A Very Merry Constructionist Christmas

At the risk of sounding like a Windows 7 commercial, it really is a great time to be a learning technologist. Before I provide Exhibit A of this statement, let me first interject a quick quote to set the context.

“Constructionism–the N word as opposed to the V word–shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity”

{-Seymour Papert and Idit Harel}

With constructionism in mind, I give you…Elf on a Shelf. Love them or hate them, the phenomenon has been around since 2005, but really took off this holiday season. In fact, the Huffington Post has already noted that, “what started as a sweet attempt to convince children to behave for Santa has turned, inevitably, into a creepy Internet meme.” Admittedly, I had no interest in the doll or the story until the meme took off. I don’t have children of my own and most of my nieces and nephews are all teenagers who have long since stopped believing in the magic of Christmas (and therefore Santa). However, when pictures like these started popping up, my interest was piqued.

Now, what strikes me the most about these images is that three of them reference popular movies. Another references a popular SNL skit. Five of them deal specifically with drugs/sex. And the last one depicts a hunting scene, a popular hobby for many.

   

    

Why is this interesting to me? Well, these scenes represent time and effort that someone has invested in constructing meaning out of two separate contexts. They have taken an innocent toy and used it to create or re-create situations that mimic life and culture. This creative endeavor requires making connections between concepts and contexts. There’s also a visual literacy present in the concept that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” With one still image, the “artists” (I’ll use that term loosely here) have managed to capture complex emotions, themes, issues, and more.

What’s more fascinating is how the social phenomenon took off. What started as a few individuals posting pictures of silly situations (one friend posted a picture of her Elf and her daughters’ Barbie Dolls making “snow angels” in a pile of flour on the kitchen floor) has exploded into a social creation that has morphed into something else entirely. There’s even crossover into the LOL cat meme with some individuals taking simple pictures and adding witty (or creepy) captions.

Arguably, I see this as a form of social constructionism whereby a group is building a knowledge structure with no direct regard for learning. Depending upon the audience, there is much that can be taken away from this phenomenon, whether you find it or the subject matter appropriate or not.

To close out this post, I think I’ll leave y’all with probably my favorite “bad” Elf on a Shelf. This one depicts one of my favorite movies…surely you can guess which one.

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