Is the future of mathematics right for everyone?

For some students, hearing the term math may spark an unpleasant memory; a night beating their heads against the textbook or allowing the dog to eat the homework. For others, math may not be a big deal or even sound fun. This may have something to do with being left-brained or right-brained. Maybe that is not exactly the case. Maybe partly the reason for math being such an irritant for some and a relief for others is the way math is taught.

Boise State has adopted a less traditional and more technological approach to math learning with programs such as MyMathLab and Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS), which aim to provide a quick response to students’ abilities and a more individualistic mathematical learning experience. For example, MyMathLab instantly grades homework and quizzes so students can see what their problem areas are.
With ALEKS, rather than being stuck on the same unit as the rest of the class, a student who is proficient in one topic can advance in another. MyMathLab does not offer this option as of yet, however, both technologies allow a different learning environment for math than the traditional lecture textbook approach. But, not everyone belongs in MyMathLab or ALEKS. Not everyone belongs in the textbook lecture approach.

Technology is not for everyone. Sometimes it can be more of a distracter to the learning process than a helpful tool to success. There is also the added possibility for students to cheat their way through the technology programs. One being that students are using the systems online, where it is so easy to simply open up a Google tab. Another, being that the systems do not require work to be shown, so students could actually just guess their way through the system. It is a possibility. No work, no learning.

Dr. Hagerty, director of the Mathematics Department said, “If I go through and evaluate other schools and other programs, the textbook lecture approach, we know from years and years of experience, produces results that pass about 50 percent of our students,” Hagerty said. “By including technology we get passing rates above 60 percent. Some of the things that we do here probably put us at the top end of what passing rates can be, which is 70 percent.”

The key here is individualism. Where one student has immense difficulties, another one exceeds well beyond expectations. With traditional math approaches this is possibly what strays students from enjoying or just learning the required math.

“We have a spectrum of students. If I take this spectrum of students and say ‘okay today I’m starting on one page,’ does everybody belong there?” Hagerty said, it doesn’t seem that way. But when we use the textbook that’s what we have to do. The technology allows us to individualize. And that’s a lot of what gets us from 60 to 70 percent.”

But is this technology approach for everyone? The statistics do show the passing rates of students who use this technology are much higher than those who do not, but what about students who like traditional methods and find no interest in technological mechanisms?

Freshman Allison Bell, a biology and pre-med major, prefers the traditional paper and pencil method. Currently enrolled in Math 147, she has the option to either do her homework on an online math website called WebAssign, which is similar to MyMathLab and ALEKS, or turn it in on paper. She has no interest in WebAssign. For her, the hand-to-pencil-to-paper method is the better way to learn math.

For junior Tanner Daylong, who is studying broadcast communication, paper turn in and online assessment were not optional. He used MyMathLab alongside handing in homework assignments. He said the technology was a bit helpful in his overall learning, but it was the couplet of traditional homework that really helped him learn math.

“Without both,” he said. “It maybe wouldn’t have been as beneficial.”

Are these programs what the students want? What the students need to be successful? It all goes back to individualization. Some students prefer traditional lectures whereas some students adapt well to the technological environment that the present and future of math beholds.

It is inevitable that technology will override traditional teaching methods for the simple fact that it allows professors to individualize in a class of 30 to 40 students. Instead of requiring all students to be on a certain pace in the class, well-advanced young mathematicians can leap ahead.

Forcing the programs on students though? Where’s the individualization in that?

The fact of the matter is math is different for everyone.

Part of the individualism the Mathematics Department seems to forget with these technological advances is the technology does not individualize for those who prefer textbook. Perhaps the future of individualism includes a balance of both so that every student’s individual approaches to math are met.

About the author  ⁄ morganackley

morganackley

Morgan has a never ending love for writing. Majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish Language, she hopes to one day publish a novel and interpret Spanish. Often she can be found daydreaming about traveling, mentally brainstorming ideas for her work-in-progress novel, and longboarding on chilly mornings.