To help or to hinder? That is the question…

Posted by Marcus on Jan 7, 2016

Technology is a hot topic in the world of education at the moment and there are many different views on its place within the classroom. This think-piece will look at the ideas presented by Conrad Wolfram in his TED talk (Teaching kids real math with computers) and at the points put forward by Dan Willingham in his article “Have Technology and Multitasking Rewired How Students Learn?”

I found Wolfram’s talk to be interesting yet alarming at the same time… He suggests that the step of computation in a maths classroom should be completely replaced by technology. I have to say that I disagree with this suggestion. I feel that we would be completely limiting a student’s understanding by removing this crucial step. If we were to get students to just look for the information they need to put into a computer, surely there aren’t actually learning anything? They are just looking for required variables! If we are to replace this step with technology I would imagine that we would also be seriously limiting the capacity of a child’s working memory, this is something that Willingham talks about at length. He found that “students with a small working-memory capacity… actually learned less”. So if we replace the step of computation with computers, we reduce the working memory capacity and therefore the child learns less? Which is not ideal by anyone’s reckoning. In saying that I disagree with Wolfram, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for technology. I just believe that we need to be selective about how and when we choose to use it. Willingham talks about the use of interactive white boards, he says “the mere presence of technology in a classroom is no guarantee that students will learn more” and this backs up my point about the use of technology… In order for it to be used effectively, we need to be thinking about whether students would make more progress with the technology than they would without it.

When comparing Wolfram Alpha to Khan Academy, they are similarities in as much as they both provide step by step solutions to mathematical problems. The difference between them is the way in which the information is presented. I would probably say that Khan Academy was a much more useful tool if you were lacking the understanding of a particular topic, as the videos generally have explanations for each step whereas Wolfram Alpha is useful if you have a sound understanding, but just wanted a computer to do the work for you. I have come across Wolfram Alpha in the past, as I used to use it to check my answers whilst completing assignments on my previous course and this is the way in which I think this tool should be used.

In summary, my view on technology remains the same… Technology can be very useful however sometimes other sources of technology are more suitable than others. This is why I believe that careful consideration needs to be taken before deciding on the mode of technology to be used (that’s if the technology is even needed at all). The last thing we want to be doing is hindering the progress of a student because of the decision we made about the technology we were going to use.

1 Comment

  1. Laura
    10 January 2016

    I think you make a really good point about every decision we make needs to be centred around what will be the best outcome for the student and what will provide them with the best opportunities from them to progress further and faster with their learning.
    In response to your ideas about the computational element of the mathematics being taken by the computer, I wonder perhaps if this can be a good step. Surely in order to enable the computer to do the calculations it is necessary to pose the right questions about the problem you are going to solve to ascertain which information you need to input to a solution to obtain the correct outcome. Also, the process requires that you ask the correct questions of the computer in order for it to perform the correct calculations for you. Surely everyone remembers putting information into a calculator without knowledge of bidmas and getting the wrong answer.

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