I thought I would share some of what I have been working on these past two weeks. Most of what I am writing is currently focused on constructivist theories of cognitive human development, and so is a wee bit less exciting than most of what I have been reading and writing about for the past year. However, I did get to include this bit on Seymour Papert and Video Games from his 1993 book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. It certainly makes Prensky, Gee, Aldrich and the other game-based learning enthusiasts of 2005 seem something less than revolutionary….
By 1993, video games were also common, and within the first few pages of his book, Papert was making the argument that these games encouraged in students â€œan industriousness and eagerness that school can seldom generateâ€ (p. 3-4), despite the fact that â€œmost are hard, with complex information â€“ as well as techniques â€“ to be masteredâ€ (p. 4). He argued that â€œvideo games teach children what computers are beginning to teach adults â€“ that some forms of learning are fast-paced, immensely compelling, and rewardingâ€ (p. 5). In contrast, Papert suggested that â€œschool strikes many young people as slow, boring, and frankly out of touchâ€ (p. 5).
Papert (1993) went on to imagine the idea of a â€œKnowledge Machineâ€ (p. 8) which would extend the range of experiences with immediacy to a child, by placing â€œthe power to know what others know into [a childâ€™s] handsâ€ (p. 9) and allowing the child to â€œgrow up with the opportunity to explore the jungles and cities and the deep oceans and ancient myths and outer spaceâ€ (p. 9). More importantly, this Knowledge Machine would offer children â€œa transition between preschool learning and true literacy in a way that is more personal, more negotiational, more gradual, and so less precarious than the abrupt transition we now ask children to make as they move from learning through direct experience to using the printed word as the source of important informationâ€ (p. 12).
Following the articulation of this revolutionary vision, Papert acquiesced that he shares much with constructivist philosophy, including the â€œcriticism of school as casting the child in the role of passive recipient o knowledgeâ€ (p. 14). He suggested, though, that most constructivist experiments had failed because â€œthey simply did not go far enough in making the student the subject of the process rather than the objectâ€ (p. 14). However, he also suggested that they were limited by the fact that they â€œlacked the tools that would allow them to create new methods in a reliable and systematic fashionâ€ (p. 14). Of course, he offers the use of computers â€œfor the construction of microworldsâ€ (p. 17) as just such a tool. He also saw computers as enabling a future in which â€œmillions of children all over the world [will be] engaged in work that makes a real contribution to the â€¦ study of a socially urgent problemâ€ (p. 25).
Thanks for reading.