I am one happy and excited guy! I get to meet John Seely Brown (JSB) in person this fall – TWICE!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to ask for autographs or drool at the feet of my heroes.
But, you see, JSB has been a key figure in my academic and educational life since the mid-eighties. He has gained a more popular presence in the last few years – particularly with his publication of the Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big things in Motion and more recently A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.
In Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning (1989), JSB (with Allan Collins & Paul Duguid) suggested that what students pick up “is a product of the ambient culture rather than of explicit teaching”. This paper caused me to think much more deeply about ‘instruction’ versus ‘construction’ – about setting the conditions for learning – about designing environments that were authentic, complex and rich rather than contrived, simplistic and reductionist.
It made me reflect deeply about kids before they get to school and how they manage to ‘steal that which they need to know’ from the larger gestalt of the complex worlds in which they lived. Later on, JSB & Paul Duguid wrote Stolen Knowledge (1996) which reinforced and supplemented my thinking about this. They started that paper with a quotation I particularly loved:
“A very great musician came and stayed in [our] house. He made one big mistake . . . [he] determined to teach me music, and consequently no learning took place. Nevertheless, I did casually pick up from him a certain amount of stolen knowledge. [Rabindrath Tagore quoted in Bandyopadhyay, 1989: 45]“
Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age also resonates with my socio-constructionist heart and beliefs. Many of you know I am a fan of Seymour Papert’s deep thinking about tinkering and ‘hard fun’ and his creation of Logo and Lego Logo robotics. I wonder have John Seely Brown and Seymour shared thoughts and conversations in the past. I will be able to have these, and other, conversations with him at either PLP Live 2012: Inspire. Collaborate. Shift. or ECOO12: Learning in the NOW Century!
THAT is why I am so excited.
Ok. He is also an avid motorcyclist and, judging from my occasional emails with him, a heck of a personable guy!
Gavriel Salomon distinguishes first-order effects from second-order effects of technologies. First-order effects are a result of what the technologies have been designed to do. Second-order effects include the longer term impacts of any technology.
Cars were designed to move people from one place to the next – a first-order effect. One of their second order effects was the development of suburbs and city sprawl. Read more
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