Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill, cpmerri@ilstu.edu
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

As an open access journal, the JTE does not charge fees for authors to publish or readers to access.


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Volume 1, Number 2
Spring 1990

              BOOK REVIEWS
               
                        BRAND, STEWART.  (1988).  THE MEDIA LAB.  NEW
                        YORK:  PENGUIN BOOKS, $10 (SOFTCOVER), $20
                        (HARDCOVER), 264 PP. (ISBN 0-1400.9701-5)
               
                                Reviewed by Joseph McCade(1)
               
                             Inventing the future at Massachusetts
                        Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), the subti-
                        tle of Brand's book, reveals a good deal
                        about its content.  He describes the research
                        efforts of some of the brightest people in
                        the world at  M.I.T.'s Media Lab.  This
                        unique facility allows these individuals to
                        combine their talents with some of the
                        world's most powerful computers in order to
                        create radical developments in the field of
                        communication.  Yet, the true value of this
                        book is not the articulate and understandable
                        descriptions of exciting new technologies.
                        Brand's insightful commentary concerning what
                        the work of the Media Lab can reveal about
                        the direction and impacts of these new tech-
                        nologies is the reader's true reward.
                             Brand quickly dispels the idea that the
                        implications of the work of the Media Lab
                        might be limited to communications.  Review-
                        ing the work of "information age" gurus,
                        Brand reminds the reader of the economic im-
                        portance of information-related activities.
                        Information activities have now economically
                        eclipsed activities in the agriculture, in-
                        dustry, and service sectors.  Nicholas
                        Negroponte, director of the Media Lab, be-
                        lieves that many of the communications
                        modalities are converging. This will result,
                        he predicts, in a major leap which will af-
                        fect society as profoundly as did the print-
                        ing press.  Driving this technological spiral
                        is the computer.  Computers will not only em-
                        power this pending revolution, but will allow
                        communication to become much more
                        individualistic, more human.
                             Facilitated first by the conversion to
                        analog electronic communication and later to
                        digital communication, information is begin-
                        ning to migrate freely from one media to an-
                        other.  In fact, these media are beginning to
                        overlap one another.  Brand interprets
                        Negroponte's beliefs about the importance of
                        CD-ROM, E-mail, personal computers, and VCRs,
                        in relation to this convergence of communi-
                        cation technologies.
                             Brand's experience as founder and editor
                        of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Whole
                        Earth Review helped him to understand and ap-
                        preciate technology.  It is this perspective
                        of technology which allows him to interpret
                        the predictions of faculty and students of
                        the Media Lab.  These predictions involve how
                        technologies will interact and direct the fu-
                        ture.
                             Although it is only a small part of the
                        rich content of the book, technology educa-
                        tors will probably find that the most mean-
                        ingful part in Brand's book is the chapter on
                        the Hennigan School.  This chapter explains
                        Seymour Papert's experiment with a school of
                        the future.  More than simply a computer-rich
                        environment, the Hennigan School embodies an
                        alternative learning philosophy.  Those who
                        have not read Papert's MINDSTORMS: CHILDREN,
                        COMPUTERS AND POWERFUL IDEAS will find that
                        doing so will greatly increase their under-
                        standing of Papert's philosophy, a philosophy
                        of learning by discovery.  Children are en-
                        couraged to guess, explore, experiment and
                        imitate.  Learning rather than teaching is
                        the focus.  This more natural learning style,
                        one in which children follow their own inter-
                        ests, is believed to encourage the develop-
                        ment of a love of learning.
                             The computer is combined with a program-
                        ming language called Logo, which Papert de-
                        veloped for children.  Logo is intended to
                        take advantage of the child's interest in the
                        computer to encourage him or her to learn by
                        doing--to experiment.  A powerful graphics-
                        orientated programming language, Logo rewards
                        the user quickly.  This provides Papert's
                        philosophy with a platform.  With a minimum
                        of help or intervention children are supposed
                        to "learn" Logo.
                             Of extreme interest to technology educa-
                        tors is the addition of LEGO to the Logo
                        learning system.  The LEGO construction sys-
                        tem is linked to the computer via an inter-
                        face and controlled by a special version of
                        Logo.  With sensors and actuators, the
                        LEGO/Logo combination is a complete computer
                        control system.  Although the LEGO/Logo sys-
                        tem may be an attractive way to teach com-
                        puter control, this use will almost certainly
                        overlook the most significant attribute of
                        the system.  The discovery learning potential
                        of the system as a means of involving stu-
                        dents in problem solving and higher order
                        thinking is foremost in Papert's mind. The
                        LEGO/Logo system when linked with hands-on
                        experiments holds tremendous potential for
                        technology education.  If educators can look
                        beyond the attractive appearance of the hard-
                        ware to an understanding of the philosophical
                        purpose of the system, a step toward improved
                        technology education could occur.
                             This book should be required reading for
                        technology educators. It facilitates the lit-
                        eracy of the reader on leading edge technol-
                        ogy.  More importantly, Brand's book has the
                        potential of beginning something our programs
                        have needed for a long time -- a well-
                        articulated perspective on how technology
                        might influence the future.  
               
               
                        ----------------
                        1   Joseph McCade is Assistant Professor, Department 
                            of Industry and Technology, Millersville University, 
                            Millersville, Pennsylvania.
               
               
               
                        Permission is given to copy any
                        article or graphic provided credit is given and
                        the copies are not intended for sale.
               
              Journal of Technology Education   Volume 1, Number 2       Spring 1990