Spoiling the Bunch

Apple, Inc. just confirmed Dr. Papert’s opening paragraph from Teaching Children Thinking.

“The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.”

– Seymour Papert <strike(1980)(1970)*

Apple’s Classroom App

Apple is on the wrong side of history with its Classroom App. Everything about the app screams distrust. It’s heavy on content delivery (as if learners don’t construct knowledge), control (did I say you could tap that icon?), management (apparently, computer literacy is dead), locking out students (Johnny went to the Wiki one too many times), and shared devices (let’s call it collaboration!). Read the Getting Started with Classroom, it’s all there.

Alfie Kohn put forth a compelling case for being skeptical about announcements like this one in his post about The Overselling of EdTech:

There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.

The less we trust students the fewer opportunities they have to develop the very agency over their own learning that we aspire for them. Our skeptical eye is much needed in these days of edu-preneurship, edtech startups and the dreamy influence of Silicon Valley giants.

*UPDATED: Gary Stager pointed out (below) that the quote is from 1970 though the paper I cited is from 1980. This further emphasizes that Apple and most other computer hardware/software companies don’t know history and continue to ignore research on learning.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Spot on Brian. I’m actually surprised this was even released. It’s diametrically opposed to current thinking regarding learner agency, constructionism, responsible citizenship, personalised device models and more. If it takes foot there’ll be a huge knot to undo.

    1. Actually, I’m not surprised in the least! This app is not diametrically opposed to running in the black. This appeals to schools and parents who want the “high tech” but the assurance that Johnny is on page 8, paragraph 3 on the 8th of October in Grade 4. Our job is mountainous in convincing this generation of teachers that technologies goal is not to make everything easy, especially teaching. While at the Apple mothership last October in Cupertino I heard an Apple Education expert (or whatever they are called) co-opt a friend’s work as an example of Apple’s progressive education. It was hogwash. None of what was shown had anything to do with Apple devices or apps and could have been (and I know was) done with other devices and applications. The educational benefits of Classroom and most other apps are thinly disguised and contain very “low nutritional value” (Stager) for the deep learning we truly desire.

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