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Constructivist Learning and Mantle of the Expert Pedagogy

A Case Study of an Authentic Learning Activity, the “Brain Game”,
to Develop 21St Century Skills in Context

Grace Lawlor and Brendan Tangney
Centre for Research in IT in Education, School of Education and School of Computer Science & Statistics,
Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

Keywords: Constructivism, 21St Century Skills, Mantle of the Expert, Authentic Learning, Collaborative Learning.

Abstract: Making new meanings and relating them to existing knowledge and systems is at the heart of the constructivist
approach to learning. Authentic learning builds on this by exploiting the power of information and
communications technology (ICT) and is often delivered as a project based learning experience. Authentic
learning aligns well with the 21st Century (21C) approach to teaching and learning which emphasises the
development of key skills, such as problem solving, creativity and collaboration, along with the mastering of
curriculum content. Against this backdrop this study seeks to explore a particular approach to technology
mediated, authentic, project based, constructivist, 21C teaching and learning which uses the “Mantle of the
Expert” pedagogy from drama education as a way of structuring an innovative learning experience. Mantle
of the Expert learning explicitly uses role-play in which, within an imagined context, learners take on the role
of experts within an enterprise and work together to solve a problem. The “Brain Game” is a model activity
that immerses learners within an authentic context, collaborating with peers to manage a project within
deadlines. Technology is a central element of the intervention as it provides a means for learners to engage in
role-play through email, researching information online and producing deliverables. 144 students aged 13-14
from 11 schools participated in an exploratory case study involving two one-day workshops. The findings of
the study suggest that a technology mediated approach was effective in developing students’ 21C skills and
that “Mantle of the Expert” is an appropriate pedagogy to use in designing authentic learning experiences.

1 INTRODUCTION Project Based Learning (Thomas, 2000) involves
complex tasks, based on a problem or challenge that
Constructivist learning theory argues that students engages students in problem solving, decision
can learn effectively when engaged in project based making or designing, allowing students to work with
learning, connecting knowledge and ideas while a degree of independence that leads to a deliverable
guided by a teacher in a facilitating rather than direct outcome (Jones, Rasmussen, and Moffitt, 1997;
teaching role. Thomas, Mergendoller, and Michaelson, 1999).
Authentic and Project based learning are two Additional features of Project Based Learning include
strategies that resonate with Constructivist learning. the use of authentic content within the project,
Authentic learning is characterised by activities based teachers as facilitators (Moursund, 1999), and co-
on real-life, complex problems without binary operative learning (Diehl, Grobe, Lopez, and Cabral,
solutions (Lombardi, 2007). Herrington, Oliver and 1999). The Project Based Learning approach lends
Reeves (2003) propose that ten unique elements of itself to the acquisition of 21st Century Skills, such as
design make for authentic learning. These elements collaboration, problem solving, etc. (Bell, 2010).
are a broadly defined as: a challenge with real-world Although a body of literature can be found on
relevance, collaborative learning, reflection, constructivist, authentic and project based pedagogy
integrated assessment, an investigation sustained over and the perceived gains of their application for
a period of time, multiple information sources, learners, translation of these theories to tangible
interdisciplinary content, provision for learners to activities for educators to implement with their
openly interpret outcomes and a deliverable product. students could be further explored. This study

265
Lawlor, G. and Tangney, B.
Constructivist Learning and Mantle of the Expert Pedagogy - A Case Study of an Authentic Learning Activity, the “Brain Game”, to Develop 21St Century Skills in Context.
In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2016) - Volume 2, pages 265-272
ISBN: 978-989-758-179-3
Copyright c 2016 by SCITEPRESS – Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved

