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MathGroup Archive 2006

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Re: Re: Re: Mathematica and Education

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg65046] Re: [mg65014] Re: [mg64957] Re: [mg64934] Mathematica and Education
  • From: "David Park" <djmp at earthlink.net>
  • Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2006 23:58:42 -0500 (EST)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at wolfram.com

I think your points are very valid and well presented.

I don't know enough about the economics of the CAS software business, but
they may be pricing themselves away from their market. I know people who
love Mathematica but can't afford to keep up with the latest versions. I
believe that Mathematica can be revolutionary in technical education but it
is not now achieving that goal and there are serious obstacles in getting
there.

I am not a teacher and can only comment at second hand but I also think the
present educational model is far from the quality that could be achieved for
students interested in technical careers.

David Park
djmp at earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~djmp/

From: ggroup at sarj.ca [mailto:ggroup at sarj.ca]
To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net

David,

I agree largely that Mathematica (or any math software) can be used to
great benefit.

One point that I believe your argument takes too lightly is the
availability of the technology. Your example of spinning wheels
becoming obsolete is not really valid. Manufactured clothing is
available everywhere, and there is sufficient variety that it is
available at prices that are accessible to pretty well everyone.

Mathematica and even computers are not.  There is a large cost to buy
and maintain both a computer and a license.  You can argue that
computers are starting to become cheap and common enough that we can
drop computers as a significant cost.  Fine, but a Mathematica license
is not cheap.  Overall value doesn't always win the day when there are
many other financial obligations to consider.

So what is the student to do when they go to work for such a company?
Or even if the company does buy a license, it may not provide a home
license for the employee to use.  Even if they do provide a home
license, you suddenly run into a whole bunch of other issues, like who
owns the IP of anything you might produce.  No such barrier exists
with the pencil and paper model.

I think the crux of the argument is that if you are taught well, it
doesn't matter much how you were taught. There are benefits of all
approaches. The problem lies in the fact that in reality, regardless
of the system, students will not be taught nor learn optimally. With
course loads and all the other pressures of student life, there is no
way that most students can devote enough time to get the most out of
any teaching system. Similarly, with all their other obligations, few
professors have the time to devote to being truly excellent
instructors. So you have to fall to a compromise; knowing that the
average student is only going to absorb a fraction of what you're
teaching in the time that is available, what is important?

From my experience, all technology, no matter how reliable, has some
sort of failure in a teaching environment (how many times have you
seen the projector not work correctly?).  Dealing with these problems
has merit, but it robs valuable time from instruction of other
concepts.  How many times have you seen a university/college level
student go to their professor to figure out how to sharpen their
pencil?

Do these problems with technology outweigh the potential gain by
systems like Mathematica? I don't know. I do know that the
effectiveness of any teaching system boils down to the quality and
motivation of the instructors and students and sadly, even the
administrators.





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