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December 1, 2016


Pedagogy before Technology: Not a New Thing

by Peter Skillen


Don’t say, “We are finally paying attention to the pedagogy!”

It is unacceptable.

Pedagogy is why we started so many years ago!

How many times do we hear the following these days?

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning.”

“We have to think about pedagogy instead of focusing on the tools.”

But the most disturbing claim suggests that ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology—that everyone in the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s paid attention only to the hardware, the software and ‘teaching the tools’—devoid of pedagogy.

…ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology

quiet-150406_1280Please don’t say that. It’s absolutely incorrect—and, in fairness, rather hurtful to many who have had dreams of the kinds of things we are hearing more widely today. We have fought, and fought hard, for effective uptake through those decades in the face of those who ignored, and dismissed, us as outliers.

…some veteran, and influential, educators ignored us in the past…

And, it is not only some who are new to education who are guilty of this. We are seeing some veteran, and influential, educators who ignored us in the past, now moving us all forward with discussions of new pedagogies.

How we wished for their voices three decades ago. Imagine where we might be now.

Build Upon the Past

However, now we have a new generation of educators who, in many cases, have embraced the affordances of technologies. We welcome your enthusiasm, your energy and your building of effective classrooms for our learners.

…we must build upon that which has been done in the past

questions-1328465_1920I believe that it is important that we must build upon that which has been done in the past and move forward from there. If we start fresh—as if it is all new—we are not leveraging the successes and failures of previous times. We must learn from our experience.

To do this, one needs to know the history of educational computing.

I will share some of my experiences and observations having started on this journey in 1977.

This will require a series of posts. 🙂

A Series of Posts

I could do this by topic—coding, global projects, inquiry, science and math investigations, leveraging productivity software for inquiry, and so on. Or I could do it chronologically—which is the way I shall choose to approach this very rich history.

Logo Maze Poster(sm)Over this series of posts, you will read about:

  • Developing thinking and metacognitive skills through programming (coding) with grade ones in 1977, the Logo movement of the 80s, programming in HyperCard and HyperStudio in the 80s and 90s, teaching kids HTML through the 90s
  • Connecting kids through global projects in the early 80s with a command line interface on our computers, a Day in the Life project run with the Soviet Union via fax machines, National Geographic Kids’ Network collaborative science investigations in the 80s with teams of students from around the world, Global Schoolnet, FrEdWriter and FrEdMail (free wordpro and email networking for kids in the mid-80s), iEARN (International Education and Resource Network)
  • Being mathematicians, scientists, and engineers through building robotics and making in the mid-80s with Lego TC Logo robotics kits
  • collaboration – in addition to the collaborative global projects mentioned above, we had the development of CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) in the mid-eighties; ThinkingLand (late 80s), and Journal Zone (early 2000s). These were environments focused on creating knowledge building communities in our classrooms
  • Inquiry-based uses of productivity software (mid-80s onward)—using drawing tools, databases and spreadsheets for mathematics & science inquiry of geometry, speed, acceleration, etc.
  • Exploring, tinkering and creating in Virtual Reality (Mandala and CitySpace) in the 90s
  • Multimedia creation (HyperCard, HyperStudio, Web Creation, desktop publishing, Laser discs)
  • Beginning in 1982, we deliberately focused our formalized professional learning on curricular implementation by including curriculum and/or pedagogy in the workshop titles (Math Investigations using Spreadsheets; Planning Ahead with Outliners; Metacognition and Programming in Logo)

This is just a sampling of topics.

girl-and-hammerNext Post: Pedagogical Stance of the 1970s: Piaget In! Skinner Out!

The next post will tell the story of how—and why—we got involved with microcomputers in the late 1970s. It will include a description of the educational context of the 1970s—the student-centred, inquiry-based, open-classroom, student-in-charge environments where we were believers in a Piagetian constructivist approach and had dismissed the Skinnerian behaviourist, operant-conditioning principles of earlier decades.


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 1 2016

    From my own experience, it was the recognition that technology could amplify the kinds of things that I was trying to accomplish in my classroom, that drew me to it, not the other way around. However, although I’m late to the party compared to folks like you and @dougpete and @pmcash, I had the benefit a Psychology degree and the amazing research of the 80s and 90s to point me in the right direction around how people learn, and then how technology could enhance the conditions for that.

    Posts like yours will remind people that, we’ve been pedagogy driven for a long time…especially here in Ontario (I can speak at least from the time since I came on board in 1987). We’ve had such great development of our own curriculum and support documents, plus lots of research to help us develop great learning environments. Surely by now we all know that it’s the culture in the classroom and proven (and sometimes modified) practices that make the difference.

