Reflections on a Changing World

I like to reflect on how the world has changed. It reminds me that my understanding and assumptions about the world are often based on outdated information. Much like Euler’s method, it provides me with the opportunity to reassess and adjust, hopefully for a better outcome.

When I was a student, there was no email. In the semester system, I had 3 hours per week with my instructors. They could not intrude upon my time, except during those 3 hours. There were no email reminders or last minute requests to prepare something for class. If I didn’t ask my questions during class or email, I was out of luck. Today, students can send a question via email any time of day or night. But they don’t send many. I, too, can send them emails, if I have an idea of something that might help them prepare. We had a long weekend this quarter. And there were no emails passed. I thought the students were as reluctant as I was to check their email during that beautiful, warm weekend.
When I was a student, there was just me and my textbook. There was no internet. My instructors certainly did not expect me to go beyond my textbook to research the topic (unless they assigned a research paper). Today, there is Google. With a few strokes on the keyboard, a student can find videos and tutorials on any math topic I teach. This allows students to hand-pick the resources they most like.   That might increase student success, especially when a student needs to refresh their skills with a prerequisite topic. How has our teaching changed? Do we expect more of students, knowing that they have this resource? Do we expect more or less of ourselves?
When I was a student, graphing calculators were just coming into existence. No one that I knew had one. We did all of our work analytically. Well, once I took a class in which we wrote programs to carry out numerical methods, but that was a special and unusual class. Today, I expect my students to be proficient at analytical techniques. But I also expect them to develop a better intuition, based on the types of questions that they can answer using a graphing calculator. I expect that they can use their calculator as a tool. The calculator makes some tasks easier. It makes the mathematical experience richer than mine generally were. Do I expect more or less of my students than my teachers expected of me?
When I was a student, there were no online homework systems or ebooks. But teachers oftentimes recommended that we buy the “Student Solutions Manual” or the “Study Guide” to accompany the text. We had to carry our texts around with us. We didn’t have tablets or online access. Today, students can use an ebook and access their text using a tablet or computer. But they may have to use several different Learning/Course Management Systems in a given quarter. Here are some that I’ve had my students use: Course Studio, Etudes, Webassign, MyMathLab, CourseStudio, WileyPlus.   Colleagues in my department have used Aleks and Blackboard and others as well. Again, students have more ready access with these, but mightn’t they distract the students from the learning at hand? And if the medium is hard to figure out or behaves unpredictably, then to what extent does it become a barrier to learning?  Do these systems save time?  Or do they take time?
When I was a student, my life was pretty simple. Each day, I woke up, ate breakfast, and went to school. Between classes, I worked on homework. My parents provided me with food and shelter and a car. There was no need for me to contribute funds to the household. I had a little job to pay for gas and entertainment. Later, my jobs got bigger, which got in the way of school. I found that I had to work fewer hours to stay successful in school. To what extent do my students have a simple, secure life? Does their family provide them with food and shelter? Or do they have to contribute funds to the family household?   Do they have a job that’s manageable?   Or does it get in the way of their school success?
When I was a student, I had about 10 hours worth of television programing that I hoped to watch each week. Today there seems to be an unlimited supply of entertainment, accessible at any time via a computer or smartphone. How does this impact a student’s studies?


What would it be like to be a student today? Perhaps a professional development leave could answer that question. What would it be like to be an 18 – 20 year old student today? I don’t really know of a way to answer that question. Any thoughts?


One thought on “Reflections on a Changing World

  1. I guess it is the old argument that you don’t know the world of someone else unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. We will probably fail to know the world of present-day young students as they will fail in imagining the world we occupied as young students. Removed from our experience is the development that led up to the present day for these students. I asked my students the other day if they knew what a typewriter was since I had done all my papers in college using one. Some had heard of them, but no student had ever touched one. One older Russian student said, “At least you had typewriters.”


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