not an ancillary place in that could be applied to a range of topics to explore exploring curricular content. real-life counterparts. with the students leading deliverables or the use of a real-world criteria for the venture. each project work. This could help to develop children can experience the kinds of responsibilities. 2013). Lombardi (2007) proposes that students become more It is suggested that when engaged in role-play. 144 students participated in the research Learning share common elements with Authentic project as part of their involvement with an action Learning as defined by Lombardi (2007). word. Projects are notably student-driven.8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education presents one such activity model the “Brain Game” 1. 1996). benefits of role-play in learning have been long established (Blatner. by the context of the to help develop student leadership skills. motivated to learn when learning tasks simulate their learners can apply content in a relevant context.CSEDU 2016 . by the involvement of real-world participating school is required to carry out a collaborators within the area of study and authentic community service project. The project is driven by a question or ill-defined development. challenge or project a learner faces. (see www. From his review of research on participated in two training workshops of one day Project Based Learning.teachers Thomas (2000) offers five criteria to be must structure tasks effectively. A core element of the project Thomas (2000) elaborates on this potential for Project is a “Leadership through Service” activity in which. teacher in Mantle of the Expert learning . both integrated in the design of the in which new skills and new understanding are activity model. In this way teachers considered as key elements of Project Based are positioned as enablers of knowledge rather than Learning. givers of knowledge (Heathcote and Herbert. A broadly- and see the relevance of their learning for handling defined or ill-structured problem with numerous real-world situations. Thomas (2000) observes that each. 266 . Each of the 144 students involved assessing the projects. Lowe and Spitzer. Projects take a central. It is proposed by learners to critically evaluate and compare different Heathcote (1994) that by taking on roles as experts.ie/ta21). 2013). 1994).2 Mantle of the Expert structured problems has been identified as a crucial Mantle of the Expert is an inquiry based approach to skill for educators to develop with students in their teaching and learning from the field of drama studies schools (National Research Council. Students reach learning outcomes multiple sources of information to solve a problem is by assuming roles as “experts” within an imagined an element of authentic learning practice that requires enterprise to solve a problem. Using (Heathcote. approaching ill- 2. problems are Eisenberg.1 Authenticity in Learning remains to be fully explored. projects rewarding. which technology and the drama pedagogy Mantle of 3. 1999. can enhance learning activities that assimilated by the learners. are constructivist by nature. In this study a 5. allowing for The “Brain Game” can be based on any real-life independence and some degree of choice. Furthermore. as this gives a sense of engage in decision making by adopting a new persona authenticity and relevance to learning. sources of information.tcd. in the Bridge21 learning space on the authors’ students can find the challenge of self-directed university campus. particularly in such areas as time- management and using technology effectively. Another method of creating authenticity within 2 LITERATURE REVIEW learning could be to actively engage learners and teachers in role-play. content knowledge and to promote skills 2. Learning’s “Information and Media Literacy” subset Abbot (2007) considers the crucial role of the (Kay. Based Learning to be authentic. Projects are authentic and not “school-like”. There is a process of constructive investigation the Expert. Although role-play´s potential as an aspect of project-based or authentic learning 2. 2010). 2004). This research also considers ways in problem. information literacy. In Mantle of the Expert learning. 4. Of research project focusing on changing school culture particular interest is the element of authenticity. possible solutions and interpretations can mirror the complexities and facets of problems one encounters in life (Hong 1998). and is a framed as professional tasks so that learning has a component of the Partnership for 21st Century relevant and immediate purpose (Aitken. 1985). a skill which has become a challenges and problems that adults do in the real growing interest for educators (Bruce. school leadership project provided a context for the It can be seen. that these criteria for Project Based activity.

