LC2b Reviews of ^

Computer Experience and Cognitive Development
pre-publication comments in review

Sheldon White: Psychology Department, Harvard U.
Dr. Lawler’s MIT thesis was a case study of six months of his daughter Miriam’s cognitive development. I believe it is the finest single study of children’s learning we have, in care, in detail, in breadth and sensitivity of perspective. The work of The Intimate Study stands as a model of the way a child’s thinking should be examined.
Donald Norman: Psychology Department, U.C. San Diego
An important and unusual book. Bob Lawler provides a detailed ecological analysis of one child’s growth. He examines the process of learning through interaction: Mind coupled with environment. The book lies at the intersection of cognitive science and Piaget’s genetic epistemology. And very readable besides.
Howard Gruber: Cognitive Case Study analyst, Rutgers University, Geneva U.
To know even one person as a mind alive is a rare and difficult thing, a child even more so. Lawler has had the penetration, the insight, the sympathy to do it. He shows us two minds at work — the scientist’s and the child’s, both growing. In the long run, the prolonged and loving interaction between parent and child may be the most important story this case study has to tell.
Barbel Inhelder: Psychology and Education Department, Geneva U.
The first highly convincing synthesis of cognition science and genetic psychology. An innovative study which highlights the computational approach to new understandings of the growth of mind.
Guy Cellerier: Psychology and Education Department, Geneva U.
The psychological mechanisms that were solutions for Piaget’s structuralist epistemology have become problems for today’s procedurally oriented psychologist. Lawler’s in depth study of a child’s evolving mind is a theoretical, empirical, and methodological landmark in this new direction of research.
Marvin Minsky: founder of Artificial Intelligence, MIT
This is a uniquely detailed study of the development of knowledge and intelligence in one particular child. It has much to teach both to those concerned with how humans learn and too those involved in making machines that learn.
Seymour Papert: pioneer in humanizing technology for education, Mathematics and Education, MIT
The most significant attempt since Piaget to obtain data rich enough for building a theory of how young children really learn.
Robert Davis: leading American in mathematics education, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. then Rutgers U.
Lawler shows that the true orderliness of human behavior becomes evident when one looks very carefully at extremely tiny details. Anyone interested in why Logo environments are so powerful in promoting learning should study this book thoughtfully and attentively. Lawler goes on to show how the analyses of Levi-Strauss, Goodman, Piaget, Minsky, and Papert begin to fit together into a new whole that gives us insight into how humans think and learn.
Heinrich Bauersfeld: leading German in mathematics education, University of Bielefeld
Lawler’s book fulfills what others long have promised: to come up with a new, challenging, integrating theory of children’s learning and doing mathematics. His micro-ethnographic analysis and reconstruction is a breakthrough in mathematics education…. This excellent book will help teachers and researchers to develop a better understanding of the children’s (and their own) activities as well as provide for an orientation of teachers’ supporting activities nearer to the natural complexity of human interaction.

