Saturday, August 11, 2012

Teaching in an "On Demand" World

Call me old fashioned, but I think we have lost sight of "real time." I know to some of you, this is going to come off sounding like a rant, and if you feel that way, then I apologize for being a little self-indulgent.

(Commence Rant)
I understand that we are in a digital age. DVR, Hulu, and the like lets us watch our favorite television shows whenever we want after they are broadcast. I can upload the pictures I just took of my kids to Facebook, Twitter, etc. to show all of my friends. For that matter, I could have just taken 50 pictures of said children and upload them all, good, bad or indifferent. I get emails from USA Today telling me the breaking news (including spoiling all of the good stuff in that is going to broadcast in Prime Time Olympic coverage). I think we have gotten way too spoiled with all of this.

Not everything can be so immediate. Twitter conversations can be read at any point in time, but it does lose a little when you are replying to a tweet 18 hours after it happens. Regardless of the time lag, I'm still glad when people do respond later on. Sometimes it helps me find something I missed. There are all sorts of interactions that happen online at scheduled times, like #mathchat or the Global Math Department meeting. As much as I'd like to take part in these, there are other things going on in my life that may preclude my involvement, so I miss them. I might be able to go back and find an archive of #mathchat or maybe at some point, whoever is doing the Global Math Department meeting may decide to record it and upload it to the internet, but it won't be the same as interacting in real time. Twitter Math Camp was a phenomenal experience, but like any other in real life conference, if you can't attend, you miss out. Maybe someone will be wonderful and blog about their experience at the conference and if you're really lucky, it got taped and posted on the internet, but again, if you couldn't make it, you missed it.

As much as the digital age has connected us, I think it has also caused us to lose sight of the most important connection - the human connection. I mean the face-to-face, real time connections we make. We have become so accustomed to on demand stuff that we have forgotten that there is this thing called real life that should take precedence. And this attitude has permeated society. I watched last night and this morning as hours before the actual announcement of Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential running mate it was revealed who it was going to be. Whatever happened to the element of suspense and surprise?
(End rant)

So how does this relate to math education? After all, that's what I blog about here... As I think of the nature of learning mathematics, it takes time. Mathematics is not always neat and pretty. In fact, it can be rather messy for many students. In a culture of immediacy, how do you develop in students the perseverance that is often necessary to be successful? If students are looking to work the problem(s) quickly, get the correct answer, and move on, and they don't, how do you keep them going without them giving up? How do you get them past the instant gratification they are constantly seeking? That's the larger issue I see through all of this. As adults, we know that we can't always get what we want quickly. If we think hard enough, we can recall what it was like before the internet and cell phones (well, most of us anyway). These students don't know anything else. How do you blend both worlds successfully?


Anonymous said...

You make some great points! I love my DVR because it lets me watch TV on my schedule as opposed to some network schedule; however, I have noticed that it does create some bad habits. I have found myself wanting to "rewind" people, because I have gotten lazy about paying attention.

Max Ray said...

I was visiting my grandmas in Iowa and Ohio this weekend and one thing I was thinking about a lot was that since they aren't on Facebook or email, the only way to connect is to write, phone, or visit. It's hard to visit and I am not good about picking up the phone to actually make a voice call, and so I don't see them as much as I want to... but the quality of the connection through phone, letter, and visit is so much better! I feel loved when I get a card or hang up after a good chat, in a way that I don't when my mom or my aunt clicks "Like" on my Facebook status. The balance between quantity and quality is tough to manage!

And to me that also connects to math education (hey, what doesn't?!?). How do we balance giving kids quality feedback with the quantity of feedback they need? It sounds weird, but I actually think they need some of that personal feedback that shows we care about them, as people but also as thinkers and mathematicians, the kind that's more like a letter or a phone call than a "Like".

I really like things like the Problems of the Week for helping teachers manage giving quality feedback balanced with quantity feedback (I think of it as an online problem-solving journal, so I can totally imagine it being done offline with INBs, composition books, etc...). When kids get a chance to write their math ideas in exchange for a personal note from you (maybe once or twice a quarter, not necessarily every kid every week!) it can make a real difference in their willingness to slow down and use some non-instant communication. It's like getting a card from Grandma (minus the Hallmark rhyme and $2...) and while it may seem quaint to them, they also feel the care.

PS -- I have a friend who used to do math journaling with her students and grade them every quarter. Each quarter the submissions got worse, and more boring. Than one day she decided to just write notes to the kids on Post-it notes and stick those in the journals with no grades. The kids started to write more when they were ungraded, and the Post-it notes became a big deal in class. The kids saved each one and read the feedback eagerly. Go figure!