teams presented development of the 21st century skills of on their experience to their peers. Teams were problems. After icebreakers it was explained to the teams (4 students per team) that for the remainder of the day they would be taking part in an activity designed to 3 RESEARCH FOCUS simulate the process of planning. The approach fostered critical Game" correlating to a month. 144 students aged 13-14 from 11 schools attended there is vast potential to explore its viability as a two stages of “Brain Game” workshops in the pedagogy for second level. Murchan. competency and understanding will grow participants in relation to the real community around the child as they work in an imagined context projects they faced? (Aitken. technology enhanced intervention. digital literacy and participants that each "month" had a number of communication. combining the core elements of Mantle of the Expert. sustained pressure to meet deadlines. Wickham. 2012). Tangney 2015) and 267 . Each team had two desktop authors’ university campus (Lawlor. (Teachers to be suitable for: fostering intrinsic motivation fulfilled the role of the “Brain”). they had managed to achieve and the challenges they Conneely. Bray and to maintain an element of tension by facilitating Oldham 2015. in which or can be strategically introduced by the teacher. For the development of skills and acquisition of knowledge to occur successfully. Century. Brain Game intervention? The Mantle of the Expert pedagogy proposes • Which distinct skills were addressed and more than just role play: learners are given status as developed in the intervention? experts and this expert “mantle” of leadership. students to realise the complexity of learning in the • How did the use of technology enhance the real world (Aitken. Marshall and Tangney 2015). the following questions were authentic depth to the task. digital literacy and communication. authentic Board of Management for their project. highlighted what collaboration. and learning space. These problems can either occur naturally as and fostering skills Bridge21 offers a very suitable discovered by the learners through their interactions pedagogical framework. the “Brain Game”. to Develop 21St Century Skills in Context As well as presenting the context. sponsors. communication etc. use of technology task. Conneely and computers at their disposal to send emails and Tangney 2010). Girvan and Tangney 2016). the use of Bridge21 learning space on campus as part of their technology as a tool within Mantle of the Expert has training for implementing community service yet to be considered meaningfully. and furthermore scaffolds addressed. Marshall. make during the activity should be done through The intervention was carried out using the emailing "The Brain" which provided all outside Bridge21 model of team-based technology-mediated world contact such as school staff. element of tension and problem solving adds Within the study. supporting peer had encountered. Moreover. instructed that all communication they needed to critical thinking. • How authentic was the experience for knowledge. collaboration. real time with approximately 30 minutes in the "Brain called “Brain Games”. real world information sources. ill-defined submitting monthly progress reports. This to implement the “Brain Game” activity. potential learning in a purpose designed learning space on the guest speakers etc. (Lawlor. 2013). (Johnston. the teacher must prepare the ground carefully. As such projects typically happen over a This study explored the potential for developing 21st number of months the 2 hours dedicated to the Century skills within the context of a Mantle of the activity during the workshop reflected two months of Expert inspired. 2013). the teacher’s role is delivering curriculum content (Tangney. The activity involved: collaborative deadlines . Tangney 2015). technology with Mantle of the Expert could be an Stage One workshops introduced the participants interesting development of the pedagogy for the 21st to the nature of community or school service projects. promoting the At the end of the “Brain Game”. and deliverables. It was explained to the thinking. researching and developing a school based community service project. The Bridge21 model has been shown research any information required online. Constructivist Learning and Mantle of the Expert Pedagogy . 4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND Although the Mantle of the Expert approach is METHOD validated by studies of its application across the primary level curriculum (James and Lewis. further problems to be addressed as part of the main With its emphasis on teamwork.A Case Study of an Authentic Learning Activity. Integration of projects.such as gaining permission from the working. learning (Sullivan. role play through email.

