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132 - Construing and Computing: Learning through Exploring and Exploiting Agency

Abstract

Constructionism is a practice that has developed alongside computing. In addressing a conference of educators in the 1980s, Papert himself recognised that “the new technologies are very, very rich in providing new things for children to do”, that a child who used LOGO to make a picture would be unlikely to say “I’m programming a computer”, and that “nobody knows how computers will be used in 10 or 20 or 30 year's time” (Papert, c1980). Thirty years later, despite many generations of development in LOGO, and the advent of other programming languages such as Alice and Scratch designed with constructionist aspirations in mind, there is scant conceptual support for computing that is not in essence based on a paradigm of ‘programming the computer’. In this paper, we outline an alternative constructionist practice that is based on exploiting computing technology in a way that cannot be accounted for merely in programming terms. A crucial ingredient in this new practice (“making construals”) is an epistemological stance that is constructivist in character and derives from the radical empiricism of William James. Adopting this stance enables us to regard the contention by Ben-Ari – fundamental to the idea of programming – that the computer is ‘an accessible ontological reality’, as itself a construction.

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Links to relevant construals

The three construals that are used as illustrative examples in this paper can be accessed from the CONSTRUIT! environment for making construals. Full details of how this can be done will be given here in due course. Both the environment and the associated construals are research prototypes, the subject of active development and not yet fully documented. Instructions for how to load and exercise example construals are given at this point in the webpage for the 'C6' learning activity organised under the auspices of the CONSTRUIT! project. For the present, the best working prototypes can be loaded from the 'Browse Agents' option on the menu at the bottom right of the initial Script View input window as purse, makefromscratch and c6/givingchange/versions1and2.