Tinkering as a mode of knowledge production in a Digital Age

From the “Carnegie Commons” – Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age.

The MacArthur Foundation brought together educators, “tinkerers,” curators, artists, performers and “makers” to grapple with questions around ensuring that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully and creatively in public, community, and economic life.

These interviews from five of the participants were produced to provide some insights into the thoughtful and passionate conversations from that convening.

These videos make connections between tinkering, innovative ideas, the idea of making work public as in a studio, creativity and collaboration, the ability to incorporate criticism, and more. Well worth watching!

I posted my own thoughts about students having “tinkering time” with technology a few weeks ago and it’s quickly risen to be one of the most looked at articles on this blog. It’s especially important as educators work hard to figure out how to make education more relevant to students and to connect to the real world.

Seymour Papert, the father of educational computing, often used the French word bricolage to describe the kind of playful attitude both children and scientists use to tinker, build, test, and rebuild their way to solving problems. Bricolage has the additional advantage (besides being cool sounding) of implying that you are using materials that you find around you – a very eco-green idea!

Problem-solving in schools is typically taught as an analytical process with clear plans and steps, like the “scientific method.” But bricolage is clearly closer to the way real scientists, mathematicians and engineers solve problems. Sure, they make plans. But they also follow hunches, iterate, make mistakes, re-think, start over, argue, sleep on it, collaborate, and have a cup of tea. Bricolage encourages making connections, whereas School tends to like “clean” disconnected problems with clear, unambiguous step-by-step solutions.

“For planners, mistakes are steps in the wrong direction; bricoleurs navigate through midcourse corrections. Bricoleurs approach problem-solving by entering into a conversation with their work materials that has more the flavor of a conversation than a monologue. ” – Papert & Turkle

For more on the concept of bricolage and computers, Papert’s book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer is the one to read. If you want to get a taste, the Math Forum has a nice synopsis of it on their website.


* Note: the Papert & Turkle quote is from their seminal paper, Epistemological pluralism and the revaluation of the concrete. I found this on the Edutech Wiki, hosted by the University of Geneva.