15 September 2020

MOBILE AND THE INTERNET: TWO NEW TOOLS

We have so far hinted at the analogy between the twin revolutions of the computer and mobile and the internet in terms of their similarity. Briefly, it is worth considering some differences between the tools available then and now to see what it is about the internet and mobile that are specific advances for those of us hoping to push forward the ideals of progressive learning.

There are of course many differences that have been discussed extensively elsewhere (e.g. Klopfer and Squire, 2008), but three stand out as salient for us: 1) multiplicity of software environments for digital creation, 2) speed of communication, and 3) overwhelming pressure from and connections to life outside School. Many of these are not specifically affordances of mobile, but may more properly be described as the power of people connected by the internet when it is in most everyone’s pocket. 22 When Papert wrote Mindstorms, Logo in classrooms and computer labs was really one of the only games in town when it came to large numbers of people having access to the combination of hardware, software, and inspiration necessary to make use of the computer to do something new.

Papert describes Logo as not only for doing a new kind of math but for connecting multiple arenas of life. He’s especially proud of a collaboration between students using Logo in the name of dance. But we can now look at Logo and see how little of life is touched by its use compared to the programs and services available today. Since then, tools with obvious appeal outside the hardedged computer culture have proliferated greatly, their reach has been vastly extended by both the internet and changes to how software is bought and sold (e.g. open source, mobile apps).

With the incorporation of multiple media forms and advanced interface design, connecting out from a very computer centric interface and programmer mindset has become but one of many cognitive styles grounding these tools and their default uses.5 The internet has done more than speed up software distribution.

It has fundamentally changed the routes by which people can communicate and collaborate. Back in 1993, when Papert mentioned the thousands of educators who were exploring with Logo, we can appreciate that these points of light were either scattered rather diffusely through the country, largely concentrated in particular areas (say near MIT), or some combination of both. For those trying to do the good work away from a geographical center of the movement, we can appreciate how minimal and infrequent any contact with others nearer the center might have been.

For example, my own elementary school teachers, Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Jackson, were excellent teachers but somewhat disconnected from the technology in use at our school. When I was six, they did like many others and took us to the computer lab for an hour a week and moved into the background.

This was my first exposure to computers and Logo. Could their practices have evolved further or more quickly were they more connected with others engaged in similar endeavors?6 So today, I take it for granted that I, sitting here in New Mexico just as geographically and maybe socioculturally disconnected from our authors in Wisconsin, New York, or Cambridge as my elementary school teachers were in the early eighties, nevertheless have many ways of thinking and acting together with other explorers of MML across the globe. We are truly working together, only many miles apart. It’s not so much that the world is flat, but deep connections can be made across great distances between regular people with tools that are today common.

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