Even though I consider myself a social constructivist and am quite sympathetic to many constructionist approaches, I tend to agree that the kind of top-down implementation of constructionist techniques used by the OLPC project is fundamentally flawed and based on unsupported claims.
At the same time, I'm sad to see that people's reactions (especially in this Ars Technica forum) are simply dismissive of constructivism itself, instead of being critical of its applications or its ideas. What's even more concerning, to me, is that some people seem to paint a very contrasted picture with "tried and true, traditional approaches to teaching" against "those crazy theories built by those PhD types in the Ivory Tower." Sure, it's only a few individuals who are saying things like these (and they're more thoughtful than I'm giving them credit for). But I do think we're missing an opportunity for a thoughtful approach to constructionism, informed by practise.
It does go back to several discussions we've had, in this Lounge. Including the "fit" between a pedagogical approach and a group of learners and teachers. I'd be the first one to say that constructionism isn't an end-all solution for everyone. But I still think there's value in using constructivist and constructionist thinking in our teaching, as long as we adapt to the situation.
Chances are that opportunities to apply constructionism to our learning and teaching situations will dwindle as a result of backlash from the OLPC project or diverse education reforms (like the one in Quebec).
Do you really believe this or are you trying to stimulate some kind of response?
Yes, in the sense that I already about this backlash and worry that it might make it increasingly hard for constructionists to do their thing. My wording might have been off but my fear is real.
Just some uncannily timed observations as she made the statement just after I read your post.
Unfortunately, OLPC has been surrounded on all sides by a ton of trolls and doomsayers. Not that the project hasn't made some mistakes - and what project doesn't when breaking new ground! - but that every step is studied and dissected as to how it dooms the project.
(This is perhaps because there has been a lot of bold announcements. This is new hw and new sw, and lots of work to do on them. Instead, the Steve-Jobs-like announcements made people want to rush to a shop to get a super-polished gadget. We are in development - things work well, but not super-polished. We are getting there.)
We are in the process of shipping 500K laptops with Linux+Sugar to places that are inordinately hard to support (half of them are already in the hands of kids). By that measure, we are succeeding. None of the "I told you, it would fail" characters mentions this.
The Sugar UI and its activities are nicely packaged for many linuxes (try installing Sugar, Sugar-emulator and Sugar-activities on a recent Ubuntu for example). So you can turn an EEE PC or old laptop into an "almost OLPC" for your kids - today. The highlights for me are TurtleArt and Etoys.
There are efforts outside of OLPC to package Sugar for Windows - to a similar effect to the current packages for Ubuntu. I think it's good - OSS can support legacy OSs - Firefox and OpenOffice are excellend examples. And making OSX packages is probably not that hard either, specially if the user has X11.app installed.
Some countries want to run Windows on the laptops and to some extent, they are buying it. We did resist this for a while, but we are having to relent. After all, we are selling the laptops to them, we cannot control what they do with them. Of course they know we won't help them with XP anyway, and I think they know they break our heart in doing so. But they don't care - life is tough like that.
So we are marching on. Working on OLPC is a bit frustrating - 10 000 times more trolls than Moodle. We are outnumbered. Everyone and their granny knows why we are going to damn fail, and how we will be the shame of the world.
Funny. Those people are not shipping Linux laptops (or school servers) to anyone. Or constructivist SW to anyone
(Sorry if the tone is a bit sad. The level of discourse around OLPC does make me sad. It is a great project, with its highs and lows, hits and misses. And a ton of effort, and a huge success by any measure. But man, the sheer noise is enough to drive anyone crazy.)
Thanks for your insight. I certainly respect your opinion as a member of the OLPC project. Yes, it must be hard working on a project about which people have such strong opinions. Of course, there are important reasons for people to have strong opinions about the OLPC project. It might be useful to take these reasons into consideration.
For the record: I have no vested interest in this specific project (the OLPC) or in any other project selling equipment to governments. As an ethnographer and a constructivist teacher, I do however care about what approaches such projects take. Especially approaches taken in view of understanding the needs of people with whom they work. These projects are too important to be designed unilaterally.
What you say about "bold announcements" isn't trivial. These bold announcements are a very large part of what the public opinion could be based on, until very recently.
