and learning: a rent-a-luddite perspective
at TUANZ ‘97 CONFERENCE:
Education Stream : Auckland, 7th August 1997
begin with my favourite current quote:
the disc drive... I want to get off!
that cry may sound surprising from someone who spends most of
his spare time writing computer programs and is currenly writing
a system that deserves at least a knighthood to help teachers
cope with the planning and recording demanded by the National
Curriculum. It is just that I believe Information Technology
is a waste of a good computer... You can do a lot with a pencil,
not only can you chew it, you can write with it and draw with
it. Shakespeare never had one, neither did Da Vinci... Einstein
did but he worked it all out in his head. Just think what the
‘greats’ accomplished without even a pencil, never mind Information
all Information Technology can do for a child is help it become
an adult too early. But it looks good...
did it on a word processor" says child.
did it on a word processor" says the parent.
go home at half past three. Then we have our tea. by Jason,
Gary, Paul, Harriet, James, Betty, Gladys and Norman
did it in pencil" says the child, "on my own"
they lived happily ever after. by Jane
got three little mice in my computer... Albert, William and
Prudence. Information Technology will do little to bring them
to life, but imagination might (Allen, 1993: 44,45).
American high school principal writes:
one of the authors, as an exercise, wrote a 68 page paper
on Burkino Faso... The paper contained maps, charts, comparisons
of economic indicators and information on culture, religions
and political systems. The paper was reviewed by faculty members
and judged to be an effective, comprehensive paper. Yet the
author put it together electronically in 38 minutes and acknowledged
that he knew little more about the country than when he had
This practice is already evident in schools where students
have ready access to educational technologies (Melchior et
difference between doing a sophisticated electronic pastiche of
information on Burkino Faso and building knowledge
about Burkino Faso relates to how we interpret the notion
of learning in an information-enhanced environment, and the role
of the teacher in ensuring that students have the skills and competencies,
not just to use technology, but to succeed in this type of learning.
a world where data increases exponentially each year, a major
challenge for schools is to prepare students to access and
use information effectively. Learners frequently become lost
in a morass of data from texts and from inquiry projects.
Without higher-order thinking skills, they cannot synthesize
large volumes of information into overarching knowledge structures...
predicts the introduction over the next decade of highly realistic
virtual collaborative and interactive environments, but suggests:
learning environments risk overwhelming their users unless
they incorporate tools that help students and teachers to
master the cognitive skills essential to synthesize knowledge
from data (ibid: 54).
electronic information pastiches, such as the Burkino Faso example,
and knowledge construction is an unexplored gulf.
the near future, all the representations that human beings
have invented will be instantly accessible anywhere in the
world on intimate, notebook-size computers. But will we be
able to get from the menu to the food? Instant access to the
world's information will probably have an effect opposite
to what is hoped: students will become numb instead of enlightened.
(Kay, 1991: 100).
the teacher have a role in helping the child to get from the menu
to the food? My answer is embedded in my definition of learning.
I’m not saying it’s right or wrong - just that it is underpinned
solidly by theory, and can, in turn be translated into pedagogy
- not the pedagogy of half-truths and cliches, but solid learning
strategies that start and finish between the ears, even if there
is a technological mediator:
is a PROCESS of developing understanding; it is a process of transforming
information into knowledge, into understanding, meanings and meaningfulness.
It is, at once, individual and social, integral to personal, social
and emotional growth. It is a process that is highly amenable
to mediation by skilled learners and skilled use of technologies.
leaves several questions, and the most troublesome to me is:
TEACHERS SKILLED LEARNERS?
can they be if many of them cannot articulate, beyond a heap of
cliches and gobbledegook half truths, what exactly learning is,
and how you do it and help others to learn how to do it?
Costa (who is coming to WAEC in October) has a few pertinent things
to say in his preface to David Hyerle’s book:
beings are the only form of life that can store, organize
and retrieve data in locations other than our bodies...
of the lack of vast amounts of disparate available information
in the past, the human intellectual capacity for constructing
abstractions may have been underdeveloped. And because of
the increase in available information, the upper limitations
of this capacity will be continually tested and exceeded in
are the only form of life that actually enjoys the search
for problems to solve... Process is, in fact, the highest
form of learning and the most appropriate base for curriculum
change. Through process, we can employ knowledge, not merely
as a composite of information, but as a system for continuous
learning (1996: viii - xi).
Hyerle (1996: 3) suggests that his students could brainstorm and
link ideas but asks "could they analyse, synthesize, and
evaluate their own thinking?" and goes on to ask "And
do visual tools offer new forms, or languages, for meeting the
needs of learners working in an Information Age where constructivism
is the guiding educational paradigm and the Information Superhighway
is the new metaphor for information access?"
simply, what strategies do you, as a skilled learner, use to teach
your students to be what Hyerle calls an ‘infortective’? How do
you teach them to:
- articulate their
existing domain knowledge?
- determine their
knowledge needs, ask questions, differentiate between factual
and inferential questions?
- determine relevant
and appropriate information sources and resources?
