In June of 1971 Seymour Papert published a paper at MIT called “Twenty Things to do with a Computer.” (pdf) This short essay outlined an argument that computers should be an important part of education. Two of my favourite quotes from this article are:
“When people talk about computers in education, they do not all have the same image in mind. Some think about using the computer to program the kid; others think of using the kid to program the computer.”
“There is no better reason (not to include computers in education) than the intellectual timidity of the computers-in-education community, which seems remarkably reluctant to use computers for any purpose which fails to look very much like something that has been taught in schools for the past centuries.”
Ouch. Remember, that was written in 1971…
Interestingly, all of the examples that Papert outlined involved creating things. (If you’ve never taken a look at this article, you really need to). While I don’t know enough of the history of edtech, somewhere between the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s, we gained the mindset that technology in schools should be almost solely about documents and slideshows and lost the idea of a computer as a truly creative tool.
I think it’s Clippy’s fault.
Well, only partly. I also think the wizard is to blame.
Clippy and the wizard convinced us that technology is deep and mysterious and confusing to work with. Crashes and blue screens of death made us see computers as black boxes that we don’t understand. This made them something that we use and work with, but not comfortably enough to see as creative tools. A computer was not a pencil.
I’m glad to say that I think this is changing, but we need to keep pushing.
Audacity let us edit audio files. It didn’t hurt. Nothing crashed. We didn’t destroy hard drives or break the internet. We moved from there to video. Youtube let us be publishers and share with the world. Now, we’ve got access to tools that will let us do almost anything. Certainly I’m fortunate to have access to the technology I do in my classroom, but we can:
- create and edit audio
- create and edit video
- make and program robots
- create stuff using our 3D printer
- take and edit photos
- write code
- publish blog posts and host conversations on our own discussion boards
and on and on…
I still love paint brushes and clay and potato stamps and colouring. I insist that kids work offline and get their hands dirty. We carve things and make things and get outside when we can. But we also edit photos and write code and create robots.
Makerspaces are popping up in schools and Invent to Learn (another must read) has given the maker movement in education a rallying point.
I believe one of the cornerstones of the creative movement using technology is open source software and hardware. A kid who wants to try on being a podcaster can simply download audacity and give it a shot. A budding writer or photographer can work with WordPress to set up a space to highlight and share their work with the world. Low cost Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards let us become designers and programmers. Expensive software and tools close off the creative world to many people and make the price of entrance too high. Open source hardware and software erases the entrance barriers. There is no reason schools and classrooms do not have stables filled with tools for kids to work with. I have DVDs filled with open source software that I hand out to kids when they are looking for something.
So that leaves us with our beliefs about education. If classrooms and learning spaces are centred around standardized tests and exams, there is no importance attached to student creativity. On the other hand, if classrooms are studios filled with burgeoning architects and engineers and programmers and artists, we see the effects of this reflected in curriculum and learning opportunities.
Our globalized world and digital economy doesn’t need more button pushers. It needs people who can create, question and build. It needs problem solvers. This is why creativity deserves a place as an edtech basic.