It is very much about the tools:
and their impact—both intended and unintended.
Once again, as a result of the ISTE conference, the issue represented by statements such as, “It’s not about the tools, it’s about the pedagogy” has come to the fore. (See Stop It Already by @dougpete and Not Everyone is You by @gcouros.)
I have spoken about this before in “It’s Not About the Tool”—A Naïve Myth.” In that post I share some thoughts related to computers as cognitive partners, ‘effects of’ vs ‘effects with,’ drip effects of technology, blue dye plus water or blue water and other McLuhanist-type thoughts.
As I mentioned there, I understand the intent of these kinds of statements. I believe they arise from the focusing on the skills required to use the tool rather than on the learning at hand. So, yes, that would be an issue. I totally understand that problem. That’s why, in 2002, I presented a session at a CUE conference titled Mindstrokes—Not Keystrokes.
However, it is very much about the tools.
As described in that post, tools shape behaviours. Tools shape cognition. Tools shape societal structures in both intended, and unintended, ways.
Let’s face it, eras of humankind have historically been defined by tool creation and use (the Three Age System)! We have the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age. Then came the Industrial Age, and, now, the Digital Era. In fairness, these descriptors vary regionally and are constantly under revision as many cultures use reference to other types of technologies.
So to simplistically say that it isn’t about the tools, is in my opinion, digital age doodoo.
“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”
Seymour Papert in Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking, 1987
Dr. Papert has often been recognized as the Father of Educational Computing. His impact on the early world of information technologies in schools is legendary for it was borne from his collaboration with Jean Piaget, theories of constructivism, and the ‘tutee’ concept within Tool, Tutor, and Tutee.
But Seymour has been much bigger than Logo.
What You May Not Know
But what you possibly don’t know about Seymour Papert is his significant contribution to the field of cognitive science. With Marvin Minsky, he cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. He collaborated with Marvin Minsky on Perceptrons (1969), which temporarily reduced the focus on neural networks and encouraged increased study of symbolic models. Indeed, inthe early 80’s, the exploration of neural networks rebounded and became a prominent force in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and development. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of these very technical arguments among the Newell & Simon cognitivists, artificial intelligence supporters, and cyberneticists. However, these times were central to the creation of the current theories of cognitive science.
The Human Side
I’ve had the good fortune of spending some time with Seymour Papert. I wish I’d had more time and I wish that I’d had more opportunities for debate with him – not about cognitive science but about cognitive psychology and his dreams for schools and children’s learning.
We were at a conference together in Israel. I helped usher him away from the throngs of people after his presentation to his hotel in another city. He was always deluged in those days and he valued his privacy. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind driving his rental car for him. He found it crazy to drive there and, of course, I was happy to oblige. On the way, we stopped in the old city and were happily walking along, browsing at the stalls. Then, I turned around and he was gone! Oh my goodness! It took me some 20-30 minutes to find him. He was contentedly sipping tea with a shopkeeper and deeply involved in a wonderful conversation about the state of the world.
I miss Seymour’s presence. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago. His strength of passion and genius should not be missed. Read his work.
A Last Word about Logo
If you have not explored using Logo with kids, I can still recommend that you do this. I am sure it must fit a 21st Century Skill or two. 🙂 There are many versions available. Seymour Papert was the Chair of the Board of LCSI for many years and they have, in my opinion, made the best versions of this computer language.
Logo is a programming environment – an accessible one for all learners. Now programming doesn’t mean what you might think. Many of us believe that students should engage in some aspects of computer science for the purposes of developing rich, divergent, reflective thinking. @dougpete makes reference to this frequently.
NOTE: DON’T be scared away by the term ‘programming’! All ages can take part. Check out MicroWorlds EX and MicroWorlds Jr (the latter is for primary kids).
