argues that a pragmatic approach to constructionism can dissolve this problem, bringing unity to the plurality of approaches to computing and learning it involves.


Nicolas Pope
University of Turku, Finland

Jonathan Foss and Meurig Beynon
University of Warwick, UK


Supplementary resources, including many relevant construals, can be accessed via this link.