Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World

By Yasmin Kafai; Mitchel Resnick | Go to book overview

The Shadow Box

Reith et al. ( 1989) have designed yet another variation of the classical perspective-taking experiment that is worth mentioning. In this case, none of the participants involved knows what the object actually looks like. Each has a partial view in the form of a shadow projection and needs to exchange information with others to figure out the shape of the "hidden object." The setting is a big box containing a 3-D object. The vertical sides of the box are semiopaque screens showing four shadow projections of the object. A person is seated in front of each window. No movement is allowed around the display. This experiment provides an excellent metaphor for what actually happens in any other perspective-taking situation. Objects are never visible. They are always "hidden" in the sense that they do not present all their faces at once. As in the shadow-box task, people necessarily reconstruct objects, for themselves and with others. They do so by keeping hold of partial presentations as seen from specific station points, and by imposing stabilities upon reliable changes in presentations, as noticed through moving around in consistent ways.


CONCLUSION

The most important contribution of the "situated cognition" approach is that it has brought back subjectivity, standpoint, and context to the center of discussions about knowledge and learning. In stressing the deeply personal and rooted nature of what we know and how we come to know, authors have challenged the view prevalent among developmentalists that removed analytical modes of thought are necessarily more advanced, and that cognitive growth is a smooth progression from concrete to abstract, from fusion to separation, from egocentrism to decentration.

On the other hand, we know from Piaget, Kegan, and others ( Winnicott, 1971) that the ability to reach deeper understanding also requires moments of separation. As Kegan eloquently put it, cognitive growth emerges as a result of people's repeated attempts to solve the unresolvable tension between getting embedded and emerging from embeddedness ( Kegan, 1982). Without connection people cannot grow, yet without separation they cannot relate. People need to get immersed in situations, but there also comes a time when they want to step out. They detach themselves by projecting their experience. They "objectify" it and they address it "as if " it were not theirs. They recast what has happened to them to make it more tangible. They become their own observers, narrators, and critics. Then, again, they newly reengage their previously "objectified" experience. They dive back into it and try once more to gain intimacy. Both "diving in" and "stepping out" are equally needed to reach deeper understanding.

Research on perspective-taking has illustrated how people drift in and out of their viewpoints, and how this drifting leads to the construction of a God's-eye-

-32-

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