LIS 385T.15
Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems
Summer 1998


How can artificial intelligence be used in the education of our children, especially our younger children? This is the question I explored in this project. There are expert systems, simulations, computer assisted instruction, and other technological adaptations in education. What I found out is that while AI per se is not being used much, the search itself for AI has produced some profound implications for educators. Many AI researchers have begun looking at public education with a new perspective as to how learning takes place in a society saturated with virtual reality, the Internet, video games, and other such technologies. They are exploring the reformation of a system built on the three Rs. Many of these researchers are realizing that such an educational system may be ineffective in producing adults who will successfully use the technology of the future. They claim that the focus should be on a system that adapts media to serve the needs of the individual. Most believe, as David Sewell wrote in his book New Tools for New Minds, that technology is both a tool (a way to express skills) and a means to an end, the end being cognitive growth.

"Constructionism" is a theory of learning and a strategy for education. Constructionism is based on two different senses of construction. It is based on the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, not by having information "poured" into their heads. Moreover, constructionism asserts that people learn with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in "constructing" personally meaningful artifacts (such as computer programs, animations, or robots). Much of the work of constructionism, as well as artificial intelligence, has occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Epistomology and Learning Group is a part of the MIT Media Lab group dedicated to the multidisciplinary study, invention, and creative use of enabling technologies for understanding and expression by people and machines. Some of the foremost proponents for a new system of education, such as Seymour Papert, are connected to MIT.

Background and Philosophy

Originally a mathematician, Seymour Papert worked on cognitive development with Jean Piaget in Geneva in 1958-1963 where he first began his work of using mathematics in the service of understanding how children think and learn. Moving to MIT in the 1960s, he worked with Marvin Minsky where he helped found the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and invent the programming language LISP. He also helped invent a simpler form of LISP called LOGO, which he constructed to allow children to program "turtles" to draw intricate geometrical figures. In 1985 he was one of the founders of the Media Arts and Sciences Program and the MIT Media Laboratory and in 1988 he was named LEGO Professor of Learning Research, a chair created for him.

In his book Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, Papert wrote that he became interested in the way a relatively young computer culture was allowing psychologists to develop new ways to think about thinking. This in turn led to the belief that children could also benefit from the way in which computer models seemed able to give concrete form to areas of knowledge that had previously appeared so intangible and abstract. While psychologists use ideas from AI to build formal, scientific theories about mental processes, children use the same ideas in a more informal and personal way to think about themselves.

Using the programming language LOGO to program a "turtle", Papert believed that it was possible to teach aspects of AI to children so that they, too, could think more concretely about mental processes. Children were held back in their education, Papert claimed, because they had a model of learning in which there was a right way and a wrong way to do something. But when programming a computer, the programmer almost never gets it right the first time. The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized, Papert proposed, learners might be less intimidated.

Papert wrote that when Piaget talked about the developing child, he was really talking about the development of knowledge. As a mathematician and Piagetian psychologist, Papert had been interested in studying computational models that would help him better understand the developmental process. He said that some studies in AI have tended to use deductive methods that would enable conclusions to be drawn from general principles while others draw on large pools of knowledge which can be used to solve problems. These approaches, he claimed, are static. The kind of questions Papert would ask need a dynamic model for how intellectual structures themselves could come into being and change, the kinds of models that are most relevant to education.

Papert said that the computer was a more powerful tool for intellectual development than other new technologies because it put the learner in a new relationship to a domain of knowledge, more active and self-directed. When children used the programming language LOGO to program turtles, they were basically teaching the computer to think. To accomplish this, they have to think about thinking themselves, becoming epistemologists, someone who studies the theory of knowledge. Seen in this light, Papert stated, the computer is not just another powerful educational tool. The computer solves problems in such a way that the abstract and hard to grasp becomes concrete and transparent.

In his more recent book The Children's Machine, Papert notes that there is more involved in literacy that the ability to read. "Becoming literate," Papert asserts, means thinking differently than one did previously, seeing the world differently, and this suggests that there are many different literacies. Papert differentiates between literacy and "letteracy", thus reflecting the media used for the transmission of information and ideas. The mainstream education system addresses only one medium - the printed word.

