Penn State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN14 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Pages: 4156-4164
ISBN: 978-84-617-0557-3
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 6th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 7-9 July, 2014
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Dialectical constructivism considers that the source of knowledge comes from constant and complex interactions between the evolving individual and the developing environment (Moshman, 1982). The idea of dialectical constructivism informs dialectical learning pedagogy, where students constantly interact with each other in developing and refining arguments over an issue from multiple perspectives. With the advancement of the Internet, it is possible to design dialectical learning activities with technologies that can be seamlessly integrated into curriculum and facilitate learning. During 2013-2014, we adapted the Piazza platform (, which is originally designed and widely used to enable the collaborative development of high quality question-answer (Q&A) pairs through a user interface functionally similar to that of Wikipedia, as a dialectical learning platform. We appropriated Piazza as a course infrastructure for supporting collaborative development of dialectics for students from three different courses, including a freshman honor seminar course, a senior undergraduate course, and a graduate core course in College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State. Students in these courses were divided into groups, collaboratively approaching an issue from different roles and perspectives to develop arguments and debate with each other. For example, in the freshman honor seminar course, students read Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.” One group of students enumerated arguments proposed by the author, and another group then constructed counterarguments accordingly. All students from different groups debated with each other and added further comments and perspective both in Piazza space and in classroom discussion.

The results from these three courses are encouraging, but Piazza as a tool to support dialectical constructivist pedagogy was a limitation. Students had positive experiences with learning activities and developed critical thinking skills from this approach, but they are less positive about Piazza, especially some of its awkward interface features that prevent them from learning more effectively, which leave us opportunities to design develop generic system to support dialectical learning activities better.

In this paper, we will address the lessons we learned from implementing dialectical learning activities in the three courses, especially the Piazza affordances that support and fail to support learning activities, and develop design rationale of a system that better engages students with dialectical constructivist activities, such as anchoring the group discussion on top of screen to serve as a reference for following discussions, and displaying multiple arguments in one screen and visualize their relationships to serve as a more structured space for students to argue with each other. The design of the system will be applied in 2014~2015 academic year for validation and evaluation.
Dialectical learning, constructivism, Piazza, design rationale.