Monday, November 5, 2007

Constructivism in the Library

TEAM students are working through the constructivism module and blogging about it in their blogs. It reminded me of my own study of this subject when I was a TEAM student a few years ago. The image above was made in Fireworks and it is featured on my Educational Philosophy web page. Reading other students' blogs motivated me to go back and read what I wrote and to think about how I might add to it to incorporate web 2.0, the technological landscape that has emerged since I graduated. Here is what I wrote in 2002:

As schools explore the potential of information and electronic technologies, it has become clear that the 21st century library/educational technology specialist has the responsibility to ensure that students and teachers are effective and critical users of information. At the heart of the American Association of School Librarians' Information Power is a constructivist pedagogical framework. Team building, shared inquiry, project based learning, performance assessment, technology integration, learning communities, critical thinking and viewing, emotional intelligence, and multiple intelligences are the vessels that supply the lifeblood to knowledge construction.

Thoughts on Constructivism and Technology Integration in the Library Media Center:

Meaning making is at the heart of the constructivist philosophy of learning and at the heart of Information Power, the framework for the American Association of School Librarians' Information Literacy Standards. Meaning making is prompted by a problem, question, confusion, disagreement, or dissonance (a need or desire to know) and so involves personal ownership of that problem. In the constructivist model, knowledge is constructed, emergent, situation in action or experience, and distributed. (Jonassen et al,1999). Thus, each person must build or construct a framework of knowledge based on what they already know. Traditionally, teachers were the sage on the stage. In the past, this prepared students for the assembly lines of the Industrial Age. Today, however, students must be encouraged to construct meaning from a myriad of information available to them in the Information Age.

Technology brings into the library more interesting and diverse materials than ever thought possible. Hundreds of libraries and museums, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonion, distribute their resources in digital form. Technology can expand students' horizons with online field trips to historic sites and to museums to study art and artifacts. They can follow expeditions, engage in simulations, and gather environmental data to share with other students. Library Media Specialists who guide their students to learn in these new ways prepare them for lifelong learning. ("Web-Based Learning," Gwen Solomon and Lynne Schrum, Education Week, May 29, 2002).

The constructivist library media specialist sets up problems and monitors student exploration, guides the direction of student inquiry and promotes new patterns of thinking. Constructivist teachers refer to raw data, primary sources, and interactive materials to provide experiences for their students rather than relying solely on another's set of data. (Classroom Compass, SEDL-SCIMA,1994) Students cannot ask a textbook, "What is it like to rescue a stranded whale?" Yet, this is the type of real-world question that can be asked when technology is used as a partner to foster learning.

How Technologies Foster Learning and Support Knowledge Construction

Technologies in the library media center can be used as vehicles for:

  • representing learners' ideas, understandings, and beliefs
  • producing organized, multimedia knowledge bases by learners
  • accessing needed information
  • comparing perspectives, beliefs, and world views
  • representing beliefs, perspectives, arguments, and stories of others
  • collaborating with others
  • building consensus among members of a community
  • helping learners articulate and represent what they know
  • reflecting on what they have learned
  • constructing personal representations of meaning

Adapted from Learning With Technology: A Constructivist Perspective by David H. Jonassen, Kyle Peck and Brent G. Wilson (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999)

In a Constructivist Library Media Center:

  • Student autonomy and initiative are accepted and encouraged.
  • Higher-level thinking is encouraged. Students are encouraged to connect and summarize concepts by analyzing, predicting, justifying, and defending their ideas.
  • Students are engaged in dialogue with the teacher and with each other. Social discourse helps students change or reinforce their ideas. If they have the chance to present what they think and hear others' ideas, students can build a personal knowledge base that they understand. The class uses raw data, primary sources, manipulatives, physical, and interactive materials.
  • The constructivist approach involves students in real-world possibilities, then helps them generate the abstractions that bind phenomena together.

Adapted from In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993)

Thoughts on Team Building: The Library As A Learning Organization

Learning organizations are where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. For this to happen, it is argued, organizations need to "discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn al all levels." (Senge 1990).

The goals of today’s library media program point to the development of a community of learners that is centered on the student and sustained by a creative, energetic library media program. Team Building occurs in the library when:

  • there are learning experiences that encourage students and others to become discriminating consumers and skilled creators of information through comprehensive instruction related to the full range of communications media and technology
  • the library media specialist provides leadership, collaboration, and assistance to teachers and others in applying principles of instructional design to the use of instructional and information technology for learning
  • the library media specialist provides resources and activities that contribute to lifelong learning while accommodating a wide range of differences in teaching and learning styles, methods, interests, and capacities
  • the program functions as the information center of the school, both through offering a locus for integrated and interdisciplinary learning activities within the school and through offering access to a full range of information for learning beyond this locus
  • the library program provides resources and activities for learning that represent a diversity of experiences, opinions, and social and cultural perspectives.

