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Assignment 1: Knowledge and Constructivism

Edwin B. Pawliw

University of British Columbia


The initial reflection on our personal definition of knowledge revealed a foundational epistemology.
The original conceptualization was shown to be cursory at best with depth and breadth being added
with further exploration. Delving into how knowledge is constructed, the building block core beliefs
were shown to have a need based on a “classical account of knowledge” (Pritchard. 2014. P.23) that
include justification, truth, and belief. The problem of the criterion (Pritchard. 2014. P.20-21) revealed
that the quest for criteria for knowledge and knowledge itself indicates a reciprocal relationship
between these. This leaves one in a state of perturbation, constantly attempting to reconcile a personal
conceptualization of knowledge. This equilibration is “a nonlinear, dynamic “dance’ of progressive
equilibria, adaptation and organization, growth and change. It results from “coupling” with our
surround” (Fosnot. 2005. L.458-459). This self-regulating behaviour as a result of our external
experiences “keep the system in an open, flexible, growth-producing state.”(Fosnot. 2005. L.462). This
conceptualization has its roots in constructivism.

“[T]o constructivists, learning is development” (Fosnot. 2005. L.686) and a large part of development is
building the structures that we use to establish what we take as justified true beliefs and knowledge
(Fosnot. 2005). These structures are highly individual constructions and the teacher must keep this
front-of-mind in the social dimension of the classroom. Therefore the role of the teacher is not to
dispense knowledge, but provide a climate where the learner has an opportunity to build their own
belief and knowledge structures (Fosnot. 2005). This building process cannot occur in a passive
environment. According to Oatey (1985, pp. 32–33), as quoted by Fosnot (2005), the learner must be
activated in the process and these constructions are not fixed, but rather recursive.
Constructivism has two main thrusts, the cognitive and social aspects. While these each propose a
particular focus, “learning is both a process of self-organization and a process of enculturation that
occurs while participating in cultural practices, frequently while interacting with others” (Fosnot. 2005.
L.1174-1176). Learning does not occur in a vacuum and one aspect of the process cannot be taken as
mutually exclusive of the other. The interactions with elements in the physical world, including social
and cultural elements, will have a bearing on the process as will how and what one learns (Fosnot.
In a teaching context, the coordinated application of socio-cultural and cognitive positions provide
many tools to deploy in a constructivist environment. Piaget’s cognitive concept of equilibration
indicates that we have to create perturbation in existing schemas in order to advance development.
Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach points to the level of perturbation one must be exposed to in order to
learn. The Zone of Proximal Development tells us that by controlling the perturbation to a level
achievable by the learner, through guidance from a more knowledgeable other, will ensure a successful
learning outcome. While the two theories differ on locus of learning, external versus internal, they both
support cognition as being the product of a mental construction. This implies, for the classroom
practitioner, that the learner’s cognitive requirements must be the focus of the experience. Both
theories ascribe to the process of learning being affected by the environment within which it is
delivered. This would include societal, cultural, and contextual factors within which the concept is being
presented. For the classroom teacher, one must be empathetic to the diverse nature of the student
body and be able to differentiate learner experience to match the varied factors.
There are many different tendrils that can be followed in developing a personal epistemic rationality
and, as teachers, we must consider this when developing plans for guiding students along their path.
Understanding that learning is development, equilibration, reflective abstraction, and occurs through a
community of discourse will present a constructivist environment for the learner.


Fosnot, Catherine Twomey. Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. Second Edition.
Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

Pritchard, Duncan. What is this thing called Knowledge? (What Is This Thing Called?). Taylor
and Francis. Kindle Edition.