Saturday, May 19, 2007

"computers in education" mush

Tracing the Dynabook: A Study of Technocultural Transformations John W Maxwell (pp. 10-19)

"Computers in Education"

Bland phrase, the meaning of which is highly contested. "Educational computing" currently makes no sense. There is no guiding rationale or set of common principles that we can agree with or critique. It is all mush.

Conventionally, the computing world consists of experts and end users, producers and consumers. These are roles that many teachers accept far to readily.

Some radicals have seen the computer as a transformative agent and have attempted to challenge these conventional roles. For example, Papert saw logo as a means to put advanced ideas into the hands of unsophisticated users. This message had some influence for a few years but slowly sank almost without trace. Alan Kay's Dynabook idea was also a radical break from the conventional division of labour but one that had less penetration than Papert's.

Education is complicit in adopting the conventional view and marginalising the radical view. In these ways:
  • Uncritical acceptance of and buy into industry originated solutions and campaigns which disempower everyone - students, teachers, schools. Office productivity software, the proprietary way.
  • Miracle worker discourse. This brilliant teacher, rare individual, can work miracles with the computer. Meaning that most teachers can't.
  • Learning objects or distance education curricula. Knowledge and authority is vested with the publisher or the information source.
  • Critical educational thinking is not applied to the basic question, "What is the computer for?" It's either there to achieve a particular goal which existed in the curriculum before the computer existed. Or, technology has an innate progressive, or sinister, logic of its own.
We lack any clear sense of what computers might be good for. Maxwell's dissertation presents a historical solution to this problem by tracing the Dynabook and it's main author's (Alan Kay) thinking over a 40 year period. He gives us a history of powerful ideas, rather than "where do you want to go today"

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