I am currently in an Education class: Beyond Bits and Atoms – Designing Technological Tools. For this class, one of the first assignments was to learn about Papert, Constructionism, and Evocative Objects. For Papert, gears served a special role in his childhood and learning. They helped him process complex mathematical concepts, relate to the adult world, and construct schemata to process the world with. Sherry Turkle subsequently helped classify Papert’s gears as an Evocative Object: “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.” In the book Evocative Objects, Turkle compiled essays by scientists, artists, designers, humanists which reveal objects as emotional and intellectual companions.
Based on Papert and Turkle, we were instructed to write an essay about our own evocative object. The hope was not just that we identify our own object but also that we understand Papert, Turkle and the impact such objects can have. The knowledge and understanding of our own object could help us when designing technology for learning in the future. Below is my essay, the start of my dive into the world of modern educational theory and the start of my understanding of Constructionism.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is of a plastic table with a white top and big screw on blue legs situated in the corner of my room to support my first computer. The computer was mine to play with and use. In fact, I remember using it for a school biography report on Cleopatra. My memory is quite hazy other than my utter disappointment in discovering that the floppy disc drive was broken and I had to re-do my report by hand. This wasn’t a turning point where I dove deep into the inner workings of the computer to make it better. My computer wasn’t and still isn’t a device to be broken down, analyzed, and put back together. Instead it is a prize and joy to be treated with all the love and kindness I know and would give to a friend.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention the hours of computer class I was fortunate to have in school starting in first grade. While I have less vivid memories, I have a particular one of a specific computer teacher. She lead the magical room with the translucent rounded boxes with brightly colored sides. She was also the magical teacher who encouraged creativity and the creation of our own digital art worlds and story lines to go along if we so chose. In addition to assigning specific tasks, she often let us explore a software freely. This included both games and creative art programs.
It’s only natural from my computer class, that when I first discovered PowerPoint, I spent hours creating. My desk was now wooden with drawers and filled with the pencils of an elementary school child. Instead of using those other items to create and explore, I explored every button, feature and tip available in PowerPoint. I turned PowerPoint into my own digital scrapbook to store and display photos of my birthday party and other major events. Every animation needed to be used in some way or another to add to the visual I was creating. In fact, I still have a PowerPoint from a birthday party at Golf’n’Stuff with photos of us on bumper cars and boats with every photo moving on and off screen. Windows Movie Maker and Photoshop were the equivalent to striking gold. I could now more easily add music and animation to my creations and create new art rather than being limited to photos.
In Mindstorms, Papert describes computers and his Turtles as tools to help children learn, build, and grow. While at first I did not identify any equivalent to his gears, I started to recognize the significance of computers to me. As a young child, the computer was my tool for creating art and using my imagination. Through computer class, I created multipart characters that had butterfly wings and a human body and a story to go along with it. I even created a “Monthly Newletter” for my fictional world. While on paper at the time, describing my world through a newsletter taught me to love writing and communicating my ideas. With the computer, I imagined, built, then described and taught others about my digital worlds using the newsletters.
Being born in the 90’s, as I grew and developed, so did the computers I worked with. They gained more sophisticated tools such as PowerPoint, Movie Makers, and Photoshop. They also gained educational software. One such, was a typing game. I could type words that corresponded to flying asteroids to shoot them down. I didn’t just learn to type, I learned to faster describe the worlds I was already creating. In high school, my computer opened the door to programing VEX robots. By college, my computer wasn’t just my friend and companion, it was a required resource. Computer Aided Design, MatLAB, and Excel were essential to my curriculum and became my friends in the same way that the art programs of my childhood had thanks to my computer. As I needed and desired more sophisticated tools, my computer was ready to help.
My computer, or I guess I should say computers as it changed over the years, helped me navigate my world. It was there to give me a creative outlet when my parents preferred not to have a small child painting everywhere. It was there to help me learn to express my thoughts. It was my companion when things at home were difficult, often offering me an escape into other worlds or creativity. In addition to being my constant companion, the ever-changing nature of the computer, growing as I did, and the resources it opened for me, taught me how to navigate the ever-changing world. While new operating systems were frustrating, new features and software opened opportunities to try new things and learn. My computer was there to help me access them and teach me to love them. It taught me to see change as an opportunity to learn. Now when I look at my strengths, a desire to learn and explore is one of them. In part, it was able to do this because in the world of my computer, learning through trial and error was friendlier than the real world. In the real world, there are witnesses and not all mistakes can be undone. A wrong paint stroke is not easily erased, a wrong cut when building might mean starting over, and failure often viewed as my inability to succeed. On the computer, a mistake could easily be removed by editing or undoing and a revision was as simple as saving again or saving as. My computer was understanding of my desire to experiment and learn by trial.
As it has always been and I hope for it always to be, my computer is my supportive and forgiving friend as I navigate my world.
Papert, Seymour. “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas.” New Ideas in Psychology, vol. 1, 1983, p. 87, doi:10.1016/0732-118X(83)90034-X.
Turkle, Sherry. “Evocative Objects.” MIT Press, 2007.