It is a very difficult thing to find the right blend of tech and tools in the mathematics classroom. On one hand, you want to have as many educational tools available for your students to aid in learning. On the other hand, it is difficult to determine which tools to which your students will respond well. I’ve seen many tools implemented well and others not so well.
When it comes to mathematics there are some tools that just make sense in the classroom. You certainly wouldn’t want to prohibit calculators or touchscreen tablets/laptops. (Personally, I would like to ban calculators in the mathematics classroom, but the problems with that are a another blog altogether!) These sorts of tools just go hand in hand with making learning easier for students. Additionally, it is fairly easy to gauge how distracted your students are with these tools. You can expect students to spend no more than a few seconds on a calculator and it is extremely difficult to take math notes if a touch screen device is used for anything but a paper substitution.
Unfortunately, there are some common tools that I think do more harm than good. The biggest perpetrator in my book are online mathematics assessment tools (i.e. online homework, quizzes, or tests graded by the computer). In my years tutoring and teaching math, I have never had more problems with anything like the online assessment tools! These sorts of tools are supposed to easy tools that allow students to have multiple practice problems and guided example solutions as well as saving instructors time with grading formative assessments. The tool is great in theory, but the implementation… Oh, the implementation.
In math, there are just some things a computer can not do. Just like the humanities, a computer can not assess a student’s true understanding of a topic. Something as simple as a misplaced negative sign can result in a wildly different answer from the correct one. Many of these assessment tools can not identify these small problems and adjust partial credit accordingly. More often than not, students simply get no credit for the problem and their resulting grades are not representative of their actual understanding. Some people may think, “This is fine. Students need to be diligent in their work and be mindful of mistakes”, but the problem gets much worse. Many of these assessments are very picky with the form of their answers. Students will often lose points for rounding to 3 places instead of 4 or for not simplifying the exact way it is looking despite equivalence in answers. There is nothing more frustrating than fighting with a computer over what you know is right.
There are so many tools I support in the mathematics classroom, but online assessment tools are BANNED. I do not mind having to go through all assessments by hand if it means my students get the feedback they deserve. If time is a factor, say there are too many students, then it is time to adjust how I’m evaluating my students (limiting the number of assignments, reducing the length of assignments, getting more teaching assistants, etc). I feel this is more fair to my students and aids in learning a lot better. I’m open to just about any tech or tools in the classrooms except online assessment tools until artificial intelligence advances enough to not penalize human error so heavily!
Math Pun of The day: What is a frog’s favorite function? The deribbitive.
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