My teaching Philosophy: Assessment 2, creating learning centred environments

Since last September when I commenced the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching through Otago Polytechnic I have been learning a great deal about pedagogical theories. This has greatly influenced my thought on teaching and has caused be to think and consider what my teaching philosophy might be. The foundation of any course is the pedagogical framework. This may vary from an instructivist (or behaviourist) model to a constructivist model. Siragusa , Dixon and Dixon (2007) suggest that highly technical courses, such as midwifery, require a more instructivist approach in the first year of the program, which can gradually change over time, as knowledge increases to a more constructivist approach. How these two are blended is dependent on several factors. Some of these are;

  • How focussed or unfocussed is the instructional design
  • How much content is provided or is student constructed
  • Whether students are extrinsically or intrinsically motivated
  • Whether the lecturers role is didactic or facilitative
  • Whether the lecturer has novice or expert online capability
  • Whether the course is structured to be “teacher proofed” or easily modified
  • Whether collaborative learning is teacher or student guided

Midwifery students obviously need to develop clinical midwifery skills and theoretical knowledge to support these skills however the most important skills for midwifery students are the ability to critically reflect, problem solve, seek out evidence for practice and engage in continuing learning after formal study is complete. Vgotsky (1962) theorised that social interaction plays a fundamental role in cognitive development. He focussed on the connections between people and their socio-cultural context. When considering continuing professional development for health professionals, research has consistently found a preference for keeping up to date with current practice, through practice communities and professional networks. Communities of practice may be used for problem solving, sharing information, sharing resources, discussing developments as well as establishing where there is existing knowledge or gaps in knowledge and highlighting areas worthy of further investigation (Fahey & Monaghan, 2005; Gabbay & Le May, 2004; Lee, 2006; Tolson McAloon, Hotchkiss & Schofield, 2005; Wenger, 2006). I recently completed a course [Facilitating online learning communities ] where I explored the use of online tools to support the development of learning communities.

I agree that practice communities, and group interaction, play a large role in learning. I also believe that learning is life long. We need students to learn skills, and access resources that will support their continuing learning and development after they have completed their course of study, and gained accreditation in their chosen profession. There is also a significant amount of course content that students need to access and interact with. In the traditional classroom setting this would be done through the delivery of lectures, in the new flexible model of course delivery, there is an opportunity to reconsider this, and look at other ways to guide students to this material and support their learning. George Siemens discusses the concept of curatorial teaching. He suggests that lecturers provide access to resources for students to peruse and learn from. Gilly Salmon developed a five stage model for e-moderation, which is an alternative to traditional teaching for the online environment. The e-moderator and the curator seem to share some aspects in common. Both encourage autonomy for the learner, while they also provide direction to resources that will support learning. Salmon’s model provides a framework for scaffolding learning, as students learn and develop more knowledge of their topic.

In conclusion my teaching philosophy is firmly based in Constructivist theory. During the first year of the midwifery program however a more Instructivist model is needed to provide student with the background knowledge on which they can construct their subsequent learning with support from the faculty as well as midwives in practice.


Fahey, C. M., & Monaghan, J. S. (2005). Australian rural midwives: perspectives on continuing professional development [Electronic Version]. Rural and Remote Health, 5. Retrieved 25th June 2006 from

Gabbay, J., & Le-May, A. (2004). Evidence based guidelines or collectively constructed “mindlines”? Ethnographic study of knowledge management in primary care. British Medical Journal, 329, 1013-1017.

Lee, S. W.-Y. (2006). The interplay between self directed learning and social interactions: Collaborative knowledge building in online problem-based discussion. Paper presented at the 7th International conference on learning sciences. ICLS’06., Bloomington IN.

Salmon, G. (2004) All things in moderation: 5 stage model. Downloaded from the world wide web April 2008 from;

Siragusa, L., Dixon, K. C., Dixon, L., (2007) Designing quality e-learning environments in higher education. Conference presentation, Ascilite 2007 Singapore.

Tolson, D., McAloon, M., Hotchkiss, R., & Schofield, I. (2005). Progressing evidence-based practice: an effective nursing model? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 50(2), 124-133

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Wenger, E. (2008). Communities of practice, a brief introduction. Retrieved May 2008, from

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  1. Enjoying your posts and learning heaps from your posts education theory. thanks a lot Sarah

  2. Interesting post Carolyn..

    Something that stuck out to me was where you first mention constructivism and then followed with (behaviourism). Could you expand on that connection?

    When you mention curatorial teaching, you follow by describing it as a teacher providing access to resources… I wonder if provide is the right word? By the sound of it here, it isn’t much different to when they provide through lectures. Perhaps you could add one or two more sentences on how you feel curatorial teaching works for your philosophy?

    Your post leads me to thinking about the 1st year, 2nd year division between instruction and construction and how it all relates to new ideas for providing information etc rather than lecturing. I am wondering if the two models aren’t, or couldn’t be mixed from the beginning. I’m thinking that through curatorial methods you might exhibit a range of selected resources that include instructional videos, handouts, readings etc. All around a certain topic. Included in that ‘exhibition’ would be workshops that instruct in a face to face manor. But directly after (or even during) that curated experience, the constructed learning begins. You might arrange for social gatherings like mini conferences where experts and students gather to discuss the exhibition or the topics it was about. That way the students are exposed to the knowledge that is still being ‘socially constructed’ on the topics by professionals.

    The design of such an approach would be very precise however. What topics to treat this way and when might be very difficult for your courses… and it all relies on motivation as you say.

  3. Thanks for you comments Sarah and Leigh.
    Thanks for challenging me on this Leigh which has made me think more about this. I realised I pput the bracketted ‘behaviourist’ next to constructivist instead of instructivist. I have corrected this now. This was a small but hugely significan error.

    I did not intend the division between behaviourist and constructivist to be so black and white in my discussion of the first year of the program, but I can see that it appears so. As I stated, how much the pedagogy of the first year of the program is behaviourist or constructivist depends on several variables, which include the motivation of the students, the teaching style of the lecturers,and the philosophy of the course as well as the previous experience of the students.
    As you have suggested in your comments I see this as being a blend between the two with a gradual movement towards a more constructivist approach. Students will be introduced to a variety of resources which will support their learning and which they will engage with in a variety of ways. When approaching the acquisition of certain technical skills there is no choice but to instruct them in the correct procedure for these skills, at the same time it is possible to get the students to consider and investigate the rationale for this which is will help them to understand this on a different level and help them construct their own knowledge on the skill. When considering how the students will learn these particular skills we need to come at the same topic from a variety of angles to support and promote an optimal learning experience for the students. I see this as particularly important when much of the learning is done at a distance.

    Regarding curatorial teaching and ‘providing’ resources. You are right, language is so important isn’t it? My understanding, or interpretation, of curatorial teaching is that the facilitator identifies a number of resources which might support the students learning on a particular topic. Students then have the opportunity to peruse these and choose which they might engage with using them to construct their understanding of the topic.

    Thanks once again for taking the time to give me this feedback Leigh. Do you think that what I have said here clarifies this at all? I welcome thoughts, ideas and challenges from anyone.

  4. Yep, that clarifies Carolyn. I’m just now reading through Athena’s post over at Odyssey blog. I think you are developing a strong design for learning in this post, and I think it would be enhanced if it addressed formal and nonformal learning. Athena is mentioning it in teh contect of open education (which you have already started to think about elsewhere) but I think by introducing non formal learning ideas into your considerations of instructed and constructed learning, you will be developing a more holistic understanding of the possibilities for learning in your field – which may in turn inform a flexible learning plan and possibilities for assessment in an ultimately formal context.


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