- use these sources
heuristically, critically and analytically to synthesize key
ideas, key concepts and key factsm key opinions, and to translate
information into knowledge?
importantly, if I asked your learners - Year 0 to tertiary - whether
they could show me the strategies you have taught them for doing
these things, what would there response be? It’s is nonsense to
say that these are such complicated processes that they can’t
be taught ar learned. I can teach you simple pen and paper strategies
for doing each of these things. So could David Hyerle, so could
David Jonassen, and so could half a dozen other educators who
see, and say, that, without these strategies, letting kids loose
on the Internet an expensive waste of time. I am not saying that
the Internet is a waste of time any more than books, CDs, records,
videos and any other information resource is a waste of time.
They are all a total waste of time if you don’t know how to learn
be hearing from the intrepid pioneers like Mark Treadwell whose
is doing a wonderful job of sifting through Internet sites and
providing a filter for busy teachers, and John Carr, who now infuses
his graphic genius into Sunshine Online. I think Sunshine Online
is tremendous, and, likewise the Puffin UK online pages are an
amazing support to literacy learning. I think Pete Sommerville’s
LEARNZ Antarctic pages are a fantastic example of clear, incisive
well-written and well-illustrated information - the Internet at
its best. I think Carol Moffatt’s project is inspired, not because
it links schools with audiographics, but because she has recognized
that, to use it well, requires far more attention to the processes
of learning and teaching, and, above all else, that it requires
teachers who think like learners and plan learning not lessons.
She has recognized what NOONE in the Ministry or any other educational
agencies has, that technology-based learning is only technology-enhanced
learning if teachers teach differently, plan differently, and
teach students, not how to use the technology, but how to LEARN.
despite a bumbling Ministry and even more money being poured into
the shaky QA rhetoric of seamless learning, there are some brilliant
innovators and innovations, and also some unsung heroes like Lawrence
Zwimpfer, ex Telecom, who supported lonely pioneers like Carol
Moffatt and me when our own Ministry and Institutions were pouring
money into solutions without bothering to diagnose the problems.
what are the problems and what are the answers? As I see it:
problem is that by focusing on the technology to the exclusion
of the process of learning which the technology potentially supports,
we distort researched reality, ie that computers in and of themselves
have been found to have NO impact on learning, but significant
impact on enjoyment. So:
need to re-focus on learning - what it is and how to do it - in
order to understand how the phenomenal power of technology to
store, process, retrieve and communicate information can be harnessed
with cognitive technology and cranial software.
problem is, as Costa suggests, fairly sophisticated mental systems
to cope with transforming the information overload into knowledge.
The idea that the use of the technology encourages these skills
to develop by some osmotic process is simply laughable. Yet teachers
seem to believe it. So, prove it!
software needs to be shaped, modelled, mediated and nourished.
It does not work automatically; you do not learn to learn
from a screen or keyboard. In fact there’s every evidence of the
‘use it or lose it’ syndrome, and every evidence that the most
neglected area of the curriculum at any level, primary to tertiary,
is the skills and strategies needed to learn to learn.
problem is that teachers have abrogated responsibility for teaching
in the name of politically correct notions of child-centred learning
and facilitation, aided and abetted by the pig-ignorant ravings
of my countryman, Seymour Papert (who, incidentally, backtraced
in his next book after Minstorms had become bestseller)
who fuelled a fervent and deep-seated belief that, if we could
only get rid of teachers and give each kid a computer to learn
by exploration, education would surge ahead. The problem is not
that this is nonsense, but that so many otherwise intelligent
people, including many educators, actually believe it.
is a human process. It doesn’t matter whether the skills and strategies
are taught on paper, drawn with a stick in sand, or on a compuer
screen, but until more skilled learners work with less skilled
learners to develop, practise and apply these learning skills
and strategies in increasingly more sophisticated techology- and
information-enhanced learning environments, learning will remain
as it is now - something that you catch if you’re exceptionally
bright or exceptionally lucky.
problem is that if we don’t have a clearly articulated view of
learning and some understanding that learning is related to knowledge
- a process of building understanding that happens in the head,
not in a piece of technology - we will continue to confuse half-truths,
myths, and cliches, for proper theories of learning and pedagogies,
and will continue to confuse electronic information pastiches
believe that EVERY child needs to know how to articulate and map
knowledge, analyse and define questions and hypotheses, analyse,
collate and synthesize information and produce relational knowledge
maps, hierarchical maps, concept maps, narrative maps, cause and
effect maps, etc, and that what you need to do it is not technology,
but that stuff between your ears.
have never been more passionate about learning, and I am, caution
and scepticism notwithstanding, passionate about the potential
of technology to support learning. After 20 years in education
I am totally unconvinced that we have an education system, or
a teacher training system, that is capable of producing the sophisticated
level of learning, or the confident, self-efficacious learners
who will be able to exploit the learning potential of technology.
may like to hear the same thing from Art Costa in October, from
David Perkins, John Abbott, Howard Gardner, Gavriel Salomon, Alan
Kay, Peter Senge, Chris Dede, John Bransford, Lauren Resnick,
Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, David Hyerle... If you
haven’t read them, I’m afraid I can’t recommend any inservice
courses that focus on the thoughts of the leading educational
writers and learning theorists of our time.
only seem to be interested in courses that teach us how to use
technologies. And, as you know, the market is always right!
REFERENCES email firstname.lastname@example.org