SCAFFOLDING IN A HIGHER EDUCATION CONTEXT

C. Stanier

Staffordshire University (UNITED KINGDOM)
This paper describes the experience of using scaffolding with undergraduate students. Scaffolding is a well established teaching and learning strategy within the constructivist framework. In a scaffolding approach, the instructor provides carefully designed supports known as scaffolds to enable learners to extend their knowledge and go beyond their existing skills and capabilities. The scaffolds are then removed, in a process known as fading, so that students develop as independent learners. Most of the literature on the use of scaffolding discusses scaffolding in the context of early learners or school based instruction and scaffolding is often used in a task based context where the emphasis is on mastering specific skills rather than higher order concepts. There is comparatively little literature which discusses the use of scaffolding in Higher Education (HE). Using scaffolding in Higher Education presents a number of issues and challenges as teaching and learning in HE emphasises the higher order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation which are more difficult to scaffold than task based practical skills and tertiary level students have different expectations about the teaching and learning process. We used a scaffolding based approach to support the teaching of Database Security to second year undergraduate students. Database security is a complex, unstructured problem which requires students to explore a range of different issues and is a problem which becomes more complex, the more it is understood. Scaffolding was used to support students as they moved from entry level security concepts to more advanced concepts and the scaffolds were faded as students began to consider strategic frameworks rather than discrete tasks. The scaffolding approach, and the progressive fading of the supports, was discussed with the students at the start of the module. We found that scaffolds were easy to design and that the scaffolding approach was a good mechanism for supporting students in the initial exploration of material. However, the process of fading was much more challenging and we propose that scaffolding approaches in Higher Education need to be explicitly tailored to the needs and expectations of tertiary level students.