Educational Technology Alumni Join Forces to Create a New Educational Alliance Dedicated to Authentic Learning
As a first-time attendee at the National Educational Computing Conference, walking through the convention center in Atlanta, Georgia, can be an overwhelming experience. Finding your way among 13,000 other attendees, being approached by countless company representatives at more than 1,200 exhibitor booths can leave even the most veteran educator flustered and exhausted. Which technology products are right for your classroom? What workshops are worth your time? How do you distinguish which hardware, software, and services support your method of teaching?
A new alliance has been formed to bring order to the cluttered educational technology marketplace. The Constructivist Consortium began in January 2007 and is led by Dr. Gary Stager, adjunct faculty in the Master’s of Educational Technology, Online (OMET) program at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Stager is a pioneer in the field of educational technology. He has helped countless teachers create learning environments designed to incorporate the benefits of computers. Stager brought together six leading educational technology publishers and created an association to aid educators in their quest to empower students.
At the helm of two of the technology publishing companies are alumni of the OMET program, Sylvia Martinez (M ’99), president of Generation YES (Youth and Educators Succeeding) and Paul Reynolds (M ’06), president of FableVision. Both have an extensive and pioneering history in the educational technology sector.
For more than a decade Martinez has worked to design and publish educational software at Knowledge Adventure, Davidson & Associates, and other technology companies. At Generation YES she works with schools to involve students in improving education through technology. Reynolds started his first multimillion-dollar “e-learning” media firm, Cosmic Blender, in 1986 and went on to create FableVision in 1996 with his identical twin brother, Peter. FableVision, located at the Boston Children’s Museum, creates and distributes award-winning media and technology products for the classroom that focus on self-expression, as well as creative and cognitive strategies for visual and/or challenged learners. FableVision also works with other major educational partners such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Jim Henson Company, and the National Academy of Sciences.
With a history of success in the educational technology world Martinez and Reynolds both enrolled in the OMET program to reinvigorate their approach to authentic learning. As an alumna of the first cohort of the OMET program, Martinez’s interaction with Stager was a memorable experience. “Gary is great at challenging what you believe, validating what you already know, and ushering you to a moment of discovery where you connect your passion and your knowledge to improve yourself and the world,” she describes.
Reynolds, who enrolled in the OMET program seven years after Martinez, experienced just as much discovery. “My time in the OMET program was completely transformational. With my cohort, we didn’t just learn about distributed learning communities—we were a distributed learning community. We didn’t just study concepts of virtual communities of learning and practices—we became one, and a highly functional and energized one at that,” says Reynolds. “This is what learning should be like at all grade levels, and in every community. Through Pepperdine, I was lucky enough to experience what effective online learning is all about.”
Throughout their tenure as OMET students Martinez and Reynolds used online technology tools to control when and where they learned and how the learning was applied. They focused on their own personal practice and workplace setting, and how they could make a positive change in that environment. This way of learning is exactly what the Constructivist Consortium was created to promote.
Each of the companies involved in the Constructivist Consortium supports the idea that students learn best by building on the knowledge they already have, using tools that support independent, creative expression. A teacher’s role is to guide the student in the learning journey. This is known as constructivist learning theory, hence the name of their marketing alliance.
So why would these seemingly competing brands join forces? The consortium understands that small companies can reach a larger audience and be more cost effective by joining together to advance a common message. When approached, all six companies signed on without hesitation. Each saw the value of working together, pooling resources, and sharing customers.
The Constructivist Consortium’s mission is to ensure that constructivist thinking tools, strategies, and platforms are supported and made more available to every student worldwide. Along with giving voice to creative educators, the Constructivist Consortium also stands as an advocate for improving educational policy and effective use of technology in K-12 schools.
The Constructivist Consortium’s first offering to the education world was the Constructivist Celebration, an all-day workshop held prior to the National Educational Computing Conference on June 24, 2007.
The inaugural event sold out within a week of being announced, and attracted a diverse range of educators, including preschool through 12th grade teachers, technology coordinators, and teacher educators.
The event included hands-on activities using claymation, video game design, digital photography, problem solving, and animation, as well as a panel discussion on sustaining constructivist learning led by the founding members of the consortium. Participants in the day’s events commented that they felt nourished by the opportunity to be creative and learn without being taught. It reminded them what education should really be about.
The idea of empowering learners, which is lived out through the OMET program, has been taken to the boardrooms of two successful companies and is now the core mission of the Constructivist Consortium. Martinez, Reynolds, and Stager are reaching far beyond the 13,000 visitors of the Na-tional Educational Computing Conference.
“The Constructivist Consortium wants to change the way the world looks at learning in the classroom—moving away from assembly-line learning and turning to authentic learning,” comments Stager. “We are off to an incredibly exciting start, and we’ve only just begun.”