- Mindstorms by Seymour Papert "In the chapters that follow I shall try to give you some idea of these possibilities, many of which are dependent on a computer-rich future, a future where a computer will be a significant part of every child's life. But I want my readers to be very clear that what is "utopian" in my vision and in this book is a particular way of using computers, of forging new relationships between computers and people -- that the computer will be there to be used is simply a conservative premise"
- Alan Kay - "Face to Face: Alan Kay Still Waiting for the Revolution"
- Steve Jobs - "Bicycles for the mind"
Computers can, are and will change the way people learn and visualize information:
For the most part I agree with the authors / speakers on this statement. I know that I had a hard time understanding a number of math and science concepts in what would be considered a traditional educational institution. I’m definitely a visual learner, but there were so few tools that allowed for visual learning especially in math and science. There were hardly any computers at all until middle school and those were for learning typing. Some concepts in both math and science (especially physics) did not become digestible for me until fairly recently through the use of digital tools and visualizations. I can easily understand how children and teens that are inclined to understand complex information visually would feel that certain types of information are much easier to access through visual tools and computational (interactive) models. Animations and Interactive models seem particularly relevant to learning various math and science concepts. At the school I teach out now, I’m seeing more and more tools being tested and used with regularity. However, computers are just one of many tools and should not replace such activities as model making, physical interactions and hands on demos. For example, while cleaner and perhaps more humane, I’m sceptical about simulations involving concepts that require precise motor skills. Things like dissection and circuit building can be simulated but may do not teach some of the important aspects of these activities like steady coordination and fine motor skills. I’ve seen students that are amazing at programming but struggle to lay out the most basic circuits.
I do agree with Papert’s assertion that a visual digital environment facilitates fixing mistakes instead of shying away from them, but I’m also sure that computers are not the only place that such persistence takes place. Hands on building, for example, is another place where mistakes are not a stopping point but a chance to backup and redesign. The tangibility of the final object motivates in a way that an abstract problem may not. On the other hand getting students to think about the subdivision or problems, and symbols as information representation are perhaps easier with digital tools than any other.
What’s most important is that the students are truly engaged by the tools and that the learning is obvious and/or measurable. Computers do seem to be facilitating this more than ever for both students and adults.
Teachers and Schools are the Problem:
I agree with this statement but, as a teacher, I am sympathetic to the pressures on teachers from the institution and the school community. Most teachers want nothing more than to engage their students in a the most meaningful way possible. As they enter the profession you’ll generally see that teachers are tech-savy and have a full range of tools with which to engage their students in deep, meaningful learning. The problem I see is that, schools are often underfunded which often puts too many students in front of too few resources keeping teachers stretched extremely thin. Even if an institution may offer professional development opportunities, the teacher may not have the time and energy to pursue them (and certainly not with regularity). Without regular training and support teachers and administrator quickly fall behind in the latest tools and pedagogical methods. The tools change so quickly that with so many responsibilities, teachers often cannot keep up. On top of this, tools are often created without a deep understanding of the day-to-day classroom experience (which can vary widely from school to school). The tools are not always presented in an accessible way or with sufficient training. This is combination with the fact that teachers also just aren’t paid very well, can lead to some of the best teachers moving to other careers.
I do believe that a teacher that is too set in her/his way can be a strong barrier to information and creative thinking. I watched a computer science program get phased out at my school and then three years later get phased back in. While not stated as so, the reasoning had to do with the way the teacher approached the subject. The teaching was dry and did not excite students about the medium. The new program and teacher, a recent Media Lab graduate, is completely different: far more project based, using new tools like Processing to explain the concepts. A revolution in education is coming but it’s coming slowly and and clunkily. The revolution will be driven by technology but more importantly by the nimble ways of thinking and learning facilitated by technology.