Constructivist-based blended learning environments in higher education: student and teacher variables in the Tanzanian context2018

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Vrije Universiteit Brusse
In higher education, constructivist epistemology “constructivist theory of knowledge” is an established research field with several scientific research communities and related scientific studies. Constructivists focus on individual student engagement in the process of knowledge construction based on what is already known or prior acquired knowledge and skills. Despite extensive scientific literature and rapidly growing studies which integrate constructivist pedagogy and related digital instructional technologies, there is an increase of students and teachers being engaged and exposed to one of the following(s): digital instructional technologies, blended learning environments and/or constructivist pedagogy. In this dissertation, it is, therefore, argued that several gaps persist in and between constructivist pedagogy, digital instructional technologies and blended learning environments from local to global contexts. Though, when these teaching and learning praxes are combined to foster authentic learning in the 21st century, ‘a constructivist-based blended learning environment’- “CBLE(s)” is preserved as an important educational environment. Indeed, for effective utilisation of CBLE(s), students and teachers need to be knowledgeable and demonstrate proficiency in the following ways. First, basic computer operational skills. Second, basic ICTs skills. Third, practical use of the internet. Fourth, the e-learning system evaluation skills, and lastly, pedagogical skills for both within and out of classroom management (Meiers, Knight & White, 2009). This dissertation aims to unveil student and teacher instrumental variables related to their engagement learning activities, strategies and practices in CBLEs in the context of Tanzanian higher education institutions (HEIs). The dissertation contributes to the better understanding of these influential variables in CBLEs. In this dissertation, each chapter collects relevant data, presents and discuss findings based on students and teachers who were engaging in blended learning. In this dissertation, the general research question was: “What are the student and teacher variables influencing their constructivist conceptions, engagement learning activities, engagement strategies and practices in CBLEs in the context of Tanzanian higher education institutions?” Five research studies based on five specific objectives with 17 formulated research questions (cf. chapter 1 - Table 2) were conducted. Likewise, the setting of the dissertation is articulated alongside with the research problem presented in chapter 1. The theoretical bases of the dissertation capitalise on the constructivist theory of knowledge (Bruner, 1960) and engagement learning theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). These theories are the basis for five studies reported in this dissertation and aid in placing our research project from global to local research contexts. Also, the theories assist in explaining, developing and validating research assumptions relating to examining student and teacher variables in CBLEs in HEIs. The other part of chapter 1 offers the structural organisation of the dissertation and the conduct of five research studies. In this dissertation, chapter 2 (study 1) examines students’ conceptions of learning approaches (i.e., surface, strategic and deep) and their engagement in blended learning environments (BLEs) learning activities (i.e., group work, assessments, interactions and learning community). A survey conducted among 446 undergraduate students in two universities revealed that students had strong conceptions regarding learning approaches. The findings unveiled that strategic learning approach dominated deep and surface learning approaches. Also, the results indicated that students held a high level of engagement in group work activity compared learning community, assessments and interactive activities. The results indicated that students’ conceptions of the deep learning approach could significantly predict interactions, learning community and group work activities and not assessments activity in BLEs. The students’ conceptions of strategic learning approach could predict interactions, learning community and assessments are learning activities and not group work activity. However, the result showed that the conceptions of surface learning could not predict student engagement in BLE learning activities, suggesting that the students with a surface learning approach were less likely to engage in BLE learning activities. Therefore, the results are discussed based on both contributions and implications offered to the growing body of research in the field of blended learning. Chapter 3 (study 2), investigates the relationship between students’ conceptions of constructivist learning and their engagement in a CBLE. Students’ conceptions of constructivist learning were measured by variables related to self-directed learning, active participation and shareable experiences while their engagement was subject to learning activities teacher use to influence constructivist teaching and learning including assessments, group work, interactions and learning community. The findings disclosed that students had positive conceptions of constructivist learning