My EuroLogo 2007 Paper

2

Greetings from Bratislava, Slovak Republic. I’m here as one of the plenary speakers at Eurologo 2007.

I wrote a new paper for Eurologo 2007 that may be of interest to you.

Towards the Construction of a Language for Describing the Potential of Educational Computing Activities

Here is the abstract for the paper. I look forward to you reading it.

Abstract

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 & 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 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 versus 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.

My 2005 Eurologo paper may be found here.

Comments

2 Responses to “My EuroLogo 2007 Paper”
  1. Bill Kerr says:

    hi gary,

    I have mixed feeling about your paper. My impression is that the core of it is at the end, the elaboration of the continuum grid from traditional educational routines to powerful constructionist activities. This part I see as quite valuable.

    I don’t like paragraph 2 of your abstract. “Mudpie” and “material” for me is not a compelling alternative to tutee

    Earlier on in the paper you use the term “powerful ideas” a fair bit but sometimes it comes across as rhetoric. What exactly is meant by powerful ideas and what powerful ideas did Papert cover in Mindstorms and which powerful ideas did he leave out? I feel that needs to be tightened up. Some powerful ideas are mentioned (eg. probability) but I’m not sure that its power is clearly explained. Some powerful ideas do emerge more clearly in the grid / continuum at the end.

    I felt your paper was poorly organised internally. You have a list of 8 dot points at the start – flaws in existing models of evaluation of computers in education. It was a bit of a struggle for me to connect those 8 points to the body of your paper. Here is my summary:

    point 1: pp. 3-5
    point 2-3: ought to be combined, pp. 5-6
    point 4: ??
    point 5: ??
    point 6-7: pp. 9-14
    point 8: pp. 6-8 is out of order which I found confusing

    Hope this does not sound too critical. It’s very hard to articulate the “powerful ideas” concept in a fully convincing manner. I’ve think you’ve made a start but that it also needs more work.

    btw Mark Guzdial (who you quote on page 8) has a great blog in which he expands further on the curriculum reform yo mention. I summarise some of his blog posts on my blog, here

  2. Gary says:

    Dear Bill:

    Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. I have been disappointed in the seeming lack of interest.

    Of course, any piece of writing can be better. However, in my defense, a few points need to be addressed:

    1)The paper was written for a conference proceedings constrained by physical space limitations (number of pages/words). That is why all eight flaws are not explored in depth. I needed to offer my new content within a limited number of pages while also providing evidence of familiarity with the existing literature.

    2) I believe that material is a much better metaphor for computing than tutee. We could have a much longer discussion about this point. However, in the context of speaking about Papert, I documented his perspective on the subject.

    3) I said explicitly that this paper was intended to start a conversation.

    4) The audience for the paper was specialized. Future iterations of the work may be embellished and expanded for a more general audience.

    I’m delighted that you think that the continuum examples I provided are potentially useful. I suspect that many other readers will take umbrage. It was hard at the Logo conference (Eurologo) to persuade people that I wasn’t saying that computer activities are the best activities for learning.

    I was saying that if you are use a computer for learning purposes, certain kinds of activities are richest because their existence is dependent on the computer.

    I know that Mark Guzdial has a blog. The blogosphere is infinite, but paper-based documents do not lend themselves to hyperlinks. Thanks for including Mark’s link here. He does terrific work.