Reflections on Constructivism Week: Introduction by Michael Harnar

My name is Michael Harnar. I have been in the evaluation discipline for about 16 years and for the last 2.5 years I’ve been an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation program at Western Michigan University.

One of my favorite courses to teach at the graduate level is qualitative research methods for evaluators. I like it because it gives us an opportunity to delve into different philosophy of science topics. This is often new territory for students and so I enjoy the conversations in which we grapple with topics like valuing different knowledge creation methods and how those values influence perspectives on data credibility and validity. Last fall I had students read Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba’s The Constructivist Credo book and gave them an assignment to write short thought pieces on it. The core of the book is a collection of 130 conjectures wherein Lincoln and Guba present statements about the ontological, epistemological, axiological, and methodological presumptions of the constructivist paradigm. In their view, constructivism is a way of understanding the world that, at its core, is relativistic – that is, what we know, how we know it, and how we apply our knowledge is richly informed by the values of the inquiry and are inseparable from the contextual relations that constructed the knowledge. The conjectures were co-developed through more than 13 years of dialogue, richly informed by their lives as academics and as life partners.

The assignment I gave students was to take no fewer than three conjectures of their choice and write a 300- to 450-word blog and to follow the AEA365 format for the blog. I also informed them that I wanted to curate a set of their assignments for a week on AEA365, so they had a potential audience larger than just me for whom to write. After the term, I reached out and asked each of them if they would like to take any of their assignment deliverables and refine it for publication. Some took me up on the offer and from those I selected this week’s posts.

My intention in curating this week was two-fold. Firstly, this is a unique and rare book because it is written by a set of preeminent scholars whose thinking is foundational to our understanding of the paradigm and I hope to encourage new readers to check it out. Secondly, I wanted to give my students an opportunity to engage deeper with the content, knowing they would have a larger audience than just me. I feel privileged to have shared this deep analysis with my students and I hope you too enjoy these blogs.

Rad Resources: If you’d like to continue learning in this area, here is the citation for the book and another book you should add to your library and a few links to explore:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Reflections on Constructivism Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 are from Michael Harner’s students in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation program at Western Michigan University and are reflections onYvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba’s conjectures on constructivism described in their book The Constructivist Credo. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Constructivism Week: Introduction by Michael Harnar”

  1. Dr. Sondra LoRe

    Thank you, Michael, for a wonderfully planned approach to the 365 Blog posts this week. There is a need for more information about qualitative research and this series of blog posts is greatly appreciated. When I work with students wearing my evaluation center manager hat or wearing my teacher of qual research hat, I too address these much-needed skills and topics. Participarily in the area of evaluation there is a strong need for guided methods and practice for students and emerging evaluators. Thank you, thank you!

  2. What a great idea! I can’t wait to learn from your students. I have always thought about constructivism in terms of theories of teaching and student learning, and how classrooms and technology use are structured. From an educational perspective, seems to me, you are practicing what you preach! It will be really interesting to see what directions your students are taking regarding applications to evaluation theory and practice. Thank you for doing this.

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