and that they were engaged in a CBLE through multiple learning activities. The results further indicated a significant relationship between students’ conceptions of constructivist learning and their engagement in a CBLE. The chapter revealed the importance of understanding students’ conceptions before engaging them in diverse learning activities since their active engagement within a CBLE depends on their actual constructivist conceptions. Chapter 4 (study 3), examines the relationship between student motivational factors to learn and their constructivist-based engagement strategies in CBLE courses. In this chapter, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to identify presumed motivational factors and constructivist-based engagement strategies among students in CBLE courses. Further, multiple regressions analyses were used to identify the relationship between variables while confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to validate the instrument, checking interrelationship among the observed motivational factors and constructivist-based engagement strategies. The findings revealed four factors structure related to motivational factors and three factors related to engagement strategies. The results showed that students were subject to several motivational factors although external factor dominates their motives to learn while support strategy was more preferred among constructivist-based engagement strategies in CBLE courses. The results regarding gender differences indicated that motivational factors had nothing to do with students’ gender groups while slight gender differences were found between female and male students, with female students scoring high level of constructivist-based engagement in CBLE courses. Overall results showed that a significant relationship exists between students’ motivational factors and their constructivist-based engagement strategies. Therefore, CBLE courses instructors are supposed to use appropriate instructional strategies to encourage students’ intrinsic motivation since extrinsic motivation prolong the use of surface learning rather than deep learning. Furthermore, chapter 5 (study 4), examines the relationship between teachers’ beliefs (cf. teaching methods, course management) and constructivist teaching practices (cf. supportive teaching, explicit engagement and interactions) in BLE courses. The findings revealed that both teaching methods and course management are essential teachers’ beliefs in BLE courses. As for teachers’ constructivist teaching practices, the findings divulged that supportive teaching was more preferred compared to explicit engagement and interactions. The results also revealed that teachers’ beliefs were the same across categories of gender, educational levels, academic ranks and teaching experiences. The overall results indicated a positive relationship between teachers’ beliefs and their constructivist teaching practices in BLE courses, in such a way that teachers’ beliefs significantly predicted explicit engagement (50.5%), supportive teaching (37.6%) and interactions (17.3%) of the total explained variance. Indeed, for successful knowledge construction in BLEs courses, there is a need to align teachers’ beliefs and their constructivist teaching practices. Chapter 6 (study 5), discusses teachers’ perceived roles and their constructivist engagement practices in CBLEs. A mixed-methods research design was used to collect data from 261 university teachers in ten higher education institutions. The findings provided a good rapport among identified three university teachers’ roles, indicating that in CBLEs university teachers hold not only multiple roles but also various constructivist engaging practices including collaboration, facilitation and motivation. Also, gender differences were examined regarding teachers’ perceived roles, and the results divulged no differences in gender categories. The findings unveiled the relationship between teachers’ perceived roles and their constructivist engagement practices in CBLEs. The findings support the prediction that teachers’ perceived roles should be in line with their constructivist engagement practices in CBLEs. In chapter 7, an abridgement of the dissertation is offered alongside with the presented findings based on five studies (cf. chapter 2 to 6). The chapter addresses the main research objective, corresponding specific research objectives and research questions evolved from a critical analysis of the theoretical background and research philosophy guiding the dissertation. The main findings presented (in chapter 2 to 6) are discussed based on 5 specific objectives with comparable 17 specific research questions. On the one hand, general discussions provided crucial suggestions for both theoretical contributions and practical implications to university teachers, students, instructional designers, curriculum developers and most important HEIs embarking on implementing CBLEs. On the other hand, limitations are discussed in tandem with directions for future research perspectives. In the final analysis, the dissertation concludes that studied student and teacher variables about the implementation of CBLEs offer useful theoretical and practical insights regarding the appropriate use of the 21st-century learning skills in HEIs teaching and learning
Blended Learning, E-learning, Constructivist learning, Higher Education, Teacher education, Hybrid pedagog, Mixed Research methods