Sunday, November 19, 2017

Another Problem with Computer-Based Learning

I am not a fan of computer-based courses except when the alternative is nothing. If the choice is Moodle or nothing, then Moodle wins, but it's not a great solution. Even a mediocre teacher is better than an online course. Charter schools who offload the majority of teaching onto computer programs are doing a real disservice to their students. Computer programs are far too often limited in what they accept as correct answers, too limited in their explanations, and not particularly well thought out.

Style and colors win out over physics.

The example that prompted this note is below. In the exercises for an online edition of a physics textbook, there was this unit conversion problem that asked students to convert km/hr to m/s, a fairly simple but important task. The student had to drag and drop circles onto a fraction structure - the task was to replicate this pattern:

This is the only acceptable answer, however. Any different arrangement was deemed incorrect:

Those "Learn more" links simply repeated the advice to convert the length measurement first without ever giving any reasons why the fractions should be in that order.

It's programmed that way. No exceptions allowed, even if they are correct.

The worst part? It hasn't been fixed. I sent a note three months ago. This content was written and published at least four years ago. Why the holdup?

1 comment:

  1. Hello Curmudgeon :)

    I so agree with this post. I am an aspiring high school teacher (in English and Mathematics) working on my Masters in Education at University of Michigan, and I came across this post and feel it’s spot on. Quick personal note: as part of the requirements to become certified in Math, I had to take an online Linear Algebra course. Aside from the obvious challenges of working through the material with only the use of an online textbook, the ultimate struggle was how the assessments were run. I wasn’t able to show my work, and only received credit for my answers on homeworks and exams if they were entered into an online platform in the EXACT format required (For example, I would get 0 points for entering a vector if I forgot the parenthesis, even if my calculations were correct). I made it through, but it wasn’t pretty!

    When I think about students in high school or grammar school being exposed to this type of learning, I cringe. The beauty of math is that it teaches a way of thinking and problem solving. All through my schooling in Math, showing thoughtful work was worth more than the final answer. It instilled in me an organized, structured way of approaching a problem that has benefitted me in many fields outside of Math. When that concept is reversed, and the answer at the end is more important than the journey, students resort to googling answers and keying in calculations, and fail to develop those critical skills in organized thought. Anyway – it’s something we can combat by avoiding the online games and gimmicks that have become so popular. Maybe more people will come around in time as well!