In that time the school groups were encouraged with Likert scales and open response spaces to justify to discuss and explore potential projects they would or comment on Likert choices. the participants were again • Other skills development. n=123 respectively) and focus group interviews (n=2) “Great questions by brain like real life. building exercises. 36 referenced working on a team with offer the participants some experience of managing students from another school being worthwhile. day.2 Participants Perception of Technology in Intervention When asked how useful they considered the application of computers in both workshops. This provided an communicate with others and to organise things”. The most prevalent theme that emerged from the open responses was the beneficial use of email within the intervention. observation during the workshops. 5. projects and these were the focus of planning for the • Intervention being realistic or life-like.1 Participants Perceived Value of which was similar to Stage One except this time each team was responsible for their own activity and Experience regularly communicating with their larger school When asked to indicate their perceived value of the group. each responsible for a specific area of the this workshop had prepared them for either the reality project. post workshop Open responses speaking to this theme included questionnaires following both workshops (n=100 and the following. divided into teams of four. there were a variety FINDINGS of other reasons students found this experience valuable including the use of technology.CSEDU 2016 . Participants were reminded about how the "Brain Game" worked. This could reflect both the basic act of emailing and the more challenging skill of using email as a means of formal communication. 5.8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education The Stage Two workshops were held two months Questionnaires were comprised of statements later. When asked why they the board of management. stage two workshops with chosen topics for their • ICT skills development. 28 an expansive workload by breaking into smaller mentioned reality or real-life and how they felt that teams. other named projects or generally coping under pressure. opportunity for each data collection stage to influence the design of the next as illustrated in Figure 1. Teacher and mentor observations as well as the Figure 1 : Data Collection Timeline. The sub-committee design answered as they did. 111 participants chose “Very Useful” or “Useful” (n=123). Although these two reasons emerged as the most commonly 5 DATA COLLECTION AND shared amongst the participants. researcher’s analysis of email exchanges at Stage One 268 . of the community project they faced. The depth of this exploration varied process was used to extract codes from these open between schools but all school groups arrived at the responses and grouped by four emergent themes. The inter-team communication was facilitated experience of the “Brain Game” intervention in both by "monthly" school committee meetings with workshops students gave a significantly positive representatives from each small group meeting to response (n=123) with 118 responding with “Very compile a progress report to send (via the "Brain") to Valuable” or “Valuable”. An open coding like to take on. It was also Data collection was structured as follows: direct mentioned that the workshops were fun or enjoyable. to community service projects.” following the implementation of the participants´ ”It helps you to be a better leader. 94 participants provided of the stage two "Brain Game" was introduced to responses. • Relevance to actual community service Following the initial ice-breakers and team projects. What the researcher considers to be a more relevant issue is that at beginning the workshops participants did not display experience in using email as a means of formal communication.

In stage two “It helped us in my opinion really much because questionnaires. the “Brain Game”.” months after the stage two workshops.” communications with the “Brain” or by presenting “It´s how you communicate with companies” their ideas and experiences to others.A Case Study of an Authentic Learning Activity. correspondence in email.” developed each of these skills. it was inappropriately casual language were used. “You felt like you were actually proper working in an office. Therefore. The interviews were semi-structured and focused on 5. and gave us ideas”. it is not which could suggest a transfer of some formal absolutely clear whether participants meant that they communication skills.3 Potential for Skills Development participants’ experience of the intervention and implementing the real projects. above. leading how realistic they felt the “Brain Game” was as an projects.” 6 DISCUSSION Based on analysis of data collected. the participants were asked to indicate we got advice and how to work as a team and how to on a Likert scale to what extent they felt they had plan and organize stuff. In the two focus groups participants mentioned Other responses on the use of computers instances of communicating either with their peers or mentioned how they could access online information with external stakeholders to implement their real during the intervention using the computers: community projects and related this back to skills and “We had access to a lot of useful information and experience they had gained from the workshops. we could make better decisions with this” Two focus group interview. text-speak and team and supporting one another. It was unsurprising that participants’ self-reporting of conveyed in the focus group interviews that developing skills in collaborative working emerged participants’ were using email with some degree of strongly from the data. For example crucial pieces sharing responsibilities by taking on roles within the of information were omitted. using computers to help plan and organize activity: projects and presenting ideas to others. implementing their real community service projects. online to research and develop their real community During this time the interviewees were engaged in projects. to Develop 21St Century Skills in Context workshops noted the participants’ lack of In the “Brain Game” intervention. in the workshops. participants’ understanding on how to structure a formal were working together towards a shared outcome. Constructivist Learning and Mantle of the Expert Pedagogy . their events. This was further supported by success in communicating with stakeholders in order the results of the Likert scale shown in Figure 3 to implement their real community service projects. with small groups of “We needed to estimate the prices of things we students. The authors “Because we got some questions from teachers suggest that it likely to be a combination of all three. These From focus group interviews there was some interviews provided an opportunity to further explore evidence that participants were accessing information the finding of the stage one and two questionnaires. Findings suggest that through their experience of the workshops the participants evidenced increased confidence in their ability to Figure 2 : Participants perception of skills developed during implement their community service projects. Emergent themes The analysis of stage one data suggests that the from the interviews included a perceived transfer of students perceived themselves as has having skills from the intervention to the real projects and developed four main skills: teamwork. Participants said: gained experience from the internal communications “It helped me organise things like emails for of their team within the workshops. There was also strong 269 .” ”It makes you feel like really grown up or something. the authors contend that the “Brain Game” intervention provided a valuable authentic learning experience for participants. Regarding communication skills. were conducted by the researcher two needed to get. working in collaboration with their peers and had a greater sense of independence.

