Tuesday, May 22, 2007

alan kay's educational vision

Tracing the Dynabook: A Study of Technocultural Transformations John W Maxwell
Ch 4. Alan Kay's Educational Vision

John Maxwell has read all of Alan Kay's writings and claims to have summed up his educational vision in six main points. Here are some rough notes. Best to read his dissertation of course.

1. Computers for Children

Alan Kay was strongly influenced by Seymour Papert. I've written extensively about Papert elsewhere (Papert, ISDP, Behaviourism, Invitation) and won't go over that ground again here.

Alan Kay set out to design a personal meta medium for children. This goal led to a shift in his thinking about user interface.

Rather than access to functionality, a child-centred user interface would be an environment in which the users learn by doing.

2. Systems Design

The problem with both a user centred approach to design and a designer centred approach is that both assume that we know in advance what the system will be like. So, the starting point for designing a children's machine ought to acknowledge ignorance, that we don't know the endpoint.

How do we build a system that can grow into something yet unforseen by either its users or designers?

It ought to be more like paper or clay than a finished device like a car or a TV.

One metaphor here is cell biology. One kind of building block which can differentiate into all the needed building blocks. You need an evolutionary approach.

Late binding (Etoys, References) allows a fluid approach to change, the opposite of hard wired instrumentalism.

3. Smalltalk

(Alan Kay invented the first object orientated programming language, Smalltalk)

Smalltalk is better described as a communication medium rather than a programming language. The Smalltalk environment is more important than the language.

It has a recursive design. Why divide a computer into weaker things such as data structures and procedures? Instead why not divide it up into little computers?

The foundational premises of Smalltalk are:
  • everything is an object
  • objects send and receive messages
  • objects have their own memory
  • every object is an instance of a class
  • the class holds the shared behaviour of its instances
  • to evaluate a program list control is passed to the first object and the remainder is treated as its message

Alan Kay regrets the terminology, object orientated, thinking later that message orientated would have expressed it better

There is not a clear dividing line between "objects" and "actors". Both are different aspects of the notion of process.

The ethic of mutability: Every component of the system is open to be explored, investigated, modified, built upon. The distinction between tool and medium is blurred.

4. Doing with Images makes Symbols

Jerome Bruner (1960s) identified three mentalities: enactive (kinesthenic), iconic and symbolic (abstraction)

User interface design should integrate these modes. With Etoys the user does things with images (play) and gradually the symbolic meaning emerges.

A study of mathematicians (Hadamard, 1954) found that most of them think in terms of imagery and a significant number reported a kinesthenic basis to their thinking. This was more important than their abstract symbolic thinking

5. Narrative, argumentation and systems thinking

A significant thing about stories is whether they are good, not whether they are completely consistent internally or externally, they may contradict other stories.

Since the 17th Century the most influential Western cultural expressions have been arguments, not narratives:
  • democracy
  • science
  • technology
  • health care
Arguments are chains of logical assertions, this mode of discourse originated with Francois Viete in the 16th Century and was further developed by Rene Descartes

More recent forms of argumentation defy linear representation:
  • chaos theory
  • complex systems
  • simulation modelling
Only a tiny fraction of people are fluent in these forms of communication. Children are wired for story telling but not for logic and systems theory. The computer as a medium is capable of simulating any descriptive model. Simulation is more effective learning than a maths equation and made possible through the computer. So far, this has worked for science, but not for school.

6. What is literacy?

Martin Luther considered teaching Latin to Germans. But then he opted to restructure German so that it could handle philosophical and religious discourse.

Similarly, today, we are faced with the alternative of mass media dumbing us down or using computers in powerful ways

For many, today, print has failed as a carrier of important ideas. Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death has argued that as a society we are incapable of dealing with complexity.

Literacy is powerful ideas. The "haves" are those who can discern these powerful ideas.

to circle
repeat 90[fd 1 rt 4]

Logo teaches calculus but still many teachers just don't get it

How can children have an embedded cultural experience that encourages learning logic and systems theory? The Montessori approach is free choice and self development of preferred objects to think with.

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