Exploring new media will change children's relationships with knowledge, as well as to the present education system. Papert declares that children who grow up with the opportunity to explore the world with the latest technologies are less likely to sit quietly through anything even vaguely resembling the elementary-school curriculum. Papert's vision of reform as proposed in Mindstorms has yet to be realized. However, he is still hopeful that change will occur because of at least one aspect of technology - electronic communications.

Recent Applications

Star Logo is the LOGO based programming language which models a decentralized environment, such as a flock of birds or a school of fish. These groups have no leader, are not organized, yet they are able to move in concert. This fascinated Mitchel Resnick of MIT, who developed Star Logo to enable people to explore and learn about this phenomenon. He is involved with people who are developing tools that help people learn new things in new ways.

Resnick is also involved in thinking up new toys, such as the programmable bricks developed in tandem with LEGO, the black box projects which encourages children to think up new science tools, and programmable beads.

Related Web Sites

Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education is an umbrella organization which publishes various scholarly journals for various computer and education interest groups.

Connected Family is a site related to Seymour Papert's latest book, The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Gap. There is information for both adults and children, with suggestions about other links.

Engines for Education from the Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. Engines is a "hyper-book" written by Roger Schank, Director of ILS, and Chip Cleary, a graduate student of Dr. Schank, about what's wrong with the education system, how to reform it, and especially, about the role of educational technology in that reform.

The Great Logo Adventure is a book which explores math, animation, simulation, and geometry using LOGO. While this is an advertisement for the book, there is a good explanation of LOGO, and why it is so successful. Links to other LOGO sites, and a free newsletter. Also tells where to download free LOGO software.

International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education which appears to be more secondary and advanced education. Contains subscription information and papers.

International Society for Technology in Education is an organization dedicated to "teachers helping teachers in the classroom." This site contains a wealth of information for teachers who use technology in their classrooms.

Kids and Computers Site was created to introduce, explain, promote, and sell MicroWorld. The owner of the web site first bought the software for his 4th grade daughter and was so taken with it that he decided to sell it. Lots of hints.

LEGO Mindstorms is the web site celebrating the union of LEGO and LOGO, robotics and engineering, motors and computers in the Robotic Invention System. There are projects to build. Some kids will love this site. There is a nationwide tour this fall which will allow children and adults to see and explore the system robots.

LOGO Foundation web page for families and teachers who are using LOGO. There are links to other sites, places to share hints and tips, projects, and so on.

Microworld is a company that was founded by Seymour Papert that specializes in constuctivist software solutions (LOGO based) for K-8. Provides projects, links, information about using the software. Can download demo software.

Milken Exchange on Educational Technology is an organization which "connects policy to learning, research to practice and public investments to student performance." There is recent news about technology, articles, links, interviews (latest has one from Seymour Papert), projects, and other things of interest. Frequently updated.

The MIT Media Lab. Information about faculty such as Seymour Papert, Mitchell Resnick, Marvin Minsky, Roz Picard, and others involved in Artificial Intelligence research. Also gives information about the various groups which are part of the Media Lab, such as Epistomology and Learning; Machine Listening; Machine Understanding; Vision and Modeling, as well as the research consortia Digital Life, News in the Future, Things that Think, and Toys of Tomorrow.

Robert Lawler is from Purdue University and has written about education and artificial intelligence. Excerpts from his book are available at the site. The emphasis here is on advanced education.

Tools for the Future is a site which explores ideas for new tools and ways to do things. Most of those involved are from MIT. There are some very interesting ideas at this site.


Lawler, Robert W.; Computer Experience and Cognitive Development; Ellis Horwood, Ltd.; Chichester, England; 1986; 275 p.

Maddux, Cleborne D., D. LaMont Johnson and Jerry W. Willis; Educational Computing: Learning with Tomorrow's Technologies; Allyn & Bacon; Boston; 1997; 351 p.

Papert, Seymour; The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer; Basic Books, Inc; New York; 1993; 241 p.

-----; Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas; Basic Books, Inc; New York; 1980; 230 p.

-----; "Obsolete Skill Set";

Sewell, David; New Tools for New Minds; St. Martin's Press; New York; 1990; 231 p.

Snyder, Tom and Jane Palmer; In Search of the Most Amazing Thing: Children, Education and Computers; Addison-Wesley Publ. Co.; Reading, Massachusetts; 1986; 156 p.

Prepared by Deva Brown Graduate Student of Library and Information Science, The University of Texas at Austin