MMCP: Critical Digital Pedagogy; or, the Magic of Gears

MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP) is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. During our final week, we’ll be discussing Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, and Paulo Blikstein’s “Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation.” Our discussion will center on the relationship between Critical Pedagogy and all things digital. Feel free to read/watch as much or as little as you are able (or find useful). There will be no quizzes.

Schedule of Events:

  • Read Seymour Papert, Mindstorms, Preface and Introduction
  • Read Paulo Blikstein, “Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation”
  • Wednesday, February 25 at 12:00 pm EST — #MOOCMOOC Twitter chat
  • Friday, February 27 at 5:00 pm EST — Google Hangout with Audrey Watters, Jesse Stommel, and Sean Michael Morris
  • Ongoing – Participant blog posts, casual conversation, and questions shared on the community hashtag #moocmooc.

“The understanding of learning must be genetic. It must refer to the genesis of knowledge … Thus the “laws of learning” must be about how intellectual structures grow out of one another and about how, in the process, they acquire both logical and emotional form.” ~ Seymour Papert, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

“It is one thing to write down concepts in books, but it is another to embody them in praxis.” ~ Paulo Freire

As Utopians go, Seymour Papert is a very different sort than those currently running rampant in educational technology. He did, in 1980, advocate that every child should have access to a computer, but he also said quite definitively that “the child should program the computer,” instead of the computer being allowed to program the child. Computer aided instruction (CAI), where much of human-computer learning has its roots (not to mention instructional design and the worst-intentioned strategies of most LMSs), “consisted of a learner seated in front of a dumb terminal. The basic computing program presented piecemeal bits of information to the learner. After, the learner was asked to complete a number of questions written specifically to determine if she had learned the content” (Matthew Kruger-Ross). This response-to-stimuli approach to learning has not only persisted in digital education, but too often exemplifies precisely what Papert objected to.

We cannot replace agency with response to stimuli.

In Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition, Jesse argues that the core component of Critical Digital Pedagogy is that it “centers its practice on community and collaboration.” He offers that,

Teaching is deeply personal and political work, through which pedagogues cannot and do not remain objective. Rather, pedagogy, and particularly Critical Digital Pedagogy, is work to which we must bring our full selves.

Too often, we describe fields of knowledge in a way that’s exclusionary, even proprietary. We dice up our experience of learning into discrete and often crude chunks. Things like mathematics, literature — even critical analysis of literature — do not depend on school, though we in education communicate (and teach) as if they do. In truth, the operations of mathematics, the operations of literary analysis, and a hundred other operations that we attribute to rarified fields of knowledge, happen anyway every day. Papert sees “the classroom as an artificial and inefficient learning environment that society has been forced to invent because its informal environments fail in certain essential learning domains, such as writing or grammar or school math.” The learning that happens in math, or English, or science, happens outside the concrete distinctions of those fields as such.

Knowledge is relational. It emerges, as Freire writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

In “Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation,” Paulo Blikstein explicitly connects the work of Freire and Papert. He writes specifically, “the rapid penetration of computers into learning environments constitutes an unprecedented opportunity to advance and disseminate a Freirean aesthetic.” Papert articulates a move from constructivism to constructionism — from a consideration of the relationship between the human and knowing to a consideration of the relationship between the human and the material, the product of learning and not just the systems of learning. He says that computers are “carriers of powerful ideas and of the seeds of cultural change … they can help people form new relationships with knowledge that cut across traditional lines.” Thus, the material — the product — of learning becomes the connections made manifest by the computer. We would go one step further to say that what is built inside this kind of learning are relationships, meaningful connections between learners. The computer is a mere intermediary, not a tool as much as a vessel, a transport, a “carrier” as Papert describes it. Computers float about freely in the environment, and when they intersect with human curiosity and community, beliefs about learning change.

This isn’t to say that the use of computers isn’t political, for Papert, for Blikstein, for Critical Pedagogues, for us. Rather, we acknowledge that computers manifest human politics and human politics are made manifest in our technologies. A Critical Digital Pedagogy ruminates at these intersections and demands that we build better tools and use them more thoughtfully and toward ends that don’t merely legitimize the existence of the tools.

In “The Maker Movement and the Rebirth of Constructionism,” Jonan Donaldson writes, “Learning happens best when learners construct their understanding through a process of constructing things to share with others.” What we build, then, with a Critical Digital Pedagogy is not new tools, but rather new thought processes. In this, learning makes a mechanism of tools, rather than tools making a mechanism of learning, and the child programs the computer. These are the “new relationships with knowledge,” of which Papert speaks.

In this week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy, we will discuss the praxis of Critical Digital Pedagogy as seen through the lens of Papert’s and Freire’s work. Join us on February 25 at 12:00 PM EST for a Twitter chat using #moocmooc. And on February 27 at 5:00 PM EST for a Google Hangout with Audrey Watters. Check out to see when to join us in your time zone. And begin thinking about the following questions:

  • Papert insists that computers should not be seen as “agents that act directly on thinking and learning”, but rather that “the most important components of educational situations [are] people and cultures.” Instead of thinking about how technology influences education, can we discuss how education can construct new tools and new thinking about tools?
  • Sherry Turkle and Papert argue that “The role of feminist studies in the nascent computer culture is to promote the recognition of diversity in how we think about and appropriate formal systems and encourage the acceptance of our profound human connection with our tools.” What role do race, sex, gender, and sexuality play in our consideration of how we relate to machines and how we talk about educational technologies?
  • If “human politics are made manifest in our technologies,” what are the consequences for digital pedagogy? In what ways must learners equip themselves to confront technological politics (political technologies?), and how can teachers help?
  • In the prompt for our first MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy prompt, we wrote, “We must stay aware of how we are telling and showing our critical pedagogies.” What do we need to do to let learning truly come from the learner? How easily can we let agency replace response to stimuli, especially when we are the stimuli?

If you cannot join us for our synchronous chat, feel free to post your thoughts throughout the week on the #moocmooc hashtag or in the comments below. We’ll also be curating highlights from the community’s blog responses on the MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy homepage, where you can also find the schedule for the MOOC.

Registration is not required for MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy. No personal data will be collected and everyone is welcome. However, if you’d like updates about the course, there are a few things you can do. First, follow @hybridped, @moocmooc, and #moocmooc on Twitter. And sign up for Hybrid Pedagogy’s e-mail list where we send updates about events (like MOOC MOOC) and digests of recently published articles.

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