Virtual learning environments for constructivist teaching in Biosciences to promote sustainable development in higher education

Susan Barker


Biodiversity education for sustainable development is crucial for the challenges of the 21st century and provides us with an excellent context for interdisciplinary study or issues based teaching. A pedagogical consideration of such courses is just as critical as the content i.e. the biodiversity ideas being communicated. Experiential learning and constructivist approaches to teaching and learning are important strategies to help students make value judgements and to reflect on their own behaviour. At the core of constructivism is a "view of human knowledge as a process of personal cognitive construction, or invention, undertaken by the individual who is trying, for whatever purpose, to make sense of her social or natural environment" (Taylor 1993). Thus when teaching students about the natural environment with a view to promoting sustainable practices, constructivist teaching makes good sense. The learning process is based in the personal experiences of the students and the acquisition of knowledge is the product of activities that take place in particular cultural contexts. Knowledge is constructed by the learners in the sense that they relate new elements of knowledge to already existing cognitive structures (Bruner 1993). Thus this approach to teaching can help overcome some of the challenges of teaching in higher education today, notably students with a wide variety of experiences, prior knowledge and goals. If we compare the traditional science curriculum with that of constructivist approaches the benefits are further outlined.

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