Baby laptops

Baby labtop multimodal blog van Leeuwen
Taking a dog (or other animal) to school was once a common theme in children’s stories. The moral was always the same. The dog was disruptive, could not sit still, didn’t understand what the teacher said, and eventually had to leave the classroom.

In this baby laptop, recommended in an accompanying leaflet as “a foundation for language and literacy development”, a puppy dog is the teacher. “Hello”, he says, in a childish voice, his face lighting up: “Do you want to play? Can you find the number two?”

When baby presses the orange button with the number two on it, he responds enthusiastically: “Number Two! One-Two! Orange triangle! Wraf Wraf!”. When she presses the blue button, he sings the alphabet, to a happy tune. And so on. “40+ learning activities and songs for baby to explore”
But learning is piecemeal, prone to distraction, interrupted by play. “Can you push my biscuit up to my paw? Thank you”.

“Do you want to play peek-a-boo?” (this can be done by lifting and closing the lid – “Peek-a-boo”, says the dog when the lid is opened again).

So baby learns – about letters and numbers and geometrical shapes, but above all about what a laptop is – a constant to and fro between learning and distraction, instruction and entertainment. And an object that must be loved – a faithful dog wanting to be touched, but ultimately taking you by the lead.

Wraf wraf.


Mind(less?) maps

Mind(less?) maps


This is a diagram features from a junior high school history textbook. It is headed ‘Mind Map or Concept Map’. A mind map, the young learners are instructed, “allows you to organizes and present your thoughts on a given topic. It is a great way to brainstorm information individually or in groups”. A concept map, on the other hand, “organizes ideas in a hierarchical branching structure using words and captions” and concepts “can be linked with phrases such as ‘results in ‘contributes to’ ‘impacts on’”

But what is this?  A mind map or a concept map? Free association or hierarchical branching? The text does not disclose it.

Yes, ‘citizens’ and ‘metics’ were two kinds of ‘members of society’ in ancient Athens – but they were not equals, and they were not the only kind of ‘members’.  There were also slaves, for instance.

And what do the links mean? Is jewellery ‘a kind of’ clothing?  Or does clothing perhaps  ‘result in’ or ‘contribute to’ jewellery? What do we make of this?

Mindmaps were an invention of advertisers in the early 1950s to assist in creative brainstorming, hierarchical branching structures a tool for rigorous, scientific classification. But here the distinction is not so clear.

In the age of Enlightenment, John Locke wrote “To express methodical and rational thoughts, a man must have words to show what connexion, restriction, distinction, opposition, emphasis &c, he gives to each respective part of his discourse”. New words were invented as a result. Words that still pepper academic discourse. Words like ‘however’, ‘notwithstanding’, and ‘consequentially’

In diagrams we have just two kinds of links,  lines and arrows, to express a multitude of relations. Should we invent different arrows to signify ‘results in’, ‘impacts on’, contributes to’ and so on? Or should we enjoy the creative drift of the   and the cognitive labyrinth it leads us into?