Friday, November 16, 2007
In 1993, Seymore Papert revised his seminal book entitled Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. During a time when computers were used in schools primarily for programmed instruction and drill-and-practice activities, Papert proposed several innovative, constructivist-type applications for computer use in educational settings. Papert endorses computer programming as a way that students, as early as preschool-age, can begin to develop important cognitive connections about how they themselves learn and understand. The benefits cited of using computers in this manner are learning to think in a deliberate manner and being able to distinguish between several styles of thinking. He describes the novel concept of a microworld, which is “a computer-based interactive learning environment where the prerequisites are built into the system and where learners can become the active, constructing architects of their own learning" (Papert, 1993b, p. 122). By manipulating “Turtles,” students can experience the effects of commands, visualize physical laws, and better understand the “whys” behind the laws. Papert describes a few of these turtles in Chapter 5 - geometry Turtle, velocity Turtle, acceleration Turtle, Newtonian Turtle, and the mirror Turtle.

Many of the ideas proposed in Mindstorms were written ahead of their time, and some of these ideas remain so. I agree with Papert in his discussion of computer utilization in relationship to historical practices, or “the way things have been done in the past.” I think his allusion to the continued adoption of the QWERTY keyboard is fitting. There has been much discussion and debate on the EDTECH listserv about the advantages of DVORAK over QWERTY; yet in spite of the rationale for DVORAK, QWERTY continues to be taught and used. As budding researchers in the field of instructional technology, it would be wise to heed Papert’s warning and avoid “digging ourselves into an anachronism by preserving practices that have no rational basis beyond their historical roots in an earlier period of technological and theoretical development” (p. 33).

I also think Papert’s argument against improperly mixing new technologies with former instructional (or administrative) methods is still valid. In K-16 education, this means that adopting new technologies implies embracing changes to related systems as well. For example, good online teaching involves more than transferring lectures to the Web and delivering traditional assessments through a point-and-click format. Effective online instructors engage their students through the use of online spaces and tools such as discussion boards, chat, and collaborative projects (Moore and Kearsley, 1996).

Microworlds are still an area of interest and research in instructional technology. Descendents of the microworlds described in Chapter 5 are Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs). These virtual spaces are relevant to many areas of education including advances in distance learning, online professional development, language education, and the math and science curriculum (see Kemp, 2007).

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posted by SG @ 1:41 PM   0 comments
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I am attempting to develop practical instructional applications of developing technologies and provide educators with tools to implementing instructional technologies effectively.
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MUVEs, Web 2.0, assistive technologies, digital video

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