Educational Philosophy

John Dewey, in Experience in Education (1938) theorized all knowledge is just a good idea until it is applied. Once an idea has been applied and experience has been gained, then education can begin. Our EdTech challenges were excellent examples of John Dewey’s philosophy.

To complete the challenges we used what John Dewey may have described as a “progressive educational environment”. A dynamic environment providing us with resources and feedback, rather than a static environment unconducive to learning. Our digital environment was dynamic and interactive. The feedback was immediate. For example when we learned to build a game using Scratch. As we learned how to use Scratch, the programming we entered would often look logical, but once the lines of codes were tested by running the program, errors would become immediately evident. With instantaneous feedback we were able to quickly make adjustments to our code. Our teachers for this challenge were not lecturers, but but rather guides pointing us in the direction of resources leaving us responsible to actively learn and complete the challenge. Even with 9 years of programming experience to call upon, learning by doing proved to be the most effective educator.

“When an individual constructs an experience, a representation of that experience is left behind in the brain that she may be able to draw upon in the future. The representation is not a perfect copy of the world but rather a partial record of the individual’s subjective interpretation and perception, which is in turn shaped by prior knowledge, experiences, perceptual capabilities, and brain processes.”

How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures (2018), a consensus study report published by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2018), Chapter: 4 Processes That Support Learning

The tools utilized from my earlier programming experience might be seen as level of experience in Piaget’s Constructivism and his “Funnel of Knowing”. In Constructivism Piaget postulates learning is rooted in action and interaction. Students do not learn by passively observing educational materials. Once an educational tool and level of knowledge are gained we are able to stand on these building blocks of knowing to accomplish new tasks that previously may have been out of reach. An infographic of Piaget’s Constructivist theory:

“Constructivism assumes that learners are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Instead, learners are actively attempting to create meaning. Learners often select and pursue their own learning. Constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms which emulate the “fuzziness” of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.

K-12 Educational Technology Handbook.
Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age
George Siemens

Another conceptual description of Piaget’s Constructivism from our educational material:

“You don’t need to encounter everything in nature in order to know nature.” A basic understanding of the learning theories can provide you with a “canny strategy whereby you could know a great deal about a lot of things while keeping very little in mind”.

Chapter 11: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism
Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective
Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology
Peggy A. Ertmer & Timothy Newby

Learning by doing in classrooms using computers and technology may appear to be a relatively new phenomenon in education but it began in the 1980s with the introduction of the Apple IIe and Apple’s nationwide push to put a computer in every school. As a new technology it was poorly understood for use in the classroom. There was heavy reliance on using the video game Oregon Trail as an educational tool.

Since Oregon Trail made its way into elementary-school classrooms across the country, this approach has drawn skeptics who question whether students are learning or simply being entertained.

“Video games in the classroom? Welcome to the future of learning”
Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Looking at Bruner’s “Learning by Discovery” educational theory we can address why simply placing a computers in every school with Oregon Trail was educationally effective. First Bruner would explain learning begins with action. Interacting with a program on a computer begins the path of learning. As mastery is built, we move up to begin to understand the symbols and language of computers. How to find the catalog. How to run a program. How to escape a program. What commands make a printer work. Once we have attained proficiency in these skills, we can begin to create using the language of the computer. We are ready to learn to programming. This is why the question, “Is it learning or simply being entertained?” does not apply. Learning begins with action and interaction.

With experience education is acquired. Learning should be engaging and even if it appears to be in the form of entertainment. Entertainment does not lessen the effectiveness of curriculum, and in many cases may even improve it. AS we become more reliant on technology, we are improving how to utilize technology with education.

John Dewey’s philosophies discuss how lessons should be relevant and applicable to the level and interests of learners, and how learning environments should be conducive, not in opposition, to the lessons being taught. Using video games and technology to convey information in many cases does an excellent job meeting students at their current cognative level to help engage and interact.

The typical video game template is naturally well suited to Piaget’s model of Constructivism. Higher levels cannot be achieved until the the previous level has been mastered. Speed and accuracy can also be applied in a manner difficult in an analog environment.

For example Keyboarding Without Tears is a very popular program to teach children how to use a type. It begins slowly by focusing on the home keys. As mastery is gained, exercises slowly become more complex branching out to other rows of keys and eventually the number and symbol keys. All exercises on the computer are tailored to the individual student’s current level of proficiency.

Using technology in the classroom has evolved far beyond anything introduced in the 80s using Oregon Trail. Typing Without Tears is a video game used in classrooms. It is rooted in Piaget’s Constructivism roots, and follows John Dewey’s philosophy of education through experience.

Educators can be guides, facilitators, and motivators of learners. The information available to educators through high-speed Internet means teachers do not have to be content experts across all possible subjects. By understanding how to help students access online information, engage in simulations of real-world events, and use technology to document their world, educators can help their students examine problems and think deeply about their learning. 

United States National Educational Technology Plan
U.S. Office of Educational Technology

Technology is an essential part of interactive education and skills needed for today’s world. It delivers essential, just in time information to educators and students. Technology expands possible learning environments beyond the analog and into the digital and the virtual realms with the potential to make education more engaging and interactive.

By effectively applying technology in the classrooms students can be taught to creatively think, research, and apply information, rather than rely on rote memorization. Both children and adult learners need to understand how to utilize the various systems of technology interwoven within the fabric of the modern world.