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Seymour Papert and the Evolution of Ed Tech

Posted by Dean Asher on Aug 11, 2016 5:00:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, K-12, ed tech

Last week, technology in the classroom lost one of its earliest and most passionate pioneers. Seymour Papert died July 31 in his Blue Hill, Maine home at the age of 88.

If you're not familiar with Papert's life, it's a fascinating one. Born in South Africa in 1928, Papert studied mathematics and earned doctorates from South Africa's University of Witwatersrand and England's University of Cambridge before coming to America and working at MIT. There he began his work in robotics, and the future of technology in the classroom was changed forever. See how far we've come since then.

Classroom robotics may look much different now than in Papert's day, but the MIT fellow provided the growndwork for these and other classroom technology.

While at MIT in 1967, Papert developed the Logo programming language alongside Daniel G. Bobrow, Wally Feurzeig and Cynthia Solomon. This language was primarily used to pilot little dome-shaped robots, affectionately nicknamed "turtles," and have them draw fractals on sheets of paper with attached pens. It was Papert's goal to see this technology used in a classroom setting, giving children hands-on exposure to technology and programming, ushering a new era in the way young students learn.

“Seymour Papert was the first person to see that the computer could be used to support children’s learning and development,” Mitchel Resnick, an M.I.T. professor and a former student of Dr. Papert’s, told the New York Times. “He had a vision that the computer could allow children to actively construct knowledge.”

The notion of technology has come along way from the 1970s, when robotic turtles drew fractals on pieces of paper. It's affected the way we lecture: we've seen transparencies and heavy overhead projectors give way to interactive digital whiteboards. It's also changed the way students learn, as static physical textbooks now share space in many students' backpacks with slim handheld computers that hold dozens of lower-cost digital titles.

In just a short time, MBS Direct has seen technology shift rapidly since our inception in 1992. Those digital titles have grown from simple scanned PDF pages of a physical text to interactive materials that can be annotated, customized, shared and embedded with supplemental content. We've seen the shape of the classroom evolve: what was once a rigid top-down structure where students come to a classroom and receive a lecture can now unite hundreds or even thousands of students from all over the world in MOOCs, online courses and more.

It was thanks to pioneers like Dr. Papert that these advances in technology and how we think about the way we learn were made possible. We thank Papert for his dedication to educational technology and STEM courses, and look forward to many more years of innovations and new ideas brought on by his students and the people he's inspired.

About Dean Asher

Dean Asher is a former copywriter with MBS. Though he no longer writes for us, he is still proud of having helped this blog continue to evolve as an industry-leading resource of news and original content.

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