participants tended to initially transfer a style of language used in communication technologies 6. this aspect of developing digital communication. A 2. the participants’ lack of skill thinking and digital literacy. the participants made asked directly of participants in questionnaires. This acknowledgement of developing general ICT further study could isolate and give further skills was not always elaborated upon by the consideration to the components of formal participants but data suggests that this is related to the communication skills developing in relation to the summation of all ICT experience encountered by the intervention. Aside from knowledge of collaborative working. It also empowered learners to actively exchange between the participants and their teachers. This These skills were referred to in the context of general echoes the findings of (Bennett. of the participants could not have been as strong asserting that it was something they could do “for without email providing a platform for role-play themselves”. information literacy could be investigated to a greater Participants suggested that they had learned how extent. and consider which sites would be more relevant. 2010) as reflect both the basic act of emailing and the more having powerful potential in learning. seek out information. with participants’ document editing etc. was the participants’ perception that understanding and perception of using email is they had gained skills in using computers – c. Although not a question At all stages of data collection. who helped the knowledge is at the core of the Mantle of the Expert teams during the workshops. engaging in tasks such as quoting prices of materials Arguably. this reference to skills that they perceived they had gained suggested that the many of participants were of as a result of their participation in the intervention. intervention was “realistic” therefore allowing participants lacked the higher order skills to assess participants’ to immerse themselves in the simulation.f. Observations of participants authentic role-play through email. Van Der A consistent theme. unfamiliar with the basic procedures of email. throughout the data collected at Meij and Boersma (2002) caution that pre-adolescent all three stages. researching information and other skills in seek out information online. 1994) in in this regard by suggesting types of websites to which learners adopt the role of experts within an participants. the most significant contribution they would need for their project or finding out the technology made in the intervention was to enable an opening hours of venues. The mentors. The research suggests that this element finding information online in the workshops to the of belief or investment in the simulation on the part implementation of their real community projects. strongly at the Stage One Workshops implied that although emerging from qualitative data. From the focus group interviews. participants during the workshops including Exchanges with the “Brain” prompted students to emailing.2 Skills Development participants initially had issues with attaching documents and sending mail. This kind of autonomy and self-direction. provided some support teaching pedagogy (Heathcote and Bolton. 270 . An “imagined context” to develop authentic skills and appropriate or helpful. Some evidence emerged as an interesting finding from the study and suggests that for at least the focus group participants suggests that the typical protocols which adults apply that these skills transferred to their work on the to the use of email may not map to adolescents. as community service project. communication skills. challenging skill of using email as a means of formal In a further study. to send an email and this is supported by observations during the Stage One Workshops where a number of 6. that participants felt that they had gained experience through which internet access can empower students. rather than rely on a teacher to A significant theme from the qualitative data is provide it. An issue. This could has been identified by (Mitra and Dangwal. Maton and Kervin personal awareness of a rise in confidence and 2008) that young people are not always the personal reflection on the sense of attainment of these technically sophisticated “digital natives” they are skills. critical the mechanics of email. enterprise to solve a problem framed and sustained by participants acknowledged the transfer of the skill of their teacher.CSEDU 2016 . was that the certainly capable of searching for information online.1 Use of Technology familiar to them such as texting and social media messengers to formal email correspondence. through their and experience in structuring formal correspondence engagement with the ”Brain Game”. in emailing as a result of the workshops.8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education self-reporting that they had developed skills in sometimes assumed to be. Figure removed from its typical adult business usage.