Adapted from: Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (AASL, 1998)

Thus, the framework of the library learning community in which students and teachers function needs to be conducive to reflection and engagement. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge tells us that "real learning gets to the heart of what it is to be human...for a learning organization, 'adaptive learning' must be joined by 'generative learning', learning that enhances our capacity to create." (Senge 1990). Most importantly, learning in the library is a lifelong discipline, a process, in which members of the learning community access, share, contribute, and build information as a team.

To Top

Shared Inquiry: The Underlying Foundation

The library media specialist provides intellectual access to information through learning activities that are integrated into the curriculum and that help all students achieve information literacy by developing effective cognitive strategies for selecting, retrieving, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, creating, and communicating information in all formats and in all content areas of the curriculum. (Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning 1998).

Howard Gardner On the Importance of Engaging Students Actively in What They are Studying:

We have schools because we hope that some day when children have left schools that they will still be able to use what it is that they've learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they're studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands on, to essentially recreate things in their own mind and transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear. The student may have a good grade on the exam, we may think that he or she is learning, but a year or two later there's nothing left.

Inquiry-based activities cause students to revise their prior understandings and deepen their understandings of the world. Inquiry is a dynamic approach to learning that involves exploring the world, asking questions, making discoveries in the search for new understandings. In an inquiry-based library program, students develop skills such as careful observation, reasoning, critical thinking, and the ability to justify or refute their existing knowledge. Because inquiry begins with a meaningful problem or issue, the process engages students as they come to value the essential question that motivates the inquiry process.

Shared inquiry lends itself to collaborative activities. The collaborations are multidimensional in that students collaborate with each other, with teachers, as they learn alongside with students, and with experts provided by technological access in the library. Project-based learning is a vehicle for students to work in teams, apply what they know, problem-solve, self-direct their learning as they explore real-world problems and tasks. Student learning is gauged through performance assessment, the essential companion to project-based learning.

Critical thinking is directly related to inquiry-based activities. Students are bombarded with electronic, visual information and it is crucial to give them the skills to question what they see; to distinguish between information and info-garbage; to determine the credibility of their sources and to identify and recognize logical fallacies.

Putting It All Together: Building the Learning Community

Team building, collaboration, constructivism, shared inquiry, critical thinking, project-based learning, performance assessment, multiple and emotional intelligences, coupled with the use of information and communication technologies, provide an environment where all members of the community come together to construct knowledge. It is my philosophy to create a learning library in which both educators and students have the opportunity to stay in a continual learning mode as they work in a collegial environment which provides pedagogical, technological, and emotional support. The integration of technology into the library allows connections to be established between communities inside and outside the walls of the library. In this environment, learning is an evolving process where all members of the learning community have the opportunity to learn side by side.



Brooks, Jacqueline G. and Martin G. Brooks. In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993.

Jonassen, David H., Kyle Peck and Brent G. Wilson. Learning With Technology: A Constructivist Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. NY: Currency/Doubleday, 1994.

Solomon, Gwen and Lynne Schrum. "Web-Based Learning." Education Week 29 May 2002: 48.


American Library Association and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. "Information Power: Mission and Goals of the School Library Program" [Online] Available June 16, 2002.

Lucas, George. "Edutopia" [Online] Available June 16, 2002.

Murphy, Elizabeth. "Constructivism: From Philosophy to Practice" [Online] Available June 16, 2002.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory."Constructing Knowledge in the Classroom." Classroom Compass Winter 1994, Vol. 1, No. 3. [Online] Available June 16, 2002.

Further Browsing:

Advanced Readings for Critical Thinking Workshop
Comer School Development Program
I guess what I would add to that now is that web 2.0 mandates a new kind of literacy because the web has become so interactive. Information literacy skills are more critical than ever, and the AASL has recognized this and has just unveiled the revised information literacy standards at the recent AASL Conference in Reno to reflect this. (New Learning Standards). The exponential growth of information on the net and the ability to easily be an information contributor goes hand in hand with constructivist learning. The importance of being an ethical, critical, and creative user of the net cannot be overstressed. And this is why I love what I do! What a great time to have my job!

On a completely different note, my 22-year-old daughter was looking at my blog and said that the frappr map on my blog is "creepy"...hmmm.


  1. What an amazing post that I have ever come through. It gives the information that I was really searching for the past week and I am really satisfied with this post. Need more like this. Thank you.

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  2. Hi Karen, I wanted to take the time to thank you for this article, which laid out the principles of constructivism in the library in a well-researched but clearly concise and understandable way. I am currently completing my certification as a library media specialist at Queens College (while I work not far from you at SUNY Old Westbury!) and was struggling with the exact definition of constructivism as relates to the library given the rhetoric of my textbook. Given what you have written here it becomes a clear term for the foundations of education I'm already well acquainted with. Thank you!