Pearls of Wisdom: Technology for Intentional Reflection and Learning in Constructionist Cooperatives

Chapman, R. "Pearls of Wisdom: Technology for Intentional Reflection and Learning in Constructionist Cooperatives"


At the core of the constructionist learning paradigm is the idea that people learn through design experiences. However, in most settings, learners rarely revisit their work to reflect on design and learning processes. The practice of reflection is not integrated into regular community practice. That omission results in lost opportunities for deeper learning because reflection plays an important role in knowledge integration. In order to leverage the benefits of constructionist learning, learners must go beyond the activities of construction and reflect on their learning. This involves examining and gaining a deeper understanding of the how and why of their design process, including learning strategies. The conceptual framework of this dissertation, Cooperative Constructionism, establishes a design approach to reflection with a set of tools and methods that support reflection on learning. A Constructionist Cooperative is a community of learners where articulating and sharing of learning experiences is a regular practice. A goal of this dissertation is to explore the computational tools and practices that promote and support such activities. Using these tools, learners construct intentional-reflective artifacts, which embody their reflection on their design and learning experiences.

There were two learning scaffolds developed to promote emergence of a Constructionist Cooperative. The first is a computational scaffold, a software toolkit called Pearls of Wisdom. The software is used to design, edit, and share intentional-reflective artifacts, called Pearls. Pearls are the concrete instantiation of learner reflection on the design and learning process. The second scaffold, called the Reflective Mentor Model, is social in nature. This scaffold promotes a regular practice of intentional reflection within the learning environment by building a mentor community of practice around supporting learner reflection.

A range of empirical studies were conducted, which combined theory and practice to identify connections between grounded theory, existing practices, and the proposed framework. Theory-based indicators were the basis of analysis of the study data. The study site was the Flagship Computer Clubhouse, an after-school technology center for 10- to 18-year-olds, where learners work on design projects of their own interest as part of their learning process. The one-year study explored how learner and mentor intentional-reflection practices promoted growth of a Constructionist Cooperative at the Computer Clubhouse.

Over the course of the study, 78 Pearls were created and 2,764 Pearl pages were viewed. Three treatment groups achieved different levels of reflective practice. All three groups received the Pearls of Wisdom software training. Group 1 mentors conducted regular meetings to reflect on productive strategies for better supporting members in making their Pearls. They became a functioning reflective-mentor team based on the Reflective Mentor Model. Group 1 members produced 74 Pearls (95%) and viewed 2,341 Pearl pages (85%) over the course of the study. Group 2 mentors did not promote Pearl software or practices and held no mentor meetings. Group 2 members produced 0 Pearls (0%) and viewed 58 Pearl pages (2%) over the course of the study. Group 3 mentors promoted Pearls of Wisdom, but did not establish a mentor team. Group 3 members produced 4 Pearls (5%) and viewed 365 Pearl pages (13%).

Members engaged in higher-order thinking when constructing their Pearls and during subsequent Pearl-related discussions. According to member and mentor perspectives, making and using Pearls positively influenced their approach to project design and development by engaging them in more complex learning activities. Pearl creators and users negotiated meaningful roles for Pearls within the Computer Clubhouse community.

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