Children as e-designers : how do they understand learning?

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This thesis reports an investigation into children's understanding of learning, as they engage with an e-Iearning design challenge. It begins by making a case that children's views of learning are of crucial significance, not only because of their position as pre-eminent learners in families and societies, but also because their learning is at the heart of our culture's aspirations for education. Then, it examines a selection of prior studies of learning in e-design contexts in order to gauge the advantages of seeking the views of children about learning in an e-design context. This consideration revealed the technological and educational potential of e-design, suggesting that such a context would be opportune here. Fortuitously, a large, ARC-funded Linkage Project (GENESIS - Generating e-Iearning Systems in Schools) provided just such an e-design context. In this project, researchers were keen to investigate whether the slowness of schools in appropriating e-Iearning might be offset when students have a sustained opportunity to conceive, design and, as far as possible, build an e-Iearning environment in which they and other students could explore questions they were passionately curious about. As a case study within the GENESIS Project, this study followed Papert's (1973) five-step process of educational research. First, a theory of education (a biologically based generative theory) was selected. Next, the ensuing set of conditions for the intellectual growth of children (the e-Iearning design challenge itself) was laid out. These conditions were then implemented within the context of The GENESIS Project: the children were equipped with the opportunity and resources to design an e-Iearning environment to explore a science-and technology topic of their choice (How and why do we think? How come we're not born with the knowledge we know now?). Of the large set of project data, six accounts were selected as representative of the diversity and commonality of children's learning and their understanding of learning in this study. Findings revealed that these children understand learning as generating, testing and thereby modifying ideas, they appreciate that these events are influenced by each learner's values and they recognise value in undertaking this knowledge gaining activity as part of a learning community. Furthermore, these children explicitly enact opportune learning experiences, particularly technologically, demonstrating their fluency as technological thinkers, capable of having technological ideas about learning.
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