I’m always a bit nervous about commenting on someone commenting on someone…but was interested in Steve Wheeler’s blogspot post reporting on a keynote he attended in Brisbane yesterday. Speaker was Sir John Daniel asking whether initiatives aimed at trying to provide computers for children in emerging nations to offer escape routes from the poverty trap actually work.I quote Steve’s post
Well, yes and no, was Sir John’s answer. No, in the case of Nick Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which was aimed at an ambitious 150 million, only 1 million have actually been distributed. Yes, in the case of ‘Slum Dog Professor’ Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall project.
So far, so good. I’m agreeing with him. But found his arguments less than convincing.
The difference between the them, said Sir John, lay in the concept and theory behind the two projects. OLPC was premised on the theory of constructivism, where the child, as a solo explorer, could use his laptop to learn independently. Mitra’s project on the other hand, discovered that children actually learn best (and even teach themselves) when they are in small groups. Minimally invasive education has been shown to be better than direct instruction for promoting intellectual maturity. Thus, said Sir John, social connectivism trumps constructivism for third world child learning.
Hmmm! This raises so many questions.
Firstly, the intention of OLPC was certainly that individual children would have their own laptop which they could use alone, at home. But it was also something they could use in school in the presence of other pupils (if they attended school) and could help bridge the home-school, formal-informal divide. Importantly, it was envisaged that other family members would, by association, access information initially using the child as a conduit. So the computer becomes a catalyst for family learning. I am also interested in this idea of the OLPC child being a ‘solo learner’ operating ‘independently’. I thought that one of the biggest benefit to the child was that it could provided access to other learners, social networks, communities etc etc. I agree that most kids learn best in groups but surely these groups can be on-line groups as well as physical groups?
“Minimally invasive is better….” is also something I have problems with. Yes – maybe – sometimes. I have spent a lifetime in teacher training talking about ‘appropriate or inappropriate’ methods and technologies stressing that every learning situation is unique and what is appropriate in one context may not be in another. As a generalisation, I can see where he is coming from but I would be a lot more cautious.
I agree that OLPC has not been the global success we were all hoping for but there were many contributory factors to do with the technology, the costing models, the distribution, the support etc etc which collectively may have been more significant barriers than the pedagogic model. I think I’m saying that we are not comparing like with like here. OLPC and the Hole in the Wall were so totally different in conception and execution.
Finally, I am genuinely confused by social connectivism being presented in opposition to constructivism. Is Social Connectivism now a distinct pedagogy that has fallen bellow my radar? Or, for that matter is Constructivism a pedagogy? Constructivism is a theory of knowledge not a specific pedagogy – Constructionism is the educational theory proposed by Papert using Piaget’s constructivist ideas.
(And while we are on the subject, we also need to make a distinction between Cognitive Constructivism (Piaget, Dewey etc) and Social Constructivism (Vygotsky, Bruner etc)
Research support for constructivist teaching techniques is very divided – one of the major criticisms being that it is deterministic and reduces the individual to a product of his social environment (a very similar criticism to that often made about Behaviourism, funnily enough)
Notwithstanding all that lot, many researchers (e.g Bruning, Eggan etc) argued that knowledge must initially be constructed in a social context before it can be appropriated by individuals and Vygotsky’s basic premise was that meanings and understandings grow out of social encounters. This rather supposes that ‘social connectivity’ is part of Constructivism not something to be set in opposition to it.
Anyway, thanks for that Steve. If I have misreported the original speaker (almost certainly) I unreservedly apologise but your blogpost and Sir John Daniels ideas certainly made me think and stimulated much late night, beer-fuelled discussion and argument here in the Pontydysgu office. Diolch yn fawr iawn!