I’m wondering why teachers use technology in the classroom…
Here are some of my reasons for using technology. Get more context by watching the video!
- I love the notion of ‘cognitive residue’.
- As learners, we are in the business of ‘building our own minds’.
- We, as teachers, are in the business of helping kids to ‘build their own minds’.
- Tools do shape behaviour.
- We see that tools allow us to play ‘what if’…because of the affordances of the technology.
- What is the difference between ‘effects with’ and ‘effects of’ computers. Kids may be better writers while using a computer. Are they better writers after ‘having used’ a computer?
- Technologies should provide ‘mental models with which to think’.
- It’s good for teachers to have a plan…but sometimes your plan can limit what you do.
- Both teachers and students need to be passionate about what they are learning.
The video is from the learning exchange—a site of the Student Achievement Division of the Ontario Ministry of Education. It was recorded at The Quest 2016 conference – Deep Learning in a Digital World.
As a long time member of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (since 1980), I wish to express my appreciation for the life and work of Seymour Papert. He contributed widely and significantly to Ontario education through those who have learned from him since the late 1970s. Countless Ontario students grew up with Logo and Lego TC Logo robotics—and, more importantly, in learning environments that honoured their freedom to invent, to err, to create and to tinker in wonderment.
This is rather a personal glimpse although I shall provide many wonderful tributes and resources from other members of this wonderful, brilliant community.
Dr. Seymour 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, in the 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 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 in 1987 (Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education: Childhood in the Technological Era. 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.
Another meeting was at the Media Lab when he invited me to sit in with his graduate students to discuss the social implications of a group (gathering) of untethered, programmable turtles! You see, Fred Martin (one of his graduate students) had created what became the RCX programmable brick controlled by an IR sensor which received instructions from the computer. So the turtle no longer needed to be connected via cables! Freedom! 🙂
Seymour was asking the students to think what might happen if we tried to replicate human interactions based on cultural differences. Turtles could be designed differently in some way and the sensors on each could detect the differences. People across cultures have different comfort levels with proximity to other people. Some don’t mind being close. Others like to have a little more personal space. Could we replicate that with a turtle community? This was a fascinating time for me because, once again, it revealed to me Seymour’s humanitarian sensibilities blended with his expertise in artificial intelligence.
LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated)
I started using Logo with my Grade 2s in 1980. Seymour, Brian Silverman and others started LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated) in 1981. It is based in Montreal, Canada. I switched to using LCSI’s logo shortly after that. Then my job changed in North York Schools. I became a centrally-assigned instructional leader and was able to make central purchases and decisions about professional learning at the district level. This gave me the opportunity to become friends with the folks at LCSI—including Susan Einhorn and Michael Quinn (current president). Now, that sounds like a conflict of interest (LOL), but the reality was that we were all part of the Logo community and ended up at the Logo conferences at MIT through the 80s.
Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO)
I regret that we never had Seymour at our ECOO conference. I don’t know why! It was an error. I take some responsibility for that as I was involved with both the ECOO Board and conference committees over the years (since 1980).
But, we did have a Special Interest Group for Logo (SIG-Logo) from approximately 1983 – 1989 or so. I was honoured to be its leader for most of that. In 1986, we had a wonderful conference called Look to the Learner. Many of the famous Logophiles of the day presented. (See So You Want Kids to Code! Why? for the agenda—along with some other Logo bits and pieces.)
Many influenced by Seymour have spoken at ECOO
Gary Stager (keynote many times), Sylvia Martinez (keynoted in 2015), Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman (keynoted and ran Minds On Media centre in 2014), David Thornburg (featured speaker several times), Norma Thornburg, Bonnie Bracey (featured), Mitch Resnick (keynote), Ron Canuel, Judi Harris, Margaret Riel, Brenda Sherry, and many more have shared his work and his influence on their own practice over the years. Indeed, I also have shared much Logo related work and thinking many times as a speaker—both featured and regular.
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.
Please check out some of these wonderful resources and tributes to this revolutionary educator.
- Daily Papert – http://dailypapert.com/
- MIT: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/tribute-seymour-papert
- MIT Media Lab: https://www.media.mit.edu/people/in-memory/papert
- Seymour Papert: Revolutionary Socialist and Father of A.I. in Forward: http://forward.com/…/remembering-seymour-papert-revolution…/
- National Public Radio (NPR): Here is the NPR story on Seymour Papert (with audio) – http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016…
- Lego Foundation: http://www.legofoundation.com/…/2016/honoring-seymour-papert
- Conrad Wolfram: http://www.conradwolfram.com/home/2016/8/2/seymour-papert-1928-2016
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/educati…
Thank you Seymour.
And thank you to all in that community who have impacted children in Ontario and beyond.
…and obviously the other stuff too!
Click on this picture to make it larger and more readable!
I continue to hear that we need ‘pedagogy before technology‘ and that it ‘isn’t about the tools, it’s about the learning‘! Well, I am somewhat frustrated by these relatively simplistic statements. But, before you shoot me, understand that a strong emphasis on both pedagogy and learning are foremost in my mind. Also, let me clarify that this is somewhat a new educational battlecry—one that didn’t exist when many of us started with kids and these technologies back in the late 70s. We just took it for granted that we were implementing these tools in deep and significant ways! (After all, you either took a constructionist/constructivist approach or you adopted the beliefs of CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction—aka Institutionalization! LOL)
It is only since decision-making was taken out of the hands of classroom educators that computers (and other technologies) have landed unceremoniously in classrooms, along with expectations that they will be used effectively. This has gained momentum since the onslaught of cheaper tools such as tablets, Chromebooks and BYOD and even more decision-makers and policy-makers have arrived on board (finally)—because they have a ‘device’!
So, trust me. I get why we are hearing this battlecry. People didn’t necessarily come to it themselves and now we have a plethora of devices and not enough forethought and preparation.
Having said that, it is dangerous to claim that it is not about the tools. It is also about the tools. Read on, and click on the links, to find out why I think so.
I have decided to make this graphic representing these ideas that I have written about in the previous posts:
If you would like to see an interactive version, please click on the link below.
Another blast from the past!
Encouraging students to program (code)—even at young ages—is not new. It has also been alive all these years—certainly since the introduction of microcomputers into schools in the late 1970s. It just did not ‘take hold’, nor grab the media attention, nor grab the hearts of those who enthusiastically embrace it today. Or perhaps those latter folks are new to teaching and are excited about the possibilities. If so, I encourage you to ask yourself why you want kids to program.
Interestingly, however, many of the same issues are arising. “We need a coding curriculum at the elementary school level!” is one such example.
Please enjoy this article from the ECOO Output, September 1986.
If you’ve been around since this time, enjoy reminiscing!
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
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