Towards the Construction of a Language for Describing the Learning Potential of Computing Activities
Volume 6, Issue 2 (2007), pp. 429–442
Pub. online: 15 October 2007 Type: Article Open Access
15 October 2007
15 October 2007
This paper represents a first attempt at constructing a language for describing the potential learning value of computers as a learning material. A lack of precision in describing the value computers add to the learning process has paradoxically made it easy for people to elevate the significance of using computers in pedestrian ways while simultaneously marginalizing higher-order uses such as Logo programming. Colleagues are invited to extend or challenge this paper's hypotheses.
In the early 1980s Seymour Papert was dissatisfied with Robert Taylor's metaphors for the use of the computer in education. Taylor wrote about the computer as a tool, tutor or tutee (Taylor, 1980) while Papert described the computer as ``mudpie'' (Papert, 1980a; Papert, 1984) and then later more generally as material (Papert and Franz, 1987). The tool metaphor dominates most discourse regarding the use of computers in education. Educators and policy-makers alike use it to describe nearly every application of ``technology''. It would be impossible to list all of the examples of ``computer as tool'' in common usage or even scholarship.
This work attempts to define the continuum that lies between the use of computers to reinforce traditional practice and the powerful ideas Papert writes of in Mindstorms (Papert, 1980b). While Papert's subsequent work provides examples of the construction of powerful ideas he fails to identify less powerful uses of computers. This may be the result of simple omission or a desire to appear polite. In either case all manner of computer-based activities have been granted equivalence by an education community lacking a precise metric for assessing value. When combined with the liberal and often inaccurate use of terms like constructivist we are left with a culture of intellectual relativism in which the loudest voice sets the standard.
Dichotomies like conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive, Democratic/Republican are inadequate for describing educational philosophy and its resulting translation into practice. Papert's instructionism vs. constructionism seems a more precise way of describing one's learning theory and the practice that follows.
It seems impossible to invent an empirical metric for measuring the efficacy of computer use in the context of education. There are simply too many variables involved in a complex system such as education. The nature of learning is even more difficult to quantify in anything but a reductionist fashion. Therefore, I propose the creation of a continuum that spans the gulf between traditional education routines possibly enhanced by the use of a computer and the sort of powerful idea construction only possible with the purposeful use of the computer. The subjectivity of the examples are acknowledge, but are intended to generate discussion.
Compelling examples of children, computers and powerful ideas will be presented at Eurologo.