Critical Theory of Technology WK 1.

Weekly post  reflecting on Allison Burtch's class at SFPC, Critical Theory of Technology  


The main text for the first week of Critical Theory of Technology was Mindstorms, a book from 1980 by the MIT mathematician, educator and theorist, Seymour Papert. It was presented for our class in the context of Alan Kay's Dynabook and Steve Job's notion of the computer as a 'bicycle for the mind.' 

In Mindstorms, Papert advances a framework and educational model in which computers are used as a creative educational platform for children. Papert, who himself associates his lifelong joy of mathematics with an early exposure to mechanical gears, sees the computer - and programming - as a tool and creative entry into the kind of abstract thinking associated with math. Mindstorms explores the notion of 'math phobia,' and in probing the roots of this fear, suggests a void of relatable experiences for students when learning math.

In an effort to fill this gap and provide a sensory and memorable experience, Papert created LOGO - a programming language which takes instructions from the students in order to move a small turtle along a computer screen and create images. These drawings and shapes in this sense serve as the output of solved equations, but also as a framework for students to dissect the intricacies of math. In LOGO, students can also relate to this turtle in the sense that they can physically walk and move the same path which is being programmed to the screen. 

When forming this kind of relationship with the computer, a new set of challenges are posed for the students. With the simple example of drawing a circle, the students become both the student and the teacher - algorithms aren't taught in this sense, they're discovered and (although not entirely explored by Papert) the student is engaged in forming their own language for education in general. The computer in his LOGO language, when used in this way, transcends the kind of input/output that is expected of human computer interaction and uses simple programming as a jumping off point for learning.  

While I got excited about Papert's pedagogy reading Mindstorms, I felt he skimmed the surface of this notion of learning how to learn, and failed to pursue this outside of mathematics. For example, What are the ways we might be able to teach the humanities in this kind of way? What are the ways to implement these theories without a computer?