Friday, May 02, 2008

untangling constructionism

It can be important to know what words really mean and to use them correctly. I think the word "constructionism" is being thrown around carelessly at the moment. These trends should be avoided IMO:
  • that constructionism is the best or only good learning theory
  • that constructionism is just learning by doing and making
  • that constructionism means much the same as freedom
OLPC wiki Constructionism page:
Constructionism is a philosophy of education in which children learn by doing and making. They explore and discover instead of being force fed information
Walter Bender:
The other thing is that I was very much influenced by Seymour Papert and his constructionist theories, which can be summarized in my mind very efficiently by two aphorism. One is that you learn through doing, so if you want more learning you want more doing. The second is that love is a better master than duty. You want people to engage in things that are authentic to them, things that they love. The first is more addressed by the Sugar technology; the second is more addressed by the culture around freedom.
- xconomy interview

Benjamin Mako Hill:
"Constructionist principles bear no small similarity to free software principles" (although this article does overall separate constructionism from freedom, it does not attempt to explain the difference)
- laptop liberation
Some points in response:

Learning by doing and making is a big part of constructionism but not the whole thing. Some doing and making is fairly mundane and not much internal "construction" is taking place. Also "doing and making" is not a single magic bullet to learning. This might mean that the theory of constructionism needs to be supplemented with other theories. It also means that the sort of "doing and making" that tends to improve learning needs to be explicated. eg. turtle geometry might work because it is "body syntonic".

Constructionism and software freedom are not the same thing. Both proprietary and open source software development are exercises in constructionism, the difference is that the latter is open to everyone with the required skill level. Software freedom is an essential part of the constructionist learning environment for software developers. But different types of constructionist learning can occur without software freedom. eg. Building things with commercial LEGO. Not everyone is a software developer and although it is highly desirable that many third world children become software developers this is not the only possible constructionist pathway open to them.

Constructionism and open ended discovery learning are not the same thing; the latter has given the former a bad name - because it usually doesn't work.

Proprietary software can be constructionist eg. MicroWorlds is Seymour Papert's sponsored version of Logo

Constructionism is one good learning theory. It is not the only good learning theory. There is no unified "correct" learning theory and it is a mistake to claim one.

Papert's Ideas: Mainly from Mindstorms

1 comment:

Kevin Gamble said...

That's an excellent read.

The whole, "Moodle is based on a social constructionist philosophy" seems to be the same sort of argument. The way I see Moodle being used is anything but constructionism. Maybe it makes people feel when using these tools which are totally teacher vs learner centered.