Papert’s Three Phases of Educational Technology

In 1994, Seymour Papert, the mathematician from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was a pioneer in using computer programming to teach mathematics to young children, suggested that the history of computers in schools could be deconstructed into three phases. First, there was a brief time when innovative educators had computers in their classrooms and engaged students with them (one gets the sense that information technologies in those classrooms were free in the manner Crichton hoped). Second, there was a period during which computers were centralized in “computer labs” and specialists assumed responsibility for teaching computer classes; computing became a subject matter. This was similar to the centralized computing and data predicted by Bushnell, but was less democratic than Bushnell had predicted, because computer classes were primarily filled with rich white males. Papert argued that the early innovators had been right with their approach, and he encouraged educators to initiate the third phase of educational computing which would find them returning to the innovative curriculum and practices that characterized the initial endeavors with computers in classrooms. When I recount Papert’s vision to teachers today, I usually conclude that most educators and educational communities are still trying to find their way back to our beginnings and complete Papert’s third phase, and many agree with me.