Archive/Current Events/2012-02-23

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Sugar Digest

1. "Papert, of course, is well-known as the proponent of "constructionism," an educational theory which holds that students learn best by doing—often with little guidance from teachers."

Perhaps I overreacted to a recent article about OLPC in which Seymour Papert was cast in the role of "anti-teacher." I've worked with Seymour for more than 30 years and never once heard him disparage teaching or teachers. And nothing in the "Constructionist" doctrine suggests that teachers are not an important part of the learning ecology. That said, Papert is a believer in the human capacity for learning, where the role of a teacher is primarily to guide rather than instruct. And yet the mischaracterization of Constructionism and Papert persists, not only in the press, but in the writing of those who should know better, education researchers.

I apparently pushed the wrong button with an education researcher "who dismissed Papert's self-learning constructionism largely as a 'myth.'" I have several issues with the characterization, not the least of which is the use of the modifier, "self-learning". The same researcher back-peddled slightly:

I agree that Papert does not generally talk about cutting teachers out of the loop entirely, though he does discuss learning about differential gears on his own and discovering more about mathematics from them than he learned in most of his mathematics classes. So the sentence "Papert, of course, is well-known as the proponent of 'constructionism,' an educational theory which holds that students learn best by doing—often with little guidance from teachers" could be misleading in that it doesn't fully articulate the "teachers as co-learners" aspect that Papert discusses in his writings, although it does convey Papert's view that teachers should take a back seat to children's interests and that some children may be inspired to learn on their own.

It is debilitating to all of our efforts that an educational researcher with such a shallow understanding of Papert is being widely quoted as an expert on one-to-one computing. But it gets worse still. The data that are being cited regarding the use of Sugar are terribly flawed. For example, rough estimates of what activities were used most often tells us next to nothing about what is being learned. And those data are interpreted in ways that are blind to the learning that may be happening. For example, to summarily dismiss activities—such as chatting—as "less sophisticated (and presumably less valuable) uses of the computer" is to miss the point entirely. When a primary goal is literacy, engagement in an activity that so directly encourages children to read and write is a plus. Alas, the old saw, "we value what we measure instead of measure what we value", sums up the situation.

Meanwhile, the OLPC/Sugar Learning Team takes assessment very seriously and has been developing a number of mechanisms to dig beneath the surface. In addition to satisfying the needs of stakeholders and academics, we are also trying to develop metrics that serve the learner and the teacher. Hopefully our efforts will go some ways to shining a light on what is actually happening in the communities using Sugar—the good and the bad—so that we can learn and improve. In the meantime, we will have to withstand a storm of misinformation and distortion.

2. Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is gearing up for 2012. It is a nice opportunity to get some new developers on board. As a community, we need to get ourselves organized: specifically, over the next few weeks, we need to identify potential projects that might attract interns to apply to Sugar Labs. I've set up a page in the wiki for aggregating project ideas. Anyone in the community is welcome to make suggestions regarding a project that you think would make Sugar a better platform. (Projects that are relatively self-contained tend to be better for GSoC since their is a finite window in which to work on it.)

If you are interesting in being a mentor, please contact User:Walter. Also, please encourage any talented university students you may know to apply to the program. Applications are not due until late March, but it is best to start the conversation sooner than later. (Note that applications submitted to Google must be made in English, but mentoring can happen in any language, e.g., Spanish. We will gladly help potential applicants with their proposals even if English is their first language.)

In the community

3. There will be a OLPC/Sugar documentation sprint from April 6-10 at the OLPC headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Please contact Adam Holt if you are interested in participating, either in person or on line.

4. There will be an eduJAM! in the week of May 7-12 in Montevideo. Details to follow.

5. The week following eduJAM! will be a Squeakfest, also in Montevideo (May 16-18).

Tech Talk

6. Gonzalo Odiard has gone through the open tickets on and identified easy tasks for those interested in getting started as a Sugar developer. Bugs and enhancements with an "easy-hack" tag refer to tickets we think can be solved by a "newbie" hacker. The list is here.

Sugar Labs

Gary Martin has generated SOMs from the past few weeks of discussion on the IAEP mailing list:

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