Retentiveness is key to Progress, so — a History of Learning and Education is Important

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

-George Santayana, The Life of Reason [1905-1906], Volume I, Reason in Common Sense, Chapter 12, 1906

Whenever I attend educational technology conferences today, I am reminded of George Santayana’s admonition to learn the history of one’s craft. At meetings, I often see young researchers and developers struggling with the same problems technology pioneers were discussing 40 years ago. In 1976, I brought the #1 Apple 1, the first one off the assembly line in Cupertino, into a classroom for the first time ever. Apple 1Soon, I was part of a growing community of educators and learners who were anticipating the potential benefits and issues introduced by the advent of small, fast computing. We thought a lot and experimented as best we could. We discussed the issues among ourselves and published our ruminations in now obscure journals and newsletters.

Progress, since 1976, has been tremendous both in the power of electronic devices and their use to support learning.

Students from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in their local university computer room. (Photo courtesy of OMSI)
Students from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in their local university computer room. (Photo courtesy of OMSI)

Still, many of the issues and problems we addressed in the ’70s and ’80s remain unresolved. What subjects are best taught via screen and keyboard as compared to face-to-face? Who learns best when flying solo and who thrives in the society of the classroom? What role should teachers play when personal computing devices are ubiquitous? Who should develop educational software? These dilemmas seem resistant to the march of technology; they are embedded in the nature of human relations and learning, and so they continue to recur, even in the discourse of 2015. During the early, innovative period of educational computing we pondered these question but memory of our work and conclusions is receding. How can today’s young educational technologists remember the past and not repeat the mistakes we made? HCLE is one answer.

This blog is an except from “Why Look Back? Arguments for a History of Computing in Education” (http://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings/icalt/2006/2632/00/263201087-abs.html)

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About lizaloop

Social philosopher, educator, teacher, parent, grandmother, musician, horseback rider, skier, dog owner, writer, trouble-maker, idea generator.

4 thoughts on “Retentiveness is key to Progress, so — a History of Learning and Education is Important

  1. This is an excellent article! I read your “Why Look Back? Arguments for a History of Computing in Education.” It’s such an inspirational piece. I can’t believe it! It’s amazing to know that you were the first person to introduce apple to a classroom learning environment. This speaks volume to you and the core of apple. I am looking forward to help you in this laudable cause.

    Johnny

  2. Thanks, Johnny. There were lots of inspired ed tech pioneers who taught me. You can help HCLE locate them, tell their stories and get them the recognition they deserve.

  3. Agreed. “Who learns best” is an individual assessment. Just because one student learns best with one technology doesn’t mean every student will benefit from its use. Customization rather than standardization is the potential, but too often it appears that solutions are applied uniformly as if everyone was exactly the same.

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