    I like your mention that we should grow based on the lessons learned from the past. Technology, if and when appropriate, needs to become the way that we do business and not heralded as exceptional. We don’t see new doctors starting by exploring using leaches and then moving on to other methods from there (albeit apparently we may revert back to these earlier practices if they are proven better – thanks for that, @davidthornburg ) – they start with accepted practices and benefit from earlier research to gain insights and new understandings.

    You’ve mentioned some of your lessons learned since the 70s, like this one:

    “Beginning in 1982, we deliberately focused our formalized professional learning on curricular implementation by including curriculum and/or pedagogy in the workshop titles (Math Investigations using Spreadsheets; Planning Ahead with Outliners; Metacognition and Programming in Logo)”

    I hope you keep focused on those lessons learned in your next posts and that your readers will also add their thoughts…I’m going to work on what my lessons learned might be and share them as well. 🙂

    • Dec 1 2016

      Brenda, thank you. You, of all people, know this struggle. We are thrilled people are thinking like this and we encourage all to share their struggles and successes so we can advance collective knowledge!

    • Dec 2 2016

      Brenda, as well as telling my stories, I hope I can do justice to the lessons learned (positive and negative) so that we can build from there. And, yes, I hope all readers will contribute their ideas—for these, are merely my own experiences.

      One lesson learned is the following—and I’ll mention it here briefly and then bring it up again as we go forward. It’s not simply ‘coding’ that changes the thinking as much as the educational surrounds or context or activities in which learning coding is embedded.

  2. Dec 1 2016

    YES!!! Awesome post, Peter! When TPACK came out and was all the rage (as it should be and still be) I made a graphic with Papert at the center of that infamous venn diagram with an image of one of his original Turtles. As soon as I saw the TPACK framework I thought – that’s cool, and Papert was doing that right from the start! (That graphic with Papert is here ICYMI: –if you zoom in, you can see him! 🙂

    • Dec 2 2016

      Thx Jim. 🙂

      Great picture of Seymour! 🙂
      Yes, he had it right…a VERY long time ago.

      Actually, even those on the OTHER side of the educational fence focused on pedagogy too. In those days (70s and 80s), there was a huge CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) movement. Their beliefs arose out of the behaviourist philosophies but the point is—they too were pedagogy focused.

      I am saddened by the loss of this body of knowledge by many of our current educators. As Brenda says…we wouldn’t allow people in many professions to exist in their workplaces without that in place.

      I’m sorry I missed your presentation at ECOO this year. 😦

  3. Thank you for the reminder that we are where we are because of those before us. I continue to learn from you and appreciate your insights into Papert et al.

    • Dec 2 2016

      Thx Brian. So excited for these times as many folks are now on more similar missions for empowering our students and our educators. Wish we’d had you alongside during those earlier decades! Maybe we’d be farther down the path now. But, that would mean you’d be an old dude now too! LOL

  4. Dec 2 2016

    Thank you for your walk along memory lane, Peter. I had to smile at your reference to Piaget and Skinner. When did we drop Pavlov? I may flesh this out in full on my blog this week but I know that I value the chat that you and I had at the Niagara Convention Centre. It’s not a matter of simply saying “Ah, Papert. I do that”. Yet, there are some superficial approaches that only go that far and it’s a shame and a discredit to those who have worked through and thought through this in its entirety.

    Our conversation confirmed to me that we still haven’t totally got it figured out. It’s not as simple as slapping a label on it and shipping it – an approach that is all too common.

    I truly appreciate the fact that you continue to push the discussion. Everyone needs to be part of it and to truly refine whatever it is that they’re doing. I’ve been honoured to have been part of yours and Brenda’s Minds on Media event for a number of years. It remains a wonderful model that respects how the adult learner learns. A walk through and observation notes that it isn’t considerably different than how children learn. It’s one of the areas where participants can absolutely play to learn and take control over what it is that they wish to learn.

    We need more of that.

  5. Dec 2 2016

    Thx Doug.

    “When did we drop Pavlov?” Regrettably we didn’t. LOL People still salivate at shiny new ‘bones’. Giggle.

    Yes, we all must constantly be learning, refining, questioning, and reflecting.

    Wish we’d met 30 or more years ago!!

    • Dec 2 2016

      And there’s always Class Dojo for some Pavlov…. lol

      • Dec 2 2016

        Oh don’t get my System One firing!! Lol

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