It’s the Stupid Computer!

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Researcher Annika Lantz-Andersson has taken an interesting look at how students respond to making mistakes while being tutored with mathematics software. Comparing both traditional textbook students to those using mathematics software she found that the computer-based group had a decided tendency to blame the computer (or the software) when they got a problem wrong:

“When students attempting to solve a mathematical problem, were informed by the computer that their answer was incorrect, they often focused on trying to find the reasons for this in the functions of the educational software itself. ‘They would maintain that their answers merely needed to be rephrased, that the computer’s answers were wrong in the same way as answers on an answer key of a mathematics textbook could be wrong, or provided other similar explanations,’ says Annika Lantz-Andersson. Her study shows that the often-repeated proposition that educational software is self-instructing is just not true.” [1]

What seems apparent from Lantz-Anderson’s work is that software employed in this fashion has to be used in conjunction with a teacher who gives feedback in order for the software to be effective as a teaching tool. As the old teaching maxim goes: “Telling is not teaching,” even if a computer does the telling.

“The extremely rapid increase in educational software predicted around the year 2000 has not been realised, although most textbooks today have a digital application linked to their conventional text. ‘Educational software has many advantages, not least its interactivity and its opportunity to promote cooperation amongst the students. There is still a strong belief that digital technology improves learning, despite the fact that this has not been proven’, declares Annika Lantz-Andersson. ‘Instead of getting mired in a debate about how digital tools can solve various types of classical pedagogical problems, it would be more relevant to focus on the new types of interaction and knowledge that can arise from the use of digital tools.’”  [2]

Annika Lantz-Andersson presented these findings as part of her thesis “Framing in Educational Practices. Learning Activity, Digital Technology and the Logic of Situated Action” at the Department of Education, University of Gothenburg, on Friday, 29 May, 2009.

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