Andrea diSessa

Andrea diSessa is director of the Boxer Computer Environment Project at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is the Corey Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education. As the project’s Web site explains, “Boxer is the first example of a ‘computational medium’ for real people....Boxer is based on a literacy model. That is, we want computational media to be useful to everyone, as text is, except we want to extend from a static and linear tradition to a new, dynamic and interactive medium.” DiSessa’s current work focuses on students’ ideas about “patterns of behavior and control” and the development of the concept of force.

T&L contributing editor Matt Bolch spoke with Dr. diSessa about the Boxer Project.

1. Explain the role that the Boxer Computer Environment Project would play in 21st century literacy.

We are still working on Boxer and hope to develop it further as a practical basis for deep penetration into the intellectual workings of many, if not all, school subjects; this is the “literacy model” of technology use in education. The deeper influences we hope to have concern: (1) the models we and others have developed using Boxer for radically changed instruction, deeply empowering both students and teachers; (2) the many good design ideas built into Boxer (such as a pervasive spatial metaphor, and extending text to generic, powerful hierarchical forms) to make it the most broadly usable and most easily understandable computational medium possible; (3) Boxer as a symbol for computational literacies—a medium that transforms how we think and work in all intellectual matters, akin to the civilization-changing influence of reading and writing.

2. Tell us what you're working on currently.

We recently finished a project studying the basic intuitive ideas that students (pre- or early high school) have about “patterns of change and control” (for example, equilibration, threshold, oscillation, pumping), and, from that, teaching them an accessible version of dynamical systems theory. Our project-in-planning is to extend this work to marginalized and at-risk populations, building on culturally common knowledge as a core strategy.