True confessions

Here are two questions we can ask about educational technology.

The differences between them are important.

  1. Is the activity this technology supports more intellectually stimulating than what children would otherwise be doing?
  2. Is the activity this technology supports more intellectually stimulating than what children should otherwise be doing?

I will confess, here, now and publicly that I hold (for example) Khan Academy to the latter standard.

And, it seems to me, the typical defense of Khan Academy is that it should only be held to the former.

What made this difference especially salient for me was a recent article in the New York Times, which describes (among other things) a waffle-cutting app on the iPad. (See video at this link.)

Now, it seems to me that the children in the study were telling the researchers that there is something inappropriate about the activity when the 2-year old was trying to taste the waffle, and the 4-year olds needed to be coerced into not tap, tap, tapping everything on the screen.

But if we imagine a perfected version of the app, optimized for the ways 4-year olds interact with electronics, then we can ask those two questions about the idealized waffle-cutting app.

If kids are cutting virtual waffles in a daycare environment that otherwise provides little to no math talk, then perhaps this app would be an improvement. But I cannot really imagine an app that would be better than having children cut real waffles and talk about the nature of their activity with sympathetic adults as they do so.

I cannot imagine a virtual waffle app that is better than what 2—4 year olds should be doing, which is talking math.

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3 responses to “True confessions

  1. A telling bit of information here, at the end of the article: “Another phase of the NextGen evaluation will examine what kind of guidance teachers need. However, the project is not set up to test whether showing teachers new methods for teaching math without the apps would do just as much good.”

  2. The second question has put into words what I have debated for a few years now when I consider some new tech being promoted by/for teachers.

    Most tech streamlines, creates efficiency, and is flashy. This is fine, but I wouldn’t pride myself on being an efficient teacher.

    Sketchpad (or Geogebra if that’s your thing) has addressed question 2 to me. Dynamic construction in geometry blows the doors off what we could do before statically.

    So, has anyone seen any other hardware or software in the last decade or three that has addressed the second question? I’m hard pressed.

  3. Yeah, I read the article on the waffle app and had the same thought: just give kids a waffle. That is an elegant way of putting the problem though- what SHOULD kids be doing.

    Considering the Khan Academy- that a fair question, and it should be held to both.

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