MIT technology trailblazer is a critic of computerized learning

Jul 24, 2013 by

mit-logoBy Jill Barshay

Mitchel Resnick is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. His research group is best known for inventing two blockbuster educational technologies: the programmable bricks used in the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits and Scratch, a computer programming language that allows children to create and share interactive stories, games and animations. The Hechinger Report talked to him about whether technology is changing education for better or worse.


Question: Millions of kids around the world are using your simplified computer programming language, Scratch. I once read that Scratch accounts for 10 percent of all visits to MIT websites. What’s worked and what hasn’t?


Answer:  One of the reasons for Scratch’s success is that it’s really easy to mix together different animations, photographs and graphics. And you can share them in an online community and see what other people have created. In our mind, two of the most important aspects of any learning experience are creating and collaborating.

But the creating and the collaborating were in two separate worlds. You had to download the Scratch software and create on your own computer. Then, when you went online to the Scratch community you would see a project and wonder, “Oh, can I make a little change to that?” You’d have to download it to your local machine, then if you wanted to share it with others, you’d have to upload it to the website. It was frustrating.


In May (2013) we introduced Scratch 2.0, the biggest change since we launched Scratch in 2007. Now you can create inside a web browser. If I like one character in your project, I can just grab that character and bring it into my project. It’s much easier to share and remix.


Q: What ages are using it?


A: Scratch is usually for kids eight years and up. But we’re working on a Scratch Junior version for younger kids, ages five to seven, that will launch next year in 2014. We have a National Science Foundation grant, along with a colleague at Tufts University, Marina Bers, to develop it.


Q:  Do you make money from Scratch and LEGO Mindstorms?


A: Since Scratch is free, my group and I don’t financially benefit from it. I don’t have any financial interest in any LEGO products, but I do serve on the board of LEGO Education, and I receive a stipend for that.


Q: Should every kid learn to program? Or are we in the midst of a senseless computer programming fad in schools?


A: In the last year, there’s been a lot of excitement about learning to code. New York City Mayor Bloomberg made it his New Year’s resolution that he was going to learn to code. The country of Estonia said [it is] going to teach all of its first graders to code.

MIT technology trailblazer is a critic of computerized learning | Hechinger Report.

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