Course Purpose

The purpose of this course is to answer three fundamental questions:
What is the nature of knowledge?
How do we come to know?
How is knowledge valued?

Contact Information

Instructor: Peter E. Doolittle
Office: 226 War Memorial Hall
Web site:

Course Description

Constructivism involves the active creation and modification of thoughts, ideas, actions, and understandings as the result of experiences that occur within individual and socio-cultural contexts. Central issues in this creation of understanding include: (a) What counts as valid knowledge?, (b) How do we come to know?, and (c) How is the value of knowledge determined?

Constructivism emphasizes the active role played by the individual learner in the construction of knowledge, the primacy of social and individual experience in the process of learning, and the realization that the knowledge attained by the learner varies in its accuracy as a representation of an external reality. This course will explore these issues as they pertain to teaching, learning, technology, society, research, and education—broadly applied.

Ultimately, this course focuses on the construction of knowledge and knowing in everyday life.

Learning Goals

LG1: Students will be able to understand the concepts of ontology, epistemology, and axiology as related to the realm of education.
LO1: Students will be able to explain the essential concepts and terms associated with ontology, epistemology, and axiology as they relate to education.
LO2: Students will be able to apply the essential concepts and terms associated with ontology, epistemology, and axiology to educational and societal issues.
LO3: Students will be able to demonstrate a questioning and interpretive perspective on the nature, function, and investigation of knowledge within education and society.
LG2: Students will understand the similarities and differences between various types of constructivisms.
LO4: Students will be able to differentiate the core similarities and differences in ontology, epistemology, and axiology within various types of constructivism.
LO5: Students will be able to apply the core similarities and differences in ontology, epistemology, and axiology within various types of constructivism to educational and societal issues.
LG3: Students will appreciate the need to align constructivist philosophy, theory, and pedagogy in order to create a rationale for the use of constructivism in education.
LO6: Students will be able to integrate philosophy, theory, and pedagogy in the creation of sound constructivist educational methods.

Course Pedagogy

This course is based on a pedagogy that involves reading and thinking to understand, discussing and thinking to understand, explaining and thinking to understand, and applying and thinking to understand. The processes of reading, discussing, explaining, and applying take place before, during, and after the classroom experience so that students have the opportunity to revisit their knowing several times in order to develop, challenge, and clarify what they know.

The entry point for each aspect of the class is reading, reading both seminal works associated with each aspect as well as contemporary works. In addition, these readings will focus on both theoretical underpinnings and practical applications. Reading to understand is a critical component of the course, but only the beginning. There are no lectures in this class, rather, the classes will entail individual and social opportunities to develop, challenge, and clarify.

Ultimately, as a doctoral level course, there are doctoral level expectations for reading, discussing, explaining, and applying.

Course Readings

The course, in pursuit of it's three primary questions, is structured in six parts:

  1. Weeks 1-3: Constructivism Introductions
  2. Weeks 4-5: Sociocultural Constructivism
  3. Weeks 6-7: Radical Constructivism
  4. Weeks 8-9: Social Constructionism
  5. Weeks 10-11: Symbolic Interactionism
  6. Weeks 12-14: Constructivism Conclusions

There are typically two articles or one book to read each week. Click on the View Readings button to see all of the readings. The articles themselves are available online once your Log-In.

