LC0cM4 Learning about Learning Something

Learning About Learning Something

a 1995 AERA presentation proposal

“You can’t think about thinking. You can only think about thinking about something.”
Seymour Papert

Everyone admits today that apprenticeship learning is important,
but how many education researchers have ever been an apprentice ?
During part of a sabbatical year, I responded to this challenge by
taking on a major project — rebuilding an old sports car — under
the tutelage of a master craftsman. From this case study, I learned
a few things about cars and also learned a bit about learning-
as-an-apprentice. I would like to share this story and resulting
perspectives with colleagues.

As a long term case study analyst, as a programmer and systems
builder, I kept reasonably good records and collected a remarkably
complete set of photographs of the project and its progress. These
photographs can be viewed as a graphics database suitable for
creating an on-line instructional environment for future mechanics
and auto hobbyists (possibly deliverable in a CD-ROM format).
During the course of this sabbatical year, I have developed a
preliminary implementation of the introductory level of such a
database in three different software systems:
– Macromind DIRECTOR
– Apple HYPERCARD 2.0
– Apple SK8 — (a possible future product, now in alpha test)
I will be able to have available the computers needed to put on a
demonstration of these various partial implementations (partial in
that all will be further advanced by the spring of 1995.)

My research and education purposes in undertaking this study were
to develop a new way inspiring young people to technical work and
to contribute to their education by developing a very concrete set
of interesting materials, one quite different from the book-learning
that bores and alientates so many.

The intellectual stance that informs this work is based on a respect
for concrete knowledge. Most of the knowledge of most people is
very concrete and particular. Thus the pathway of choice in
education is through providing very concrete experiences — even if
‘virtual’ as when mediated by technology — from which general
ideas of value may be inferred as ‘intuitively obvious.’ Levi-Strauss
is the pioneering anthropologist who advanced the centrality of
concrete knowledge; his term for the methods of thought embodying
such concrete knowledge is ‘bricolage’ — the handyman’s way.
The understanding of such common sense knowledge has long been
a central challenge of artificial intelligence.

The essential method is to do something, so that one has some
content to reflect upon and to use for illustration, illumination, and
generation of ideas. This is the constructive method applied to
education research.

With regard to instruction, the method is especially of value for
those who would exploit the potential of current and future media
systems. New media can absorb materials from the past, but they
can be best used when creations are made from the beginning with
their potential in mind.

The learnings acquired during apprenticeship are more, are more
complex, and more different from the simple technical skills of a
tradesman than one might imagine. The quintessential type of thing
one learns is values, in the specific sense of what things should be
done first and how well each thing need be done. You learn what to
do when you’re under pressure.

This study is an exploratory one, moving in a novel direction to
approach themes long known to be central themes in education: the
nature of knowledge, the processes of learning, the construction of
instructional materials.

Since the work is exploratory, it would seem natural that discussion
with members of an audience would be an important part of any
presentation. I propose a presentation that would be mixture of
lecture (story-telling, data-presentation, and analysis),
demonstration, and discussion.

I remain grateful to Yasmin Kafai for accepting this unusual proposal and
to Mark L. Miller and other colleagues of the Apple Learning Research Group
who welcomed my collaboration and made available the facilities and
equipment at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino where I put together the demos for
this presentation. Their openness, generosity, and friendship still warm my heart.

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