Despite its orientation toward openness, information about the OLPC project has been quite difficult to get, by the general public. Including by some people we might consider stakeholders in the project (children and their governments). No offence, but it'd be very inaccurate to say that the project was "radically transparent." The number and boldness of announcements made by some individual in the project even included statements which made it clear that the project was nobody else's business.
Now that the project has gone through a few different phases (including G1G1 and Windows XO, but also the departure of some high-profile project members), opinions which largely went unexpressed for a long time are coming to the surface. Yes, many of these opinions are made from a critical perspective. And, yes, there are some people who just use this as an opportunity to troll, flame, or debate aimlessly. But, please, don't dismiss all comments about the OLPC project as thoughtless naysaying or trolling. Some of us are making thoughtful comments without attacking individuals or groups. Some of us are indeed saying that parts of the project were flawed. But many of us are making these statements because we care about the place of technology in learning.
Again, for the record. And, sorry to be blunt, of course.
I think the OLPC has given most of the fruits it could give in its original incarnation. Jepsen's work, for instance, can now benefit a number of projects, some of which could make a lot of sense in the Global South, because of weather. Some laptop manufacturers have now understood the value of low-cost laptops. Local manufacturers in India or elsewhere may eventually empower themselves through the development of new tools related to the OLPC concept (rebirth of Simputer?). And many aspects of the XO's hardware and software may now be integrated in new tools. I personally wish more attention were paid to phones, given the well-documented impact they have in, at least, South Asia, the Caribbeans, and various parts of Africa. But the point is that technology is diversifying and that the OLPC legacy may live on in other projects. Regardless of the number of XOs governments will deploy in the future.
Sure, the XO-1 is a work-in-progress. And it's a relatively neat device, at least in concept. But it's just a machine. Those of us who care more about learning than about machines can probably see a world in which OLPC devices are just one part of a broader movement.
I actually agree with Ivan Krstić that there should now be a foundation for Open Learning, involving key people from OLPC. Or, at least, an attempt should be made to bank on the OLPC's work without putting all eggs in the same basket.
There's a very productive aspect to this when we're allowed to debate pedagogy in institutional contexts. If we have the opportunity to defend our positions on learning and teaching, the backlash is at least forcing us to make these positions as explicit as possible. But many of us have taught in environments giving no opportunity to discussions about pedagogy outside of specific problems with specific students (at which point you're sent to a teaching resource centre where you learn that you should be using the one true teaching method). So, that's the reason I worry. I think there's even a growing divide between those of us who use constructionist (and constructivist) ideas in our teaching and those who have visceral reactions to anything resembling constructionism.
And yes, there are always politics. Perhaps painful, but without resistance there is no growth. I was just reviewing my lit theory books last week, for example, in preparation for putting my kids through some point of view exercises in their current novel unit. I had forgotten how adamant some of my favorite theorists were about fighting against what had come before. Kristeva, Derrida, Foucault. Anyway, I am not as passionate. I prefer to think in terms of putting on different lenses to see what I can learn about the world. But I understand that I don't have my life's work wrapped up in defending a theory, either. Anyway, what I was trying to say is though there may be some backlash at your level at the moment, the seeds are already traveling in the wind. The fruits of constructivist approaches, however simplified we may make them at my level, will be popping up for years to come where you least expect them.
And it's probably my turn to clarify. I wasn't saying you observed weariness. But what you observed seemed, to me, to be compatible with what I've seen and that I interpret as weariness on the part of some people in some environments.
The fact that "constructionism" and "constructivism" have become mainstream concepts is useful. We no longer have to explain much about the origin of some of our ideas. And, in some contexts (especially among people with some kind of pedagogical background), people are sympathetic enough to those approaches that calling up these approaches is sufficient to explain our methods. All nice and well, and it has been happening in different places for more than thirty years, it seems.
But what I perceive as weariness (and defensiveness on the part of some practitioners) has more to do with administrators, parents, and students whose views about pedagogy may be, let's say, less nuanced. I worry that some current events are giving constructivism in general a bad name.
As far as I know, there is no real study anywhere that demonstrates constructionism works at scale. There is no documented moderate-scale constructionist learning pilot that has been convincingly successful; when Nicholas points to "decades of work by Seymour Papert, Alan Kay, and Jean Piaget", he's talking about theory.
