On the unspoken truth behind the education system
Calvin: As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations. -- Bill Watterson
1. Akarsh Sanghi asked me some questions about computing for a survey he is conducting. I thought I would share some of my answers here.
- How do you think future technologies in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) affect the daily lives of people? [In context of the rapture of interactive and touch based devices like the iPhone & iPad]
- I think that HCI has little impact. Yes, things arguably get easier to use, but ease of use is not the gating factor in the use of these devices. It is access and utility. Also, it is important to note that very few of the touch-based interfaces represent advances in HCI. These are old ideas (most from the 1970s) that are only finally becoming commercially viable.
- How do you think interactive technologies affect the learning process in primary education? Will these form of technologies help to expand the horizon of a child growing up in practically a virtual world?
- Well, somewhat in contradiction to my previous answer, touch does make a difference to very young children, for whom hand-eye coordination is still an issue. As far as learning, I am skeptical of the premise that the virtual world is particularly relevant. I think the character of the tasks the children engage in is far more important than the technology. The advantage of some small subset of the technology is that facilitates engaging children in authentic open-ended problem solving. Making worksheets electronic games is a complete waste of time (although it may help the children pass an exam to measure how quickly they can do worksheets.)
- As a part of the Sugar Labs community, I would like to ask you where does it stand in the future?
- Sugar, the learning platform developed and maintained by the Sugar Labs community, is about giving children an opportunity to use technologies to engage in authentic open-ended problem solving. We'll continue down this path, trying to reach more children in more contexts (laptops, desktops, phones, tablets, etc.)
- Sugar Labs and the OLPC projects are primarily targeted towards developing nations and their education system, do you think the education system in a country like America should also be put under consideration and be directed more towards a student’s own creative thought process?
- Sugar Labs is trying to reach children everywhere: north or south, rich or poor. We have programs in every corner of the globe.
- Every time while discussing OLPC, one hears about Constructionism. Is the Constructionist approach a guiding or necessary aspect of distributing laptops to children for learning? For designing an interface for them? Why or why not?
- Constructionism is completely orthogonal to the problem of distributing laptops. But not to the problem of using laptops for learning. (This is where Mr. Negroponte and I differed in our approach.) You can give a child a laptop and they will learn to use it (See my answer to the first question), but will they learn to use it for learning? Not likely unless we craft an environment in which they are encouraged to “imagine and realize, critique and reflect, and iterate.” That is a constructionist environment.
- How do you think Seymour Papert’s theory of constructionism should be applied in today’s time? Should people be involved in developing tangible objects in the real world to understand concepts or follow experiential learning processes to gain insight into the world around them?
- Not sure what you mean by “tangible objects”. I think more in terms of authentic problems. Some of those problems may be tangible.
- How do you think Electronic Publishing is evolving with the rapid development of reading devices like iPad, NOOK, Kindle and the major use of ebooks?
- To me, the interesting questions are more along the lines of: Who will write books? What will be the relationship between reading and writing? What is the future of copyright and the commercialization of writing.
- Do you think in the near future this kind of electronic publishing will hamper the growth of children as they will be devoid of physically reading a book and understand the values that come along with it?
- I think that the difference is not so much paper vs plastic; but rather, to what extent does an electronic interface afford the freedom to write and share margin notes (or the books themselves) to engage in personal expression, etc. The physicality of electronic media is not the issue.
- In context of the famous phrase by Marshal McLuhan, “medium is the message”, how do you think technology will evolve in the coming years? All forms of communication and information will be the material itself rather than a separate physical device.
- McLuhan was wrong. The message is the message. We use different media to deliver it, more or less intact.
2. Sugar Labs is applying to Google Code-in (GCI), "a contest for pre-university students (e.g., high school and secondary school students) with the goal of encouraging young people to participate in open source."
Why we are applying? Sugar is written and maintained by volunteers, who range from seasoned professionals to children as young as 12-years of age. Children who have grown up with Sugar have transitioned from Sugar users to Sugar App developers to Sugar maintainers. They hang out on IRC with the global Sugar developer community and are full-fledged members of the Sugar development team. It is this latter group of children we hope will participate in and benefit from Google Code-in. Specifically we want to re-enforce the message that Sugar belongs to its users and that they have both ownership and the responsibility that ownership implies. Just as learning is not something done to you, but something you do, learning with Sugar ultimately means participating in the Sugar development process. At Sugar Labs, we are trying to bring the culture of Free Software into the culture of school. So the Code-in is not just an opportunity for us to get some tasks accomplished, it is quintessential to our overall mission.
3. Agustin Zubiaga Sanchez noted that last week we passed the threshold of more than eight million activities downloaded from the Sugar Labs activity library. I echo his sentiment that "I'm very glad to be a Sugar Labs developer. Congratulations to all the team :)"
In the community
4. Last weekend was the OLPC SF summit in San Francisco, which was followed by a three-day Sugar Camp. Although I missed opening day, Day Two was quite interesting in that there was a lot of good discussion about how to sustain and grow the various volunteer-run OLPC/Sugar deployments. At Sugar Camp, although not much code was written, there was an opportunity to get tangible and actionable feedback from the likes of Mark Battley (we pushed hard on Turtle Art as a multimedia toolkit). I also had the opportunity to catch up with Raul Gutierrez Segales, Ivan Krstić, and others.
5. The little coding I did do in San Francisco was in support of migrating more activities to touch. Specifically, I worked on integrating the on-screen keyboard into several of my activities: Portfolio and Turtle Blocks. The challenge was that I was using key-press events directly, rather than accessing them through a GTK widget such as a Entry or TextView. With help from Raul, I managed to get things working pretty well: basically, I just drop a TextView widget under the cursor where I expect keyboard input. The details are outlined in the wiki. I'm generally pleased with the results, but there is a bit of fine-tuning of the interaction, e.g, you need to defocus the TextView in order to dismiss it: not such a burden, but at times, somewhat awkward.
6. Ignacio Rodriguez has been on a tear, helping me to migrate activities to GTK 3. Over the past week, we converted: Card Sort, Cookie Search, Color Deducto, Deducto, Flip, Fraction Bounce, Loco Sugar, Napier's Bones, Nutrition, Paths, Pukllananpac, Recall, Reflection, GNUChess, Sliderule, Story, Yupana, and XO Editor. I also worked with Agustin Zubiaga on Portfolio, Flavio Denesse on Ruler, and Daniel Francis on Turtle Blocks. Whew.
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