New Learning Environments

David Cavallo, MIT Media Laboratory

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 23, 2001

This talk is based upon the following propositions:

  1. Very deep changes in the learning environment are already possible and desirable; they will become more urgently necessary with the spread of digital technology.
  2. Steps towards the introduction of computers in schools fall far short of the changes that must come.
  3. These larger changes will not come as automatic consequences of the presence of technology in schools. Serious intellectual effort is needed to define new forms of learning.

In this talk I will discuss how the development of technological fluency through constructionist uses can help liberate untapped learning potential. In order to accomplish this, the tools and uses must be open for expression and appropriation. I will focus on two elements: the nature of the tools we create and the types of activities and settings in which we work. I will discuss a few of the new environments we are making and provide examples from our learning lab in a juvenile jail and work in rural areas of Thailand where our participants achieved at levels far beyond normal expectations.

David Cavallo is a Research Scientist in the Epistemology and Learning Group at the MIT Media Laboratory. His work focuses on the design and implementation of reforms of learning environments and educational systems, and the role technology can play in this change process. He also works on the design of new technologies for learning. His thesis work describes an educational intervention in Thailand, named Project Lighthouse, and points towards the importance of emergent design in the reform of large-scale, complex, dynamic environments. Prior to MIT, Cavallo led the design and implementation of medical informatics as part of a reform of health care delivery and management at the Harvard University Health Services. Prior to that he was a principal and consulting software engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation's Artificial Intelligence Technology Center. He led enterprise architecture and implementation efforts for using technology to produce change in the processes and operations of major companies by focusing on learning. He designed and built numerous knowledge-based systems for industry. Most notable among these was a set of intelligent microworlds for training air traffic controllers. He founded and led the Advanced Technology group for Digital's Latin American and Caribbean Region. He also holds a Master of Science degree from the MIT Media Laboratory and a Bachelor's of Science degree in Computer Science from Rutgers University. He has advised numerous heads of state and ministries of education on the adoption of advanced technologies for learning and the reform of educational institutions.

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