Even if Krstić is wrong, the quote and ensuing discussion show the OLPC's part in what I now perceive as a backlash against constructionism. From what I've seen so far, the perception some parents and administrators have that "constructivism has failed" relates to these cases and does make it harder for some of us to use approaches inspired by constructionism or constructivism. Yes, I'm thinking in part about looks I get from some people (including some university students). But also the observation of a growing divide between "us" (construction-enthusiastic teachers) and "them" (public opinion labeling us "misled idealists").
The other case I had in mind (and that I mentioned) is Quebec's education reform. While the storm may be over for this electoral cycle, the reform became a rather big political issue, a couple of years ago. And this issue does affect me, albeit indirectly. When I teach in Quebec, I need to address the way I approach teaching in a context which gives some approaches I like a bad name. Not fun. And, unlike my friend Simon, I don't teach at a level which was directly affected by that reform.
The reform is based on a "competency based program" («approche par compétences») which has some constructivist basis. Of course, it's one constructivist approach among others and there's a large gap between the approach itself (as elaborated by well-known French-speaking academics) and the implementation of that approach within an education reform. Yet people's knee-jerk reactions to anything resembling «approche par compétences» make little room for these nuances.
When I teach outside of Quebec (i.e., most of the time), I get the impression that constructivist approaches aren't that frequently discussed outside of teaching workshops, mentoring programs, or education faculty. I did get a few students who were aware of these approaches, but they were education majors and seemed to evaluate constructivism according to rather static standards. Reactions I get to the constructivist dimensions of my teaching tend to be positive but a bit puzzled. "He doesn't teach like the other teachers, but that's ok."
What I wish would happen is if people could actually discuss these approaches, and not take anything for granted. It's quite possible that Papert's brand of constructionism is well adapted to a given situation. And there's nothing fundamentally wrong with looking critically at Piaget's constructivist legacy. But I do get worried when people either dismiss or take for granted a given approach.
So, it's quite possible that what I perceive as weariness and outright dismissal is very localized to some specific people reacting to specific events.
It's certainly quite clear that there are many contexts in which pedagogues are enthusiastic about constructivist and constructionist approaches. I certainly saw this at the Spirit of Inquiry conference, a year ago. I'm just not sure the mainstream exposure afforded some constructivist projects is having all the desired effects outside of the world of educational specialists.
I'm typically an optimist.
Maybe part of this is a personal reaction to things which have happened at the different places where I've been teaching. If I'm using the Lounge to vent, sorry!
What an interesting debate! In my view, practicing teachers always learn in time that these different ways of looking at the teaching and learning process are not mutually exclusive and at any point along this process, depending on the particular learning contents to be covered or the learning objectives, one can adopt a more behavioristic position (we do this often for example, when technicians are learning procedures such as how to properly assemble parts in a production line or how to properly operate measuring tools), while in others supporting cognitive processes may be of more interest (for example when our technicians need to solve new problems with some machines) or even social collaboration could be more effective. I don't see this as an epistemological contradiction, it is rather an evidence that these different perspectives more effectively address different aspects of human learning and are suitable for particular learning experiences carried out within specific learning contexts. For this reason, the whole debate about this or that theory being the most appropriate is just a (to some even futile) theoretical excercise, as in the classroom you will always find yourself organizing learning experiences that are never purely behavioristic or cognitivistic or constructivist.
Anyway, the main thing is not to mix up your terms when talking about this stuff. It confuses the discussions about constructivism and constructionism.
ALL learning can be viewed via constructivism (even direct lecturing) because constructivism is a theory of learning INSIDE one persons head and how we develop our sense of reality. It basically just says our brains do not absorb knowledge passively, but that we BUILD new knowledge on top of existing knowledge. This is practically undeniable if you know anything about how the brain works on a physical level. If you lecture a primary school class on University mathematics it just ain't gonna stick - the synapses just will not support it.
Constructionism on the other hand is about the value of learning by doing. Actively building something is a great way to learn. I don't think many people would disagree that one learns better and more deeply about a subject by actually having to write about it and USE those ideas in practice (in various ways) than simply reading a book about it.
I agree that people "dissing" these concepts are probably ignorant of their meaning, and I would argue that they are actually doing these things anyway, whether or not they use those terms. It certainly not all about "students coming up with the facts themselves" and other such statements. Then again, just reading about this stuff is not a good way to "get it", you need to experience it and see it.