- A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking about the School of the Future by Seymour Papert
- The Turtle’s Long Slow Trip: Macro-educological Perspectives on Microworlds by Seymour Papert
- On the Origins of Cognitive Science: The Mechanization of the Mind by Jean-Pierre Dupuy, MIT, 2009 ISBN 978-0-262-51239-8
- MicroWorlds EX and MicroWorlds Jr
- Learning with Logo – by Gary Stager
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I am amazed at the differences between learning ‘in school’ versus learning ‘out of school’.
Once again, as a result of a post by Graham Attwell ‘How we use technology and the internet for learning‘, I am amazed at the differences between learning ‘in school’ versus learning ‘out of school’. The first time I formally thought of this distinction was when I read an article by Lauren Resnick which was the 1987 Presidential Address – called ‘Learning In School and Out‘. (Full PDF here.) It remains, to this day, one of my favourite articles. Two of the main points Resnick makes are these:
- ‘Individual cognition in school versus shared cognition outside.’ In school, the most prevalent form of learning and performance is individual. Oh yes, group activities and ‘collaborative learning’ are common, but when it comes time for judgment, schools typically evaluate the individual performance. In addition, many of the school activities, such as homework, are individual. Outside of school, tasks and jobs are often socially shared and, as a result, performance of the ‘group’ or ‘team’ is often what is judged. Resnick cites a beautiful example of this ‘social distribution of knowledge’ by the anthropologist Edwin Hutchins. Imagine a ship being piloted into and out of San Diego harbour. There are six people with three different job descriptions. ‘Two people on the deck take visual sightings on predetermined landmarks, using special telescopic devices mounted on gyrocompasses that yield exact readings of direction. They call out their readings to two other individuals, who relay them by telephone to a specialist on the bridge. This individual records the bearings in a book and repeats them aloud for confirmation. Next to the recorder, another individual uses specialized tools to plot the ship’s position on a navigational chart and to project where the ship will be at the next fix and beyond. These projections of position are used to decide what landmarks should be sighted next by those on deck and when a course correction will be required. The entire cycle is repeated every one to three minutes. No individual in the system can pilot the ship alone. The knowledge necessary for successful piloting is distributed throughout the whole system.’
No individual in the system can pilot the ship alone. The knowledge necessary for successful piloting is distributed throughout the whole system.
- ‘Pure mentation in school versus tool manipulation outside.’ In school work, although tools (calculators, spell-checkers, concept-mapping, websites, word-predict, smart phones) are often used during learning, when it comes to assessment and evaluation, these tools are very often not allowed. Schools base the ‘greatest premium’ on solo performance – on a student’s efforts without the use of any tools – books, notes, calculators and all those tools previously mentioned. However, outside of school, people are ‘engaged intimately’ with tools as ‘cognitive partners’, as Gavriel Salomon would say. The ship’s personnel in the previous paragraph clearly used tools to achieve their successes. Schools need to welcome all the tools and look at performance in partnership with those tools. Open-book exams, if you are into exams, make more sense than do exams without such access.
Graham Attwell makes the point in the above mentioned post that young people (in fact, many people) ‘are using social software and Web 2.0 technologies for work, play and learning outside institutions’. This is no surprise to many of us. The major difference that this highlights, however, is in the nature of the learning – the formality, the control, the engagement. Learning in educational institutions is generally ‘system directed’ and ‘formal’. Learning outside of school is generally ‘self-directed’ and ‘informal’.
Learning in educational institutions is generally ‘system directed’ and ‘formal’. Learning outside of school is generally ‘self-directed’ and ‘informal’.
Graham cites a Pew Research study which found that 56 percent of American young people were using computers for ‘creative activities, writing and posting of the internet, mixing and constructing multimedia and developing their own content.’ He goes on to describe the ‘bricolage’ nature of this constructionist learning – a phenomenon which Seymour Papert held close to his heart. The bricoleur tinkered with materials at hand to invent and construct something new.
Schools need to adapt. Administrators and teachers need to accommodate the tools and devices that many students bring to school. We need to value true collaboration – with other people and with the tools that serve as cognitive and social partners.
This is quite a challenge for us as a society. Are we up for it?
- Why Isn’t It About the Pedagogy? (dougpete.wordpress.com)