Readings for Day 1: Constructivism as a Learning Theory
Reading for Day 2: Basic Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Constructivism
• Kvale, S. (1995). Themes of postmodernity. In W. T. Anderson (Ed.), The truth about the truth (pp. 18-25). New York, NY: Putnam.
• Lamichhane, S., & Wagley, M. (2008). Post modernism and Nepal's education. Journal of Education and Research, 1(1), 9-12.
Reading for Day 3: Basic Constructivism (Theory & Practice)
• Brooks, J., & Brooks, M. (1993). The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
• Moore, T. et al. (2015). Changes in faculty members' instructional beliefs while implementing model-eliciting activities. Journal of Engineering Education, 104(3), 279-302.
Reading for Day 4: Social/Sociocultural Constructionism (Theory)
• Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. In M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, L.S. Vygotsky: Mind in Society (pp. 79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
• Vygotsky, L. W. (1986/1934). Thought and Language (A. Koulin, Trans.). Boston, MA: MIT Press.
Reading for Day 5: Social/Sociocultural Constructionism (Practice)
• Doolittle, P. E. (1997). Vygotsky's zone of proximal development as a theoretical foundation for cooperative learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 8(1), 83-101.
• Fivush, R. (2010). Speaking silence: The social construction of silence in autobiographical and cultural narratives. Memory, 18(2), 88-98.
Reading for Day 6: Radical Constructivism (Theory)
• von Glasersfeld, E. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism. In P. Watzlawick (Ed.), The invented reality (pp. 17-40). New York: Norton.
• von Glasersfeld, E. (2001). The radical constructivist view of science. Foundations of Science, 6(1), 31-43.
Reading for Day 7: Radical Constructivism (Practice)
• Ulrich, A., Tillema, E., Hackenberg, A., & Norton, A. (2014). Constructivist model building: Empirical examples from mathematics education. Constructivist Foundations, 9(3), 328-339.
Reading for Day 8: Social Constructionism (Theory)
• Berger, P. & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology or knowledge. New York: Anchor.
Reading for Day 9: Social Constructionism (Practice)
• Hacking, I. (1999). Why ask what? In I. Hacking, The social construction of what? (pp. 1-34) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
• Conrad, P., & Barker, K. (2010). The social construction of illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(S), S67-S79.
Reading for Day 10: Symbolic Interactionism (Theory)
• Blumer, H. (1969). The methodological position of symbolic interactionism. In H. Blumer, Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Reading for Day 11: Symbolic Interactionism (Practice)
• Irwin, K. (2001). Legitimating the first tattoo: Moral passage through informal interaction. Symbolic Interaction, 24(1), 49-73.
• Wood, N, & Ward, S. (2010). Stigma, secrets, and the human condition: Seeking to remedy alienation in PostSecret's digitally mediated environment. Symbolic Interaction, 33(4), 578-602.
Reading for Day 12: Constructivism and Technology (Practice)
• Doolittle, P. E., & Hicks, D. (2003). Constructivism as a theoretical foundation for the use of technology in social studies. Theory and Research in Social Education, 31(1), 72-104.
• Spivey, N. (1995). Written discourse: A constructivist perspective. In L. Steffe and J. Gale (Eds.), Constructivism in education (pp. 313-329). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaurm.
Reading for Day 13: TBA
Reading for Day 14: What I Constructed (Practice)
Jenkins, K. (1990). Re-thinking history. New York, NY: Routledge.

Course Learning

The activities in this class have all been created to foster learning, none of them were created with assessment or grading in mind. The learning aspect of this class depends on you engaging fully in the weekly 25-word summaries and the periodic oral explanations. These activities are subsequently used for grading purposes, but only tangentially.

With that in mind, student performance will be evaluated in two primary ways, the completion of a series of 25-word summaries and daily class evaluations. The 25-word summaries provide an opportunity for students to extract the essential meaning from a reading, lecture, activity, or experience, and summarize that meaning clearly and concisely in 25 words. The daily class evaluations allow students the opportunity to reflect on their learning and provide feedback to the instructor on the conduct of the course. The assignments are delineated in the 25-Word Summaries and Daily Class Evaluations handouts.

25-Word Summaries
(22 x 100 pts each)

Daily Class Evals
(13 x 50 pts each)

Details on each of these activities are available once you logged in.

