“From the Intuitive to the Intentional”: Designing a Constructivist Online Course


Source:  Religious Education Volume 112, 2017 - Issue 5


Online programs are becoming more ubiquitous in higher education; however, there has been a lack of research on the merit of this style of educating. Using the concept of constructivism as a framework, the idea that individuals construct their own understanding of world experiences, the authors generated a case study to explore the efficacy of teaching “havruta study,” text analysis in student pairs with instructor facilitation, in an online format. Findings suggest that, through careful consideration of communication styles and student needs, highly interactive in-house courses can be adapted to online settings.

In this article we present a case study of the attempt of one instructor to adapt an in-house course to an online format. We studied the experience of both the instructor and the learners in “Pentateuch with Rashi” over a 14-week period during the spring 2015 semester. We chose this research method since it suited our needs: a case study is an approach to research that focuses on gaining an in-depth understanding of a particular entity or event at a specific time.

Over ten years ago, Natriello (2005) critiqued a status quo in higher education that pegged online courses as a less legitimate learning experience than traditional face to-face courses. This remains the attitude of many experienced academic instructors today at the same time as their institutions seek to expand online offerings to attract more students who increasingly require the more flexible parameters of an online degree. Religious institutions of higher education are not immune from this attitude. Natriello also critiqued pioneering online instructors who based their transition to online teaching in the materials and practices of their face to face courses. Yet we see in this case of Herzberg’s adaptation of the traditional face to face text study practice of havruta that a passion for subject matter, methodology and the student–teacher relationship can transcend issues of setting AND may give a necessary push toward a more constructivist approach to teaching. Contrary to popular belief, the working hours of an online instructor are long and intense, in the planning, instructional and assessment stages. Nevertheless, religious studies are a unique content area that should be considered ripe for experimentation in the online classroom. It behooves talented faculty, with years of content research and in house teaching expertise, to make the jump to online learning, in order to share their expertise with a broader audience in a new and exciting context.

Updated: Nov. 09, 2017