Theory into practice. In both Stage One and Stage Two post. 173- putting these skills into practice with the real 180.. Students both enjoy and value school itself when recognising the need to develop the learning of this nature as they can gain greater skill of working collaboratively. Connecting curriculum. 39(5): p. International journal of information of formal correspondence. collaboratively at school. 2003. Oliver. In addition to acknowledging the reliability to the findings. W. workshops to the participants’ implementation of the 775-786. Lowe..A Case Study of an Authentic Learning Activity. Boston. UK: Essex County Council.2 Communication Skills Abbott. community projects. & Spitzer. the “Brain Game”. 2010) and is a core implementation can be considered as a positive element of the Bridge21 learning model. 19(1). & Reeves. to Develop 21St Century Skills in Context 6. the “Brain Game” is presented as an innovative participants also offered reasons why they thought model for authentic learning. Warming-up. 39-43. teamwork was reported by exploration of the method applied to a number of participants as the second greatest area of skills learning contexts would give greater validity and development. Patterns of than a practice run. action methods. and digital literacy. management. J. CT 06825. Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert approach to collaboration.2. This may point at a confidence to manage projects and develop necessary lack of opportunity as perceived by students to work skills for 21st Century Society... 33-47. 2010. MA: Center for Youth Development and 7 CONCLUSIONS Education. C. The ‘digital evidence of the transfer of these skills from the natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. Heston. and also the participants’ own understanding of the ability to collaborate as a life skill. A drama of learning: that the “Brain Game” served as an impetus for Mantle of the expert. the “Brain Game” engagement in authentic online learning immersed students in an authentic context within a 271 . Lopez. A. NH: Heinemann Press. and related focus group interviews The researcher contends that processes. K.. 88 Post Road West. V. Project-based learning for the 21st century: workshop questionnaires there was self-reporting on Skills for the future. 1999. Workplace experiences of information that the intervention affords. an advanced the use of technology. Sociometry & a further study could isolate and examine the different Group Psychotherapy.. Bell. & Bolton G 1994. L. greatly enhanced by this skill was important to develop in relation to work technology as a means of role-play. 2007. Drama for learning: development of key constructivist skills including. D. 24(3). & Herbert.. Game” intervention was perceived by participants as 2004. The “Brain Game” intervention afforded participants’ Aitken.. C. education. B. Grobe. 1999. The findings of this study suggest that the “Brain Eisenberg. Portsmouth. communication. & Cabral. 83(2). C. L. This immersion scaffolded the development of skills and knowledge Collaborative working is considered a key “learning needed for their real project by the learners through and innovation skill” within the Partnership for 21st their engagement with the task. information age. Fundamentally. 2013. and Kervin L. An interesting point to note was that the information online and working within deadlines to students mentioned the future beyond school and not produce deliverables. Project- based learning: A strategy for teaching and learning. Corporation for Business. real community service projects as reported in the Blatner. A. writing. Greenwood Publishing Group. participants self-reported the Heathcote D. linking learning. M. The Journal of Psychodrama. the development of these skills. Westport. Mantle of the Expert 2: Training materials and tools. There was also some Bennett S.. While this Century Skills framework (Kay. 2013. Constructivist Learning and Mantle of the Expert Pedagogy . communication.2. H. Work. T. S. sourcing and college. While follow up focus group interviews suggested Heathcote. Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert an authentic opportunity to develop their approach to teaching and learning: A brief communication skills in the areas of interpersonal introduction. REFERENCES 6. Furthermore. R. 61 (2). Diehl. 2008. and Learning. 1985.. S. many study. Essex. But the workshops were more Herrington. Maton K. T. British journal of educational technology. C. P. Information literacy: Essential skills for the a valuable and engaging learning experience. opportunities for developing communication skills Bruce. The Clearing House. presentation in public and formal 34-56. in particular the concept literacy. Within the bounds of this development of collaborative working skills. Following endorsement of the “Brain Game”.1 Collaborative Work team of peers to solve a problem.

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