Sunday, August 28, 2011

Children and Tech Series - the penultimate post - final exam question

How much meaningful learning can one course have?

The breadth and depth of learning I’ve experienced in this course is kind of astonishing. I feel like I came into the course with an inkling of what the potential for learning using technology might mean, and I’m leaving with a tremendous host of skills and tools to use, not only in early learning contexts but in my own learning as well. This course hasn’t only given me practical tools and examples, but I’ve also been able to explore different ways of thinking and looking at both technology and learning.

Over the course of this class I watched myself loosen up a bit with technology in a way that I haven’t previously. Not only did I begin to game outside of class, but playing around with different media, programs and games in our labs really helped me to see the potential in different gaming environments and virtual worlds. Having been staunchly ambivalent about technology previous to this, I feel like I know have a much better sense of what makes good games, good online worlds, and good media environments. When I say good, I’m referring to virtual and online spaces where people, students and otherwise, can use technology to understand the task and themselves more clearly. This course has really helped me to unpack what kind of things are important to have in situations that foster authentic learning. Spaces where people become engaged with what they are doing and are able to make it their own are “good”. These “good” playful learning spaces are environments that people not only inhabit, customize to their own specifications, and take ownership of, but they also reinforce the transference of those characteristics and behaviours outside of that particular environment to other contexts and activities. Playing World of Goo, getting to know Flickr a bit better, and the truly transformative play that I experienced playing with Scratch – all that playing really helped me understand how to take ownership of virtual spaces, what made a game fun AND something that fostered questioning and learning, and how to think critically about technology and especially educational technology and evaluate it for fun AND learning potential.

Another really important thing I learned in this course is that it’s not as much what (although I will argue in a second that that is also important) but how technology is engaged with in a learning environment that makes the difference. In the first chapter of Jonassen, Howland, Marra & Crismond’s Meaningful Learning with Technology (2008) – ironically the last assigned reading in this course – the authors outline the basic requirements for meaningful learning. I deeply appreciate the clarity with which these characteristics are laid out for us. If the learning is intentional, active, constructive, cooperative and authentic, then it is meaningful (Jonassen et al., 2008). I really love this, because it incorporates some things that are dear to my heart – participation, child-directedness, engagement, reflection – elements that I feel are key to learning. I find myself now applying that criteria to other things, using that criteria to evaluate whether something is meaningful, whether it is technologically involved or not.

Reflecting on our readings and lab explorations helped advance my understanding regarding how the shapes of things influences how we learn. By shape, I’m referring to the expectations, hidden curricula, implied attitudes and assumptions that go into the environment and very architecture of the various games, online spaces, institutions and relationships that we engage with every day. Grimes’ Prezi presentation Playing By (and With) the Rules (2010) helped extend my thinking on commercial entities creating commercialized spaces to create commercialized children. Nolan and Bakan’s article Social technologies for young children: Cultural Play with (in press) about using the Web 2.0 user/producer phenomenon to engage children and educators back into the production of their own musical culture helped me think about how users can be incited to produce their own material by exploring the content of online environments and applications. Sharples, Davison, Thomas & Rudman’s excellent and thought-provoking Children as photographers: an analysis of children’s photographic behaviour and intentions at three age levels (2003) helped me think about how the limitations and affordances built into the structures of the tools we use influence our experience with those tools. To be honest, however, it was experimenting with Scratch that really got me going, though.

It seems to me that every element that went into the designing of both the Scratch program and the Scratch online community was thought through to bring about the most empowerment, the most community-building, the most collaboration, the most exploration and experimentation, and the most meaningful learning possible. From the intuitive construction aspect of the programming language, where creators can build programs using blocks of commands, to the sharing and downloading capabilities that the online community site affords, every aspect of Scratch reinforces the collaborative nature of it’s mix/remix approach to cultural production, learning and fun. The more I played with it, the more impressed I was with how democratic the whole thing was. I loved that I learned the basics by watching tutorials made by and with kids. I was entranced with how easy it was to incorporate new self-generated material into the already existing matrix. Most powerfully of all, the ability to download other peoples games to see how they put them together and apply that knowledge or those very codes to your own work, reminded me very viscerally of my own explorations as a child of two mechanics. My parents would hand me a broken object (I most remember an old fashioned wind-up brass alarm clock) hand me some tools, and I would take thinks apart to see how they worked. In the climate of advanced electronics we live in today here in North America, I find it fascinating that that kind of tinkering exploration has transferred in a way INTO the technology we can no longer take apart, without a lot of know-how. Scratch, and programs like it, create a bridge to take that physical tinkering into the virtual world. It was crucial for me to learn that that was possible, and how it was possible.

I could go on and on. The emphasis on meaningful learning in this course, and what that means, has seeped into many other aspects in my life. I think in new ways, about new things because of this course. I’m excited about blogging, and exploring blogging with young and preliterate children. I’m interested in how learning can make us more generous, and how technology and the shapes of things can promote generosity in people, and children in particular. I’m entranced by the idea of combining democracy and fun in play and learning, and overwhelmed by the potential for meaningful learning through technology. I feel like I’ve only really begun to learn, and that’s great. Thanks, Jason.

Words: 1140


Grimes, S. (2010) Playing By (and With) the Rules. Accessed at

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R., & Crismond, D. (2008) Meaningful Learning with Technology. New Jersey, Pearson Education, Inc.

Nolan, J. & Bakan, D. (In press). Social technologies for young children: Cultural Play with Accessed at

Sharples, M., Davison, L., Thomas, G. & Rudman, P. (2003) Children as photographers: an analysis of children’s photographic behaviour and intentions at three age levels. Sage Publications 2(3). Accessed at

1 comment:

  1. Noah you should get in touch with Béa Beste over at playDUcation. Béa and her team have a real interest in digital learning. You'll find some terrific links on the playDUction Fb page.

    Donna :) :)