diSessa, Andrea A. Changing minds: computer, learning, and literacy. Cambridge (Mass.): The MIT Press, 2001. 271 p. ISBN 0-262-54132-7. £ 15.
Andrea diSessa's book might attract the attention of people interested or working in the field of information literacy. To some extent it is related to this issue, though not straightforwardly.
Andrea diSessa is a Professor of Education in mathematics, science, and technology and educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a member of the National Academy of Education of the USA. He researches the acquisition of conceptual and experiential knowledge in physics, and principals for designing comprehensive and usable computer systems mainly for educational purposes. He is also the principal investigator of the Boxer Computer Environment Project, an integrated system that allows non-experts to perform a broad range of tasks, including programming.
In this book the author investigates if education can be transformed by the computer so that children "achieve much more in learning than most expect" (p. xii) as a rule not as an exception. In fact, the whole book serves to confirm and prove the positive answer to this question. It is refreshing to read a book that simplifies neither the issues of literacy, nor the computer literacy. The author defines literacy as "socially widespread patterned deployment of skills and capabilities in a context of material support (that is, an exercise of material intelligence) to achieve valued intellectual ends" (p. 19). He uses the term of "computational literacy" to draw the parallel between the roles that traditional and computational media play in the process of learning and cognition.
The book is directed to a wide and rather general audience. The author avoids complicated terms and uses accessible language. His style is personal, friendly, and enticing. It is accessible and easy to follow. However, to my taste, the usage of many intuitively understood and quite complicated terms (e.g., information, information society, knowledge, know-how, competence, etc.) is too messy and indiscriminate. "The notes and resources" part at the end of the book does not help much in this respect.
The first half of the book is mainly devoted to the explanation of learning process, specifically the role of the intuitive knowledge that serves as a foundation for scientific understanding. Another pillar of learning, according to the author, would be "the structure of activities" that demands to apply knowledge and enhances it at the same time. Great attention is paid to the commitment in learning as this would be the major success and satisfaction factor. diSessa argues that there is an enormous potential in computer applications that could provide students with a creative stimulation of curiosity and material resources not only to satisfy it, to find the best way of self-expression by using and constructing interactive forms.
The potential of learning by using computers and special computer applications is demonstrated by description of natural science and math studies by using Boxer software. The second part of the book provides illustrative examples of children's creativity, enthusiasm, and engagement in learning process together with more general considerations of the role of computers, Internet, information and technology in education and societal life. The introduction of so many successful instances of usage of Boxer software without any critical approach inevitably creates the impression of a promotional material. On the other hand this might suit the purposes not only of the author but also of the intended public, which might expect the support to their enthusiasm when embracing new forms of education. In particular, the developers of information literacy programmes may find fresh insights and ideas for their work in this part of the book.
Dr. Elena Macevičiūtė