Collaborative Spaces and Education
Social Constructionism and MU*s

Social constructionism assumes that identity and reality are based on shared language. So do MU*s.

adapted from The Bus Stops Beyond Language
That reality and consciousness are socially constructed through language is not a new idea. James Berlin suggests that "the observer, the discourse community, and the material conditions of existence are all verbal constructs." This construction relies somewhat on traditional dualisms, "Our consciousness is in large part the product of our material conditions. But our material conditions are also in part the products of our consciousness." The subject object dilemma is bridged with language to create a rhetorically constructed reality.

Kenneth Bruffee's social constructionism does much the same thing. In Social Construction, Language and Knowledge, he explains, "Social construction understands reality, knowledge, thought, facts, texts, selves, and so on as community-generated and community-maintained linguistic entities--..." (774).

By beginning with an assumption that reality is socially constructed through language, social-epistemic and social constructionist rhetoric seem well adapted for considering MU*s. Amy Bruckman, for example, considers MU*s to be "constructionist environments in which people build personally meaningful artifacts"(Programming for Fun ).

There are, however, some interesting distinctions between social constructionist models and thinking about MU*s. Note the way in which Bruckman continues her comparison of MU*s to constructionist environments: "But unlike many constructionist environments, MU*s place special emphasis on collaboration, encouraging construction within a social setting;" The contrast delineated by Bruckman between this type of MU* environment and most constructionist realms suggests a point of dispute.

For me the ideological struggle inherent in the social construction of reality comes to mind. Berlin, for example, sees social-epistemic rhetoric as revealing the way in which power relationships "are inscribed in the discursive practices of daily experience"(479). For Berlin, ideology may permeate reality through discourse in a variety of ways, but nevertheless, "the overall effect of these permutations tends to support the hegemony of the dominant class"( Rhetoric and Ideology...479).

While power relationships do exist in MU*s, these ideological struggles are much less a part of the conversation about them. Of students sent into the MediaMOO environment, Bruckman says, "they were all supported in their efforts by the presence of other people in the virtual world to ask for help. In these worlds on the network, learning is a collaborative, community activity."

So, are MU*s collaborative or confrontational (both?), and if so what does it say about theories of social construction? What do you think? Join the discussion.

Opening Teaching Theory The Web MU*S Conversation

Daniel Anderson
Joi Lynne Chevalier