When you see yourself as a teacher that is part of a community of practice, good teaching is more complex, more challenging yet MORE important, more engaging and more rewarding than ever. You don't necessarily use a particular bank of "techniques" but you are able to approach each situation and see opportunities for learning that you may not have seen otherwise.
Anyhow, about the OLPC, there are obviously very many levels to the debate, but if you have young children learning to use computers (like I do), I think it's pretty obvious that they just need something in their hands with a little guidance to get started and plenty of time to play with it, and they'll be saving the world in no time.
However, I would suspect that a big argument could be about the role of/ need for teachers who cannot be replicated as easily and cheaply as software.
>Actively building something is a great way to learn. I don't think many people
>would argue that one learns better and more deeply about a subject by actually
>having to write about it and USE those ideas in practice (in various ways) than
>simply reading a book about it.
This is very sound and I agree with you. Nobody who knows anything about human cognition would argue with this. But this is not what many people mean when they talk about constructivism or constructionism. The versions of "constructivism/constructionism" that are circulating around and being "taught" in many teacher schools go beyond this and take a very simplistic (and in my view somewhat stupid) view of this principle. Since in many situations it is not trivial to determine what previous knowledge learners might have, there is a tendency to assume that the best course is to start from the beginning. Since resorting to deductive methods must be excluded for the most radical views of constructivism, many times what you see is this caricature of constructivism where students really wind up "having to come up with all the facts themselves".
When you add the label 'social', then things get even more screwed up because many people take the very sound idea that learning can happen very successfully in some situations when it is done collaboratively to mean that learning can only happen successfully when it is done collaboratively. Add some little literal interpretation of the teachings of Stephen Downes or some other cyberphilosopher and then things can get really interesting. We find too many absurd situations in real life where misguided teachers take overly simplistic interpretations of pedagogical theories and apply them in their classes with great zeal. When these theories become a fad and everybody and their mother is "applying" them in their classes with the ignorance and arrogance that usually characterizes converts to a new religion, it is no wonder than a backlash ensues.
Consider for example this experience. I took this from the discussion in ArsTechnica that followed Ivan Krstic's post. One would have to see exactly what went on in that particular classroom but we cannot simply dismiss this kind of criticism as unreasonable and unfair backlash. The fact that this type of approach doesn't seem to work well in some situations does not mean it doesn't work well in others, though.
Sadly, due to the uncritical manner and religious fervor with which constructivism/constructionism is being adopted by many, I would not be surprised that a big backlash might ensue in the not so distant future and constructionism/constructivism could be seen as yet another pedagogical fad that failed miserably and against which another theory will react.
Spot on, Josep!
I wasn't talking about the specifics of work done under the labels of "constructivism" and "constructionism." I was talking about the reputation which accompanies the use of these labels.
My claim is that the "marketing campaign" to associate high-profile projects with the names of Piaget, Kay, and Papert (and maybe even Illitch, Vygostky, and Freire!) give some of our personal approaches a "bad rep." In the general public, as far as I can tell, the notion is that "educational practises" which claim constructionism as an inspiration tend to be "different from traditional teaching."
The OLPC is, in my mind, a case in point. So is Quebec's education reform (and similar reforms elsewhere). In those cases, the association between these construct* labels and "fancy techniques meant to change education" is reinforced, through public opinion. In fact, many people seem to think "constructionism" means Émile-like "learning without teaching," and react strongly to the concept that teachers would be absent. Sure, people should know better. But public opinion is out of our control.
Sure, people should know better. But public opinion is out of our control.
And that's a good thing even if Napolean, Squealer, or Mr. Whymper would disagree.
In the United States, this phenomenon has already occurred. It's called "No Child Left Behind." One of the chief characteristics of NCLB's approach to elementary literacy instruction is to throw out whole language approaches in favor of phonics-heavy approaches.
To win the attention of politicians, it helps to have numbers and comparability. Is there some measure of personal 'empoweredness' that could be dropped into public discourse?
Anyway, the main thing is not to mix up your terms when talking about this stuff. It confuses the discussions about constructivism and constructionism.
Ugh. I'm patently guilty of that confusion myself. Thanks for the reminder.