Extracts from Published Reviews

In Educational Review (37) 3. (1985).
Despite the ordering of the title, this book is concerned with the cognitive development of children … rather than the computer…. This book is important, readable, and very useful…. One may hope that the publication of books of this kind, and written in this way, will strongly promote the necessary overlap between these academic areas….
Peter Piddock
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In Leuven’s Bulletin LAAP (34) 5. (1985). (Original in Dutch).
In spite of its uniqueness, ‘The Intimate Study’ remains a very important experiment; it shows what is possible to achieve under particular circumstances. Although such results can not be easily realized in today’s education world in the short term, this work can still act in a motivating way: as an example for researchers and as an objective for educational practice. Lawler’s book is both worth reading and a source of inspiration….
Eric DeCorte
Professor of Educational Psychology, U. Leuven
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In Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. (1986).
…an account of development based on a genuinely intimate knowledge of the child. Lawler is very modest about this later break with prevalent usage and his reasonable assumption that diagnosing the internal structure of a single child’s understanding may be as fruitful a method as amassing large samples of isolated measures, yet his findings are of an order of richness that would be unattainable by any other means….
Richard Robinson
Dept. of Psychology, University of Manchester
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In Artificial Intelligence Review 1 (2). (1987).
The section on one child’s development of arithmetical concepts gives a fascinating insight into the mind of the developing child…. This is described in a way so persuasively Piagetian in form that it is difficult to conceive an alternative explanation…. Lawler does not skate around the important issues here. He has identified, in a convincing way, the structures which impinge on the problem solving activity….
It is hard not to be enthusiastic about this book and not to be impressed by the breadth and depth of thought, despite the excessive amount of detail in the study. But it could be argued that in order to understand complex structures and processes, a detailed and complex study must be expected….
S. Ross
Computer Science, University of Exeter
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In Harvard Education Review . (1987).
… to appreciate the achievement that Lawler’s research represents, it is useful to place it within the historical context from which it comes, the developing discipline of cognitive science…. Lawler’s book… may perhaps be viewed as representing the beginning of a new era…. In this work, one sees a greater interest in applied problems and in what most people perceive as real-world cognition, in contrast to the concerns of earlier periods which now may seem theory-driven…. From the perspective of the long-term development of cognitive science, then, Computer Experience and Cognitive Development may represent a transition from theory to reality and lead to appreciation of the complexity and individuality of real children living in a real environment.
L. Miller
Board of Education, North York, Ontario
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In AI Magazine (1989).
I find Computer Experience and Cognitive Development… to be a refreshing and thought-provoking reminder that explaining how children develop into adults is exceedingly important, exceedingly hard, exceedingly interesting and, possibly, answerable. Lawler’s intent is to present a theory of the “development of mind” within a child. Although “mind” is a broad topic, and development is complex, he succeeds remarkably well….
Lawler concludes with an interesting thought. Throughout the book, he explains the development of cognitive abilities in terms of the combination and modification of earlier abilities in response to various experiences. The question to ask is: What are the original cognitive abilities? Lawler believes the original cognitive abilities are derived from five “sensori-motor subsystems,” each organized around five major body parts. That is, Lawler proposes cognitive development has a specific biological origin.
Overall, Lawler’s Computer Experience and Cognitive Development provides a coherent view of child development and learning in terms familiar to AI researchers. One can dimly discern the outlines of computer programs that would model Miriam’s learning within Lawler’s descriptions and theories and herein lies the central contribution of Lawler’s book: You read it and start to think that he has been observing and describing some fundamental aspects of the development of intelligence and, furthermore, that a computer model of this development might be within reach…. the development of computer models embodying Lawler’s theories would be significant research…. A computer program that learns to play tic-tac-toe the way Miriam did or learns to add the way Miriam did would really be an achievement.
M. Selfridge
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Connecticut, Stoors, Connecticut
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In The Journal of Educational Computing Research
Fifty years of research into human learning has provided us with remarkably little insight into the way that one person learns. The reason is simple; most research has been concerned with the product rather than the process of learning. A methodology that involves setting learner goals, is just not sufficient to understand the genesis of knowledge.
Lawler suggests that ‘bricolage’ (roughly translated as ‘tinkering’, or calling on existing cognitive equipment to fulfill loosely formed objectives) is more important than goal-directed planning in driving human learning…. Given that considerable time may elapse between the formation and resolution of objectives, then the investigation of learning must be extensive, essentially recording ‘all of the young child’s mundane interchanges with his workaday world’, whether immediately relevant or not, and attempting to relate current learning to its precursors, in order to build up a model of the emergence of cognitive structures and problem-solving processes. It is fraught with practical and methodological problems:…
Lawler has been fortunate in being able to observe and influence one child, his daughter, Miriam, through most of her learning for the six months following her sixth birthday. This ‘Intimate Study’ is an uniquely detailed investigation of a child’s learning; it is also the first extensive account of the influence of a computer culture on a child’s development….
Computer Experience and Cognitive Development is the best available description of a single child’s development of knowledge and intelligence, and of the influence of a computer culture on a young child’s learning. As Lawler states, ’The objective is theory development. I make no claim to propound a complete theory of mind. I struggle to describe coherently some of the processes that may obtain in the development of mind. In its weakest description, this “theory” is a cluster of ideas, richly exemplified, exhibiting what it might mean if one saw mind as a system of disparate, active structures.’ Since this theory is both testable and the subject of important claims about learning, teaching and mental development, it deserves to be pursued.
M. Sharples
University of Sussex, Brighton, England
Link to complete review PDF

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