Learning through the use of digital technology: connecting my trips to constructionism

This text is the translation of La tecnología digital como soporte a la construcción del conocimiento. I originally published it as a guest post on Raúl Hernández González blog.

At home, when talking about trips we have done together, I am always the one who remember more details about them, who is capable of coming up with more information and telling what we did at this exact time in that exact place. In the end, it’s common that someone asks: how can you remember everything so good? I had always thought that this happened because I was merely good at it, but I recently read about constructionism in the book Invent to learn and changed my opinion.

The book authors, Sylvia Libow and Gary Stager, review some of the Seymour Papert‘s work. Papert is known as the father of constructionism in pedagogy. In short, his theory says that the knowledge is not transmitted but built from experience acquired from the learner’s actions. Teachers and mentors are still essential for the learning process, but when present are helpful giving the tools and advice needed, so the construction is possible.

Papert theory comes from Piaget constructivism, adding to it the concept of building things. Constructionism considers the use of digital technologies and objects design and manipulation as crucial. In other words, it emphasizes the generation of pieces of evidence that go together with the acquired knowledge.

In page 73 of the mentioned book, the authors include eight big ideas related to the Constructionist Learning Laboratory, founded by Papert in 1999 in The Maine Youth Center. The aim was to be able to research and prove constructionist theories. The following are the ones more related to digital technology:

  • (2) Technology as building material. If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things. And you can learn a lot more by making them. This is especially true of digital technology: computers of all sorts including the computer-controlled Lego in our Lab.
  • (8) We are entering a digital world where knowing about digital technology is as important as reading and writing. So learning about computers is essential for our students’ futures BUT the most important purpose is using them NOW to learn about everything else.

These ideas were formulated between the XX and the XXI Century. From then to now, digital technology has evolved a lot acquiring a prominent role in the world. As I see it, the current situation confirms the validity of Papert ideas.

I associate constructionism with my capacity to remember details about trips because of my late activity when I am traveling. The night comes, everybody goes to bed, and I start writing about the day. I write a diary and enrich it with all kind of materials: our pictures, web URL’s with information about the visited places (a Wikipedia page, a museum or a restaurant website), related videos (documentaries, often), etc. I go to bed late because I also read the articles, watch the videos (or at least part of them)… I can easily spend one or two hours to that process every day.

So, after having read about Papert ideas, I conclude that all the mentioned activity is the cause I later remember everything with that level of detail. I not only transcribe what I remember but also relate it to the visual memories (our pictures) and enrich it with other content that gives context. The final result is a complete experience that will remain imprinted in my memory.

In other words, I build my knowledge while creating digital pieces of evidence in a digital portfolio (it is often a private blog). It wasn’t an innate quality but the result of an effort.

As I increase and consolidate my knowledge about one particular subject with the help of digital technology, everybody can do the same focusing on any other topic and using the same or similar tools. The instrumental part is accessible to anyone: different kind of instruments that can be employed together for free (or almost) and with a low learning curve. If you are interested in the topic and are willing to give enough time and effort to it, the results are sure to come.

Image: Gever Tulley.