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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Computers for Charisma, Empowerment, Learning

I was briefly involved with an OLPC effort.  And have always been intrigued by the idea of how it is different to teach coding, than it is to teach mathematics, though they are closely connected.   I know many people who were truly expert coders, but avoided any math.   Coding has become 'charismatic' in a sense, but I still don't think it helps to have everyone learn to code.  Coding is more an extreme in paying attention to detail,  than the esoterica of math.  Giving out laptops empowers people to make things happen, but it rarely makes them coders or mathematicians.  That makes a difference.  Aiming to read these books. 

Computers for Learning: Charisma that Fails to Disrupt?

January 5, 2021  By Jeremy Roschelle

Learning technology often bursts into our awareness with powerful promises to personalize learning, to accelerate progress, to scale powerful learning to everyone. Too often, learning technology fails to deliver. Why? Recently, I read two books addressing this dilemma, both of which are grounded in strong empirical research traditions.

The first book is "The Charisma Machine" by Morgan G. Ames, who conducted an ethnography of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in South America in 2009-2010. Dr. Ames spent extensive time in schools and towns in Paraguay as the OLPC "XO" laptop rolled out and slowly fell into disuse. Some of the reasons for declining use were mundane: the XO laptops were underpowered, the trackpad was hard to use, and necessary software wasn’t available. The laptops were designed to survive a fall when closed, but students often carried them open in order to use the video camera. Once broken, the laptops could not be repaired locally. The mesh networking rarely worked and internet connections were poor. 

Despite these mundane problems, the choice to feature "charisma" in the book title points to the deeper lessons that can be learned by reading this book. These lessons generalize beyond the particular missteps of OLPC program. Charisma connotes unusual attractiveness that commands devotion, and also suggests the ability to distort reality such that obvious downsides become hidden from view.  Reading this book made me realize how many technologies for education are constructed as charismatic, implying "don’t anticipate difficulties based on what you already know, because this new technology will be a complete game changer!"  This  charismatic portrayal can facilitate rapid initial adoption but rarely translates into lasting change.   ...  (Much more follows)

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