And I have to say, I miss hanging out @ moodle.org more. Hope to get through the thick part of it soon, and be able to work higher up the stack (and closer to moodle).
I didn't address this comment of yours directly but I do thank you for your help.
This reply will have a personal tone and I hope people don't mind.
During the past few months, I have been trying to use the two construct* terms (the N and V words, as Papert calls them) as carefully as possible. Maybe I'm not doing a very good job, but I'm trying.
And, you know, it's difficult.
No, I wasn't formally trained as a constructivist. But, a few years ago (thanks in part to Moodle), I came to realize that I was probably raised constructivist.
I know, it sounds futile. But I actually mean something relatively deep by this. The same way some children may be raised as, say, Catholics and/or Socialists, I grew up with Piaget-style constructivist ideas being very present in my mind. Really, I'm talking about conversations I've been having with my father since I was six years old about «pensée concrète» or about the value of a diversity of viewpoints in learning situations. So, to me, constructivism is a term applied to denote a set of perspectives on knowledge (epistemology) and learning (with effects on pedagogy) which have a basis in individual cognitive development.
To me, this set of perspectives is quite compatible with some forms of linguistic relativity and of cultural relativism, despite the biological/universalist tendency of some forms of constructivism.
Actually, it took a while before I heard the term "constructivism." Though there are other constructivist "schools of thought," I have come to associate "constructivism" with both Piaget himself (at least, my fragmentary understanding of his work) and with some people who have been claiming Piaget as a source of inspiration. This may not be very accurate a term usage, but it has been helping me understand some important issues.
"Constructionism" is a term to which I only paid attention very recently. In educational contexts, I understood it to refer to a set of teaching approaches developed by Papert and others with Piaget-style constructivist findings in mind. In other words, I have been taking "constructionism" as a practise-oriented brand/flavour of constructivist thinking. A practical application of constructivist theoretical and empirical notions.
Maybe I'm thick but, reading Ackerman's oft-quoted "Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the difference?," I wasn't able to really get a clearer idea of what the deeper difference might be. In fact, Ackerman's text made it sound (to me) as if the differences were even less important than I first thought. So, reading that text didn't make it much easier for me to disambiguate the two terms. If, as I suspect, people are using the two terms to refer to subsets of the same broad perspective or to talk about theory and practise, using one or the other term mostly becomes an issue of low-level detail.
To make things worse, a number of people do use the terms interchangeably. Again, "they should know better." But we don't control what they learnt.
I think there might even be some language issue, at stake. My impression is that, in French, «constructivisme» is much more common than «constructionisme». Two quick Google Battles reinforce this impression: «constructivisme» is 30 times more frequent than «constructionisme» while "constructivism" is only three times more frequent than "constructionism." Not sufficient proof, of course, but it does seem to give support to my own impression.
As a backdrop to all of this: Yama Ploskonka's blogpost about constructivism and the OLPC. And, more specifically, Robert Arrowsmith's comment on Ploskonka's post. Arrowsmith's tone sounded extremely dimissive, to me. "Mixing up" constructionism and constructivism sounded like a very very bad thing to do. It's then easy to feel guilty about using either word.
And I don't perceive guilt to be that productive.
Ah, well... Wanted to get this off my chest.
- instructional theories
- cognitive theories
- socio-cultural theories
Instructional theories focus on the subject matter--how to categorize it and order it for efficient instruction. The learner is ignored and the environment is ignored. I find it useful for setting sub-aims in a curriculum--for example, if a past tense is a sub-aim, it can help a teacher decide to focus only on correcting those mistakes or laying out a long-term curriculum to cover all points comprehensively.
Cognitive theories focus on the learner--alone. What goes on in the brain is important. Teaching learning strategies is important here, rather than content categories, terms or manipulation. This theory helps a teacher think
through the skills that learners must achieve to learn on their own. Autonomous learning is a goal here.
Socio-cultural theories focus on the how the group works to support or create learning. It looks at roles in the learning environment and functions of behavior as the curricular aims--real-world learning acts/projects. Activity theory, ecological theory, and actor-network theory include non-human or hybrid actors in how they build or constrain the ecology--rooms, interfaces, furniture, policies, forums, servers, salaries, and so on. Work on learning communities is evolving from this framework.
