Lev S. Vygotsky, The Read/Write Web, and Video Games in Education

As part of the research for my current KAM on principles of societal development (tentatively titled “Social Constructivist Theory and Digital Game-Based Learning “) I’ve spent the week reading Vygotsky. In keeping with my new highly prioritized and highly structured weekly schedule (a result of well thought out new years resolutions), I have really kept my head down in the books – thus the lack of posts before tonight. (Those serious “and Life” issues I keep alluding to have higher priority now, too!)

There is much I wish I could take the time to blog about Vygotsky, but I will limit this for now. However, today’s reading turned up the following quote from The Essential Vygotsky, which I thought was particularly relevant here.

“The simplest example of the transition from direct to mediated functions may be the transition from involuntary remembering and remembering that is guided by the sign. Primitive man, having first made some kind of external sign in order to remember some event passed in this way into a new form of memory. He introduced external, artificial means with which he began to manage the process of his own remembering. Study shows that the whole path of historical development of man’s behavior consists of a continuous perfecting of such means and of the development of new devices and forms of mastering his own mental operations.” (p. 472)

It is not difficult to extrapolate these remarks made in reference to the written and printed word to include computers and the Internet. Most importantly, I think the read/write web, and blogs in particular, may represent the current pinnacle of this trend in societal development. Blogs can serve as as your back up brain, and services like FURL are designed to do just that. Nevermind that if I post/store/share my thoughts on this blog, I can benefit from the feedback and comments of other readers!

Too, Vygotsky places a good deal of emphasis on the cognitive development of an individual being largely due to an internalization of social constructs. In terms of my personal experience, I can feel blogging (and FURLing etc) changing the way I think in my own mind. I reflect more readily (and in small doses), with a focus on making a judgement or synthesizing a new thought. Too, I miss being able to share my thoughts in order to receive comments and feedback.

Incidentally, I have long been disappointed that my FULR archive and feed has been separate from this blog’s feed… and just today it finally occurred to me that FURL does not support comments (except for a members only email comment system, it turns out). I tend to annotate the sites I FURL, and have been FURLing in a way that is much more like blogging lately. I’m considering abandoning FURL and bring that content here… both for the comments and for cohesion of my online presence. However I really appreciate the one click FURL button on my browser. Does anyone have an idea how I might combine this functionality with blogger? Or is it time for me to move to real blogging software with categories and a client interface? If so, does anyone have any suggestions, particularly systems that might be able to import my blogger and FURL material (and maybe even my old MSN material)?

Naturally, I also see video games (and simulations), particularly serious games or educational games, as a part of this progression toward mastering (or, rather, improving upon) our own mental operations. In addition, games and simulations can certainly be used to closely observe students in the way Vygotsky advocates, and then to offer students challenges placed squarely in their zone of proximal development in order that instruction might lead the way to greater cognitive development. (I was particularly struck by Vygotsky’s notion that instructing to a student’s strengths can have the opposite effect – it can encourage a student to remain at the current or previous developmental state! It follows that we should address their weaknesses, while remaining in their ZPD for that weakness, in order to help them grow and progress.)

Before I wrap up here, I do also want to mention that Vygotsky’s take on the relationship between life and education is very like Dewey’s and also makes me increasingly happier about the title of this blog. I also appreciate his philosophies on the role of the teacher, and the teacher as a creative force in society. :)

Finally, in addition to being sure to spend more hours on my research each week, I realized I needed to work more efficiently as well if I am to complete my dissertation this calendar year. (I hope to walk in January 2007, though administrative timelines may postpone this until July 2007). So, sadly, I have committed myself to avoiding the temptation to read anything cover to cover and to read anything not directly related to my current project. Surprisingly, this feels more like reading RSS feeds and doing research online!

In any case, here are the books I plowed through this week:

Dixon-Krauss, L. (1996). Vygotsky in the classroom: media literacy instruction and assessment. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Rieber, R. W. & Robinson, D. K. (Eds.). (2004). The essential Vygotsky. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers.

Tryphon, A. & Voneche, J. (Eds). (1996). Piaget – Vygotsky. UK: Psychology Press.

Mooney, C. G. (2000). An introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1997). Educational psychology. Boca Raton, Florida: St. Lucie Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1986) Thought and language. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.