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.
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?
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?