Many teachers are comfortable with instructional theories because they are familiar. But I have never met a teacher or researcher who dismisses the other frameworks if they are presented as "useful for different problems". Presenting one or another as a "higher order" or an exclusive preference to the others will invite defensiveness and division.
That is really helpful for for another piece of work I am doing
Any chance of a reference?
This is an interesting analysis of constructivism and constructionism...As I understood, Papert intended to extend the sense of construction in Piaget's ideas stressing the role of the surrounding environment, with a particular focus on world's artifacts. I don't see these terms as oposing ideas, constructionism to me is just a step forward specifying and clarifying the construction process involved in the constructivist paradigm.
I now think that discussions surrounding OLPC will eventually have beneficial effects in terms of exposure to constructionism teaching and to constructivist learning.
What changed? I've read a number of thoughtful, insightful, reflexive, honest, and supported comments about diverse issues surrounding the OLPC project as a whole, the XO-1 laptop, and the future of technology-focused programs for learners. Sure, there are more comments about OS choices or personality issues than about constructionism or educational technology. But I get the gut feeling that we will come out of this with a good basis for deeper discussions about educational and pedagogical issues.
Why did I react so strongly and negatively before? Well, I was reacting from from the basis of what I perceived to be similar occurrences. Sure, I overreacted. I didn't really panic but I did become overly worried. Blame it on personal issues, on my part.
There are enough machines out there, and plenty of teachers that got some constructionist intro to using them as part of OLPC that the project is here to stay. And there's a ton more machines being produced, and training planned.
With that in mind, considering a "post-OLPC scenario" means that you'll have to wait many years to see it.
Reading some info about the new OLPC project, I need to say that it's going a long way to change my perspective on the project. It might help restore my faith in humanity!
Not because some of the new device's features are quit similar to what I blogged about, just last night. I care fairly little about the device itself (though spending a week with one raised mixed feelings in me).
No, the reason I'm so enthusiastic is that the project seems to have undergone a radical change in terms of approach.
Releasing details of the device early, they want to encourage competition. While some members of the team did go on the record to say that it was a good thing if manufacturers released devices to compete with the XO, the OLPC group (at least, some key figures) were adamantly opposed to competition in the space. This was one of the first events which really made me grow suspicious of the "it's about education" stance. With what I consider to be a new attitude toward competition, the OLPC project is responding to some of my deepest fears. Of course, I will be deeply disappointed if they all go back to the former attitude against competition.
They apparently listened to feedback. Honestly, a lot of what I read from them was extremely dismissive of any kind of comment about the device which wasn't solely a praise. The fact that Negroponte called it "silly" to criticize a non-profit project was just an extreme version of what I think was a consistent behaviour. So, assuming that the team did listen to feedback "from the children themselves," I owe people an apology. Well, so does the OLPC team, actually, since they acted as if the XO-1 was going to be the one product they would launch and they gave G1G1 participants the wrong impression. I'd be surprised if they went that far so I'll just do my part without expecting anything else to happen. Sorry, OLPC, for thinking that you couldn't listen to feedback. It at least sounds now that the OLPC has learnt something from the children.
A related point: the changes that they have made shows that they saw the original design wasn't the end-all be-all of a child-centric design. In other words, they almost sound humble, now. Oh, they're not saying the XO-1 had any flaw. But they are apparently changing the "just do it right" design process
(inspired by Steve Jobs but handled differently) to adopt a more typical trial-and-error approach.
Some of the features they are changing make a lot of sense. I personally love the keyboard-less design. In multilingual contexts (i.e., most of the planet and, certainly, most of their core markets), these make a lot more sense than even the easily changeable rubber keyboard. The dual touchscreen can pave the way to very interesting uses, especially for parts of the world in which levels of literacy (let alone touch-typing) are comparatively low.
The fact that the design is "sexier" is also an interesting point. It finally brings home the idea that the device isn't a cheap subnotebook. It now looks like an evolution from Apple's Touch devices. Nothing says "leapfrog" like a forward-looking version of a hot consumer item. I haven't seen comments as to what they will do to replace the theft-prevention aspect of the previous device (the "postal truck" concept), but I certainly welcome the change as it sends a clear message to people in the target societies that they aren't second citizens.
Sheesh! Got my dose of enthusiasm out for the day. Now time to look more deeply into the XOXO.