AppReview, Discussion

From Barbie to Mortal Kombat

I was never a gamer.  No interest at all.  The closest I’ve gotten to liking games is playing Wii with my 6 year old nephew.  We were competing in a dirt bike race through the mountains.  That was fun, but only because he was so silly about it.

The very first incarnation of iXMessage was back in 1995, when Sun Microsystejavams held a coding contest for it’s new coding platform, Java.  The Java version I used to submit my app was the very first version called Personal Java.  What was clear to everyone who jump on this train was that the Internet, and companies like Sun, were providing a way to circumvent the power of the technology giants.  The ones who were preventing innovation.

Shortly after that I began researching the issue of girls in technology.  At that time, the collaboration of industry, scientists, feminists, and educators focused on video gaming and how it affected girls and their relationship to technology.  Reading the Code Studio mission statement  in my previous post, reminded me of the following.

barbieKombat“…The game console may help to prepare children for participation in the digital world, but at the same time it socializes boys into misogyny and excludes girls from all but the most objectified positions. The new “girls’ games” movement has addressed these concerns. Although many people associate video games mainly with boys, the girls games’ movement has emerged from an unusual alliance between feminist activists (who want to change the “gendering” of digital technology) and industry leaders (who want to create a girls’ market for their games)…” – From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, Gender and Computer Games, by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, published 1998.

This wave of action dived into the issues of the gaming culture, and other crucial issues around girls and technology.  My digging lead me to Seymour Papert and constructionism.

“Constructionism shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as ‘building knowledge structures’ irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”

The context Papert describes here explained what I was seeing early on.   My coworkers would ask me to visit with their daughters for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, at IBM. At first I had no idea what to do, but then instinct kicked in.  I walked my first visitor through a coding session using my tools, as fast as possible, before she got bored, and managed to get her to run her program.  It popped up a big box with a phrase she had selected.  I saw it in her reaction, she thought this was cool.

If I rework Seymour Papert’s statement above for the iXMessage Social Media Platform, I get this:

“iXMessage Social Media Platform is a way for girls to learn about programming by building small applications that look like messages they send to their friends, and their friends send back.”

My hope is that the “context where the learner is consciously engaged” is the iXMessage Social Media Platform, where the “public entity” is iXMessage, and this is how we plant the first ideas that girls can build things with technology, not just buy.

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