Course Policies

Submitting an assignment late may result in a reduced grade, 50 points per day late. If you find it necessary to drop this course, for any reason, you must drop the class by February 26, 2018 (last day to resign is March 19, 2018). Students who are not officially dropped or resigned from the class must be given a grade at the end of the semester. All students are expected to attend class regularly and promptly, and to come prepared to class by having read the day's readings and contemplated the reading's meaning and application.
If you are in need of special accommodations due to a disability, as recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD; In addition, if you need adaptations or accommodations because of a disability (e.g., learning disability, attention deficit disorder, psychological, physical), if you have emergency medical information to share with the instructor, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with the instructor as soon as possible.
Mobile technologies, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers may only be used in class for class related purposes. Please respect your fellow students and the professor by turning off cell phones before class begins and refraining from using computers and tablets during class to check email or social media. There will be time during class breaks to check email and social media.
The Graduate Honor Code will be enforced within this course. All assignments have a note regarding how the Graduate Honor Code applies to that specific assignment. Students unfamiliar with the Graduate Honor Code are encouraged to read the Graduate Honor System Constitution. Violations of the Graduate Honor Code are divided into four broad categories: cheating, plagiarism, falsification, and academic sabotage. Greater detail on the Graduate Honor Code may be found on the Syllabus and the Graduate Honor Code website.
In the presence of inclement weather, there are three guidelines related to class cancellation:
  1. University Cancels Class: VT campus closings due to inclement weather may be obtained by calling the Weather Hotline, (540) 231-6668, tuning to WVTF-FM 89.1 or 91.9, or viewing the VT home page If the university is closed, then we do not have class and I will send the class an email to that effect.
  2. Instructor Cancels Class: If the weather is potentially hazardous, and the university is not closed, then I may cancel class myself. If I cancel class, then I will send an email to the class indicating the cancellation no later than 4 pm (although I will try for 12:00 pm) the day of class with the final word regarding whether class will be held.
  3. Student Misses Class: If you determine that traveling to campus during inclement weather might be hazardous, then please send me an email indicating that you will not be attending class. Please use your best judgment in making this type of decision—be safe! If you decide not to come to class, based on inclement weather, you are still responsible for any work missed.
Virginia Tech is a public land-grant university, committed to teaching and learning, research, and outreach to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. Learning from the experiences that shape Virginia Tech as an institution, we acknowledge those aspects of our legacy that reflected bias and exclusion. Therefore, we adopt and practice the following principles as fundamental to our on-going efforts to increase access and inclusion and to create a community that nurtures learning and growth for all of its members:
  • We affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person and strive to maintain a climate for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding.
  • We affirm the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely. We encourage open expression within a climate of civility, sensitivity, and mutual respect.
  • We affirm the value of human diversity because it enriches our lives and the University. We acknowledge and respect our differences while affirming our common humanity.
  • We reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including those based on age, color, disability, gender, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status. We take individual and collective responsibility for helping to eliminate bias and discrimination and for increasing our own understanding of these issues through education, training, and interaction with others.
We pledge our collective commitment to these principles in the spirit of the Virginia Tech motto of Ut Prosim.
Students are permitted to miss class due to religious or ethnic holidays. According to the registrar, "As a publicly funded institution of higher education, Virginia Tech does not officially recognize religious holidays and celebrations. However, as an institution we recognize the importance of such events in the lives of our community members. In the spirit of inclusive excellence and our Principles of Community, faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to be cognizant of major religious and cultural observances when planning courses and campus events and to be sensitive to potential conflicts"(see If you need to miss a class due to a religious or ethnic holiday, please consult with the instructor in advance of the holiday.
All students are welcomed and encouraged to communicate with the instructor on issues relating to the course, grading, and special issues. The best way to contact me is in person, before, during, or after class, or at my office. The second-best way to contact me is via email If you use email and you do not get a response from me in 48 hours, please email me again (I appreciate the reminders!).
The syllabus is subject to change by the instructor in the event of extenuating circumstances. All changes will be announced in class and provided to students in writing.

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Contact Information

Peter Doolittle
226 War Memorial Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24060


Copyright © 2016-2018, Peter Doolittle. All Rights Reserved.