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Engineering Play

Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children's Software

Mizuko Ito
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Engineering Play
    Book Description:

    Today, computers are part of kids' everyday lives, used both for play and for learning. We envy children's natural affinity for computers, the ease with which they click in and out of digital worlds. Thirty years ago, however, the computer belonged almost exclusively to business, the military, and academia. In Engineering Play, Mizuko Ito describes the transformation of the computer from a tool associated with adults and work to one linked to children, learning, and play. Ito gives an account of a pivotal period in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw the rise of a new category of consumer software designed specifically for elementary school--aged children. "Edutainment" software sought to blend various educational philosophies with interactive gaming and entertainment, and included such titles as Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, KidPix, and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?.The children's software boom (and the bust that followed), says Ito, can be seen as a microcosm of the negotiations surrounding new technology, children, and education. The story she tells is both a testimonial to the transformative power of innovation and a cautionary tale about its limitations.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-25891-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    In recent years, digital media and networks have become embedded in our everyday lives and are part of broad-based changes to how we engage in knowledge production, communication, and creative expression. Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are nowcommonplaceandpervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development. Now they have been taken up by diverse populations and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The relationship between children and computers occupies a special place in the imagination of those of us inhabiting the United States in the early twenty-first century. We think of kids as having a natural affinity to computers, as “digital natives” growing up in a world already saturated with computational media (Palfrey and Gasser 2008; Prensky 2006; Tapscott 1998). At times, though, this affinity becomes a source of fear and suspicion as kids reach out to unfamiliar social worlds online (see Cassell and Cramer 2007; L. Edwards 2005) or become “addicted” to fast-paced or violent forms of computer games (see Gunter...

  6. 2 Academics
    (pp. 29-84)

    In an article forBytemagazine published in 1984, Ann Piestrup describes a new media category that she calls “graphics-based learning software.” “Only recently are computer scientists and educators beginning to collaborate to create learning software that can fulfill the promise of the personal computer to transform education.” She argues that unlike text-based computer-aided instruction approaches or entertainment titles that require little interaction on the part of the child, “powerful learning software programs, such as learning game sets and builders, use graphics to convey meaning, not to decorate the screen” (1984, 215). Her article reviews software titles produced at the...

  7. 3 Entertainment
    (pp. 85-142)

    In 1980, while Ann Piestrup (McCormick) was developing her first software titles for the Apple II, Gary and Douglas Carlston were beginning a new venture from their apartment in Eugene, Oregon, shipping plastic sandwich bags with floppy disks that they had copied by hand. This home-brewed company eventually became Brøderbund, the publisher of titles such asJust Grandma and Me and Mystthat defined CD-ROM-based multimedia in the mid-1990s. In 1982, Brøderbund bought the rights to publishBank Street Writer, a word-processing program for children developed by educators at the Bank Street College of Education. This initial foray into children’s...

  8. 4 Construction
    (pp. 143-186)

    Seymour Papert is one of the best-known spokespersons for the use of computers in education, specifically the use of computer programming as an educational tool. Although part of a shared intellectual community and discursive tradition as McCormick and many other educational software developers, Papert is distinctive in his promotion of programming as a key educational and developmental goal. In contrast to the focus on content and curriculum that characterizes most educational software, for Papert, content is secondary to what he calls “technological fluency,” or the ability to perform the new forms of literacy enabled by computer technology. Published in 1980,...

  9. 5 Conclusion
    (pp. 187-194)

    The production, distribution, and play of learning software involve the intertwining of different genres, social agendas, and educational philosophies. These dynamics include the negotiation between adults and kids who are performing the academic, entertainment, and construction genres; the ideals of learning, fun, and creativity; and the politics of enrichment, indulgence, and empowerment. The three genres are tied to different social investments: edutainment is a vehicle for producing class and educational distinction; entertainment produces age-cohort identity by creating a space of childhood pleasures defined in opposition to adult disciplines; and construction supports a subjectivity of creative self-actualization tied to technical mastery....

  10. Notes
    (pp. 195-196)
  11. References
    (pp. 197-208)
  12. Index
    (pp. 209-234)