Re: requesting assistance

Devi Jankowicz (
Wed, 19 Mar 97 23:05:38 +0100

Kerri Johnson writes;

> I just finished my written exam and
>have my oral presenation in just a week. My problem is the 15 minute
>oral presenation that will start out the oral exam. How can I explain
>constructivism and its applications in 15 minutes?! I am planning to
>move on to briefly identify the different constructive theories
>(cognitive-developmental, social constructionists,
>systems,solution-focused, etc...)

and having done that brilliantly, you'll be expected to finish off with
something like "and tomorrow, I'll present a cure for the common cold."
I know how you feel...

However, the following might be helpful. I use a pair of overhead
transparencies when lecturing my management students on practitioner-
relevant alternatives to the dominance of the hypothetico-deductive
method. I present positivism as the epistemology underlying
hypothetico-deductive method; and then suggest the relevance of
constructivism as an epistemology which relates better to the way in
which managers make decisions, and therefore as a more useful
alternative which my students might adopt in doing research for their
MBA Dissertations.

Overhead no. 1 is entitled "Positivist Epistemology", and has the
following bulleted points:
- phenomena can be analysed in terms of variables
- data can be collected by a dispassionate observer
- we are always capable of distinguishing the true from the untrue
- the aim is to discover what's true "out there"
- the purpose of enquiry is to build theories: general statements which
explain phenomena
- once such theories have been sufficiently developed, they can be
applied for productive purposes
which is a fairly standard exposition of Comte's assertions.

Overhead no. 2 is entitled "Constructivist Epistemology" and looks
like this:
- phenomena can be analysed in terms of issues, as they are construed
by individuals
- data are collected by participants and observers who have varying
degrees of involvement
- "truth" isn't easily determined; we can work towards a consensus
but must sometimes agree to differ
- the aim is to resolve personal uncertainty,in ways which may or
may not make sense to other people addressing the same issues
- the purpose of enquiry is to gain sufficient understanding to predict
future outcomes
- there's no need to seek to apply theories; understanding and
prediction are already theory-in-action, being in themselves
which attempts to summarise some of the issues which social
constructivists, as well as Kellian constructivists, try to address.

Each bulleted point of the second overhead is meant to relate to its
corrsponding point in the first overhead.

The last point of the first overhead is particularly important in
expressing Comte's contribution when defining positivism, and
encapsulates many assumptions about the relationship between
theory and practice: assumptions with which, as you can imagine,
I'm uncomfortable. The corresponding point in the second overhead
packages a lot of meaning, but may use terms which are unfamiliar to
one's listeners. "Theory-in-action" and "theory-from action" relate
to the ideas of D.E. Hunt "Beginning with Ourselves: in Practice,
Theory, and Human Affairs" Cambridge MA: Brookline Books 1987;
see also D.A. Schon "The Reflective Practitioner" London:
Temple Smith, 1983. I provide a potted summary for my students.
An alternative way of saying the last point in the second overhead,
given your time constraints, might be to say something like:

- application proceeds by deliberate exploration and utilisation
of the theories which people (whether they're the people being
studied, or the people doing the studying) are already using to
address the issues being investigated

but then you'd need to say something Kellian about "the person as
scientist", which isn't a bad way of progressing onwards from these
two overheads, I guess!

I hope that's helpful; if it is, do please feel free to use it to your

Kind regards,

Devi Jankowicz