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Home | Tag Archives: education op-ed

Tag Archives: education op-ed

Op-Ed: We Need To Treat All of Education As If Computers Exist

Have you ever heard of the app “PhotoMath?” PhotoMath allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to write out a math problem, point their device at it, take a picture, and the app will solve the problem, step by step, in less than 5 seconds.

From simple math to calculus and everything in between. Check out the video above to see how it works.  (Photomath app main features from Photomath Support on Vimeo.)

Suddenly, those 50 assigned algebra homework questions don’t seem so bad. And if PhotoMath can’t help, how about zooming over to Wolfram Alpha where it will gladly not only solve the problem step-by-step, but also graph, rewrite it in an alternative format, all for free.

Don’t you wish that PhotoMath were around when you were in high school?

Need to write an essay about Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and it is due tomorrow? Or maybe Orwell’s 1984? Or how any of about 40,000 other books? No problem, scoot on over to enotes.com and have at it.

Plot, critical analysis, as well as hundreds of e-texts, all for free just awaiting you to come use them. Oh, and you can get math word questions answered there as well.

Technology has changed the way students have access to information. Where once students relied solely on teachers and librarians as their fonts of knowledge, now Google and smartphones are just as reliable and in many instances, more encompassing that any librarian or teacher could ever have been.

Unfortunately, the change in technology has not changed the assignments by much. Students are still being asked to solve 50 homework math problems, write reports on topics that can easily be looked up in Wikipedia and complete solo assignments as if classes were being conducted in 1979, not 2019.

Educator Alan November, in his TED Talk “What is the Value of a Teacher” calls this “old work with new tools.” Giving students assignments that were essentially developed 50 years or more ago, or hadn’t changed in any meaningful way in 50 years, to students that are using modern tools results in the same type of product that was produced 50 years ago: solo, quickly done, and without much learning taking place. Think about any report you wrote in high school. Can you remember the topic of a single one?

Probably not.

There is a saying among educators that if the questions can be “googled” for an answer, it probably is not a good question. Indeed, nowadays , questions that simply ask for facts (What is the address of the White House? What is the population of Houston Texas?) are considered trivia. Why waste time on a question that can easily be looked up?

The time has come for educators to realize that computers are a way of life, are not going away, and that the way students retain and receive information is miles apart from anything that happened prior to say, the advent of Web 2.0 in 2005.

Where is the White House? Who cares. What is more interesting is asking students if they were going to put the capital of the United States somewhere, where would they put it? The population of Houston? Who cares. But asking “Why do you think Houston has a population of 2.3 million and El Paso a population of only 750,000?”

Both of those questions do not have an answer on Google, or Bing, or anywhere else. Both of those require students to think. And both of those can be used to get students from different areas of the country working with each other on an answer.

If we continue giving yesterday’s work to today’s students using today’s tools we are going to still get the same results we always have. If however, we start using today’s tools to ask today’s questions to today’s students, then we will start changing the education game.

Conrad Wolfram, the guy behind Wolfram Alpha said back in 2018 that is was time for schools to build math curriculum “that assumes computers exist.” What he meant by that was, let the computers do the heavy lifting, the calculating.

Let the students do the thinking, coming up with the ideas of WHERE and WHEN the heavy lifting should be used.

But instead of just math, we need to rethink curriculum as if computers existed in everything: Science, Social Studies, Arts, you name it. Only then will we trust see the truly transformative nature of technology in education.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Screens Down

Over the years, educators in higher ed have lamented that students at the college level seem to prefer their laptops that they bring to class over what is being taught during class.

Clifford Stoll in the 1990’s was probably the first professor to complain, all the while making incredible statements like “no one would ever order anything over the internet” and “electronic books would never become popular” while declaring in Newsweek “no online database will replace your daily newspaper.”

Stoll, a grumpy contrarian and world’s worst futurist, no longer teaches, however he has some company on his anti-tech in the lecture hall rants.

Daniel Willingham, best selling author of “Why Kids Don’t Like School” brings a gravitas to the argument, being a practicing cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. He always, however, prefaces his arguments with “I am not anti-technology” before jumping off into the anti-technology abyss.

Willingham’s arguments are a bit more subtle, saying that the human brain can’t “multitask” therefore his students cannot simultaneously be paying attention to him AND their laptops. Others academicians have joined the crowd as well.

Joelle Renstrom at Boston University appears clueless as to why any student would rather stare at a computer screen than listen to her talk. Like Willingham before her, she took her complaints online, writing “And Their Eyes Glazed Over,” on Aeon.co wondering what makes that damn screen so fascinating.

Can students that are on their devices during a class lecture actually learn?

Renstrom wrote in her piece: “Some researchers think that we’re addicted to our technology. Psychologists have for years debated whether to add Internet Addiction Disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Internet Gaming Disorder is currently in the ‘Conditions for Further Study’ section of the DSM). Advocates argue that internet addiction involves all the classic components of addiction: excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance and negative repercussions. But it’s tricky to distinguish between compulsion and addiction – some psychologists don’t believe that internet addiction is an actual disorder, but rather a consequence of boredom or unhappiness (similarly, television addiction isn’t an official disorder, either).”

This could have come straight from a Willingham article. Willingham once wondered why a student would be more interested in her Aunt’s Cookie recipe than what he had to offer at the front of the room. What could possible be the reason?

The professor vs. the technology. It is an interesting battle to watch, because in almost any instance, the technology wins. The professor might win the battle in a single classroom, but the technology will almost certainly win the attention war. (I wonder how Professors at UTEP feel about it?)

What could possible be the reason the Aunt Anna’s cookie recipe is more interesting than a lecture on cognitive psychology?

That is EXACTLY the question that every single one of these professors need to be asking. Why is what is on a screen more interesting than what I have to say and what I am teaching?

There is very little metacognition by these professors. Am I a good lecturer? Is my subject interesting? If not, how can it become interesting? Does my class reflect the needs of my students? Does my class offer a wide variety of learning strategies or is it sit and get?

How can I meet the needs of my students and meet them where they are? Am I forcing students to adapt to my teaching style, or am I adapting to their learning style? Who is the customer here?

Am I meeting my needs or my student’s needs?

What have they done to make whatever they are doing more interesting than what is on the little screen?

Renstrom even implies “Well, they are paying for it, they SHOULD be better students” when she writes “One might think that the whopping $65,000 cost of attending Boston University for a year would provide ample reason to maintain focus during class, but one would be wrong.”

I would venture to say that if I were paying $65,000 a year for an education, that it better be the best education possible. But who defines what is the “best?” Is she worth the $65K being plopped down by these students and their parents? I have been in rooms with people that barely made it out of high school that are articulate, entertaining, and frankly mesmerizing when they speak.

I have also been in the presence of PhDs that would put you into a mental coma faster than a bottle of Benadryl. The “best” education utilizes the best teachers and the best teaching strategies. Lecturing is not high on the list of “best” teaching practices.

Renstrom talks about having her students do reflection, and how they tell her how they procrastinate and are generally terrible students. But she never says how many of these distracted students actually do on her assessments.

Do they all fail? Does she have a lot of failures compared to her colleagues? Is she passing her students because of that cool $65K they pop into the coffers every year? How does her failure rate compare to nearby similar universities? If her students are passing, then what is the issue? A long time ago, before laptops, I was told that if more than 25% of my students failed a test, it wasn’t the student’s fault. It was my fault. I wonder if she ever heard that.

I am amazed at the lack of self refection that higher ed does when they bleat about students using tech in their lecture halls. Then I chuckle when they use technology to complain about technology.

Screens down.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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