Friday, October 19, 2018

tangible digital education theory

Words are important. What we call something triggers connections and perceptions. Words can connect our minds, no, our whole being to something tangible. It was the words of Seymour Papert (“Mindstorms”) that got me started in computing in the first place. Not a technocentric dialogue but a different, body syntonic, way of doing maths, which would be more engaging for those who were bored, discouraged and despairing of textbook maths.

What began as “computing” has turned into a bloated educational nomenclature: computer science, computational thinking IT, ICT, web2, web3, STEM, STEAM, maker ed, cyber ed etc. How can we inspire anyone to follow if we are all travelling down different, not clearly thought out and possibly over-hyped pathways?

The philosophical lameness of much of the commercial computing hype is flawed. Their technocentric mantra focuses on jobs, fun and money. This is activism without understanding. Recall Papert’s critique of technocentrism. Their tendency is to ignore economics (can everyone afford the new toys, some of them are very expensive?), social justice, learning theory and perhaps most importantly that the new digital medium is consuming the previously dominant print medium. McLuhan famously said, "the medium is the message". But who understood him?

There is a plethora of new tech toys from the micro:bit to Cozmo the robot to the Raspberry Pi Sense hat and much more. The CSER digital lending library (thanks, Steve Grant) helpfully allows educators to borrow and test the following kits: Beebot, Sphero, Ozobot, Makey Makey, Lilypad, two version of Little Bits, Dash & Dot, Bluebot and Micro:bit.

As well as taking time to play and learn with some of these new toys I’ve discovered some writings that begin to help me theorise what is happening. At this stage I’m just repeating extracts from the abstracts of some of these writings for anyone who wants to come along with the theoretical ride, to develop a concrete theory to inform practice. I’ve added some bolding to some points I think are important.

DiSessa, Andy. Computational Literacy and “The Big Picture” Concerning Computers in Mathematics Education (2017) download
This article develops some ideas concerning the “big picture” of how using computers might fundamentally change learning, with an emphasis on mathematics (and, more generally, STEM education). I develop the big-picture model of computation as a new literacy in some detail and with concrete examples of sixth grade students learning the mathematics of motion. The principles that define computational literacy also serve as an analytical framework to examine competitive big pictures, and I use them to consider the plausibility, power, and limitations of other important contemporary trends in computationally centered education, notably computational thinking and coding as a social movement. While both of these trends have much to recommend them, my analysis uncovers some implausible assumptions and counterproductive elements of those trends. I close my essay with some more practical and action-oriented advice to mathematics educators on how best to orient to the long-term trajectory (big picture) of improving mathematics education with computation.
The following two articles are PhD theses obtainable from BirdBrain Technologies Research page

Bernstein, Debra. Developing Technological Fluency Through Creative Robotics (2010)
Children have frequent access to technologies such as computers, game systems, and mobile phones (Sefton-Green, 2006). But it is useful to distinguish between engaging with technology as a ‘consumer’ and engaging as a ‘creator’ or designer (Resnick & Rusk, 1996). Children who engage as the former can use technology efficiently, while those who engage as the latter are creative and adaptive with technology.

The question remains of how best to encourage movement along this continuum, towards technological fluency. This study defines three habits of mind associated with fluent technology engagement [(1) approaching technology as a tool and a creative medium, (2) understanding how to engage in a design process, and (3) seeing oneself as competent to engage in technological creativity], and examines the implementation of a learning environment designed to support them.

Robot Diaries, an out-of-school workshop, encourages middle school girls to explore different ways of expressing and communicating with technology, to integrate technology with personal or fictional storytelling, and to adapt their technical knowledge to suit their own projects and ideas. Two research purposes guide this study. The first is to explore whether Robot Diaries, which blends arts and engineering curricula, can support multiple pathways to technological fluency. The second purpose is to develop and test a set of instruments to measure the development of technological fluency.
Lauwers, Tom. Aligning Capabilities of Interactive Educational Tools to Learner Goals (2010)
This thesis is about a design process for creating educationally relevant tools. I submit that the key to creating tools that are educationally relevant is to focus on ensuring a high degree of alignment between the designed tool and the broader educational context into which the tool will be integrated. The thesis presents methods and processes for creating a tool that is both well aligned and relevant.

The design domain of the thesis is described by a set of tools I refer to as “Configurable Embodied Interfaces”. Configurable embodied interfaces have a number of key features, they:
  • Can sense their local surroundings through the detection of such environmental and physical parameters as light, sound, imagery, device acceleration, etc.
  • Act on their local environment by outputting sound, light, imagery, motion of the device, etc.
  • Are configurable in such a way as to link these inputs and outputs in a nearly unlimited number of ways.
  • Contain active ways for users to either directly create new programs linking input and output, or to easily re-configure them by running different programs on them.
  • Are user focused; they assume that a human being is manipulating them in some way, through affecting input and observing output of the interface.
Spurred by the growth of cheap computation and sensing, a large number of educational programs have been built around use of configurable embodied interfaces in the last three decades … this work provides case studies and a set of guidelines that can inform technologists interested in designing educationally relevant embodied interfaces.