At a certain university in my state, there is a policy which states that they will not grant transfer credit from an institution if that institution offers the course in an online format; this is applied even if they know that only 1 section is offered online and 100 are face-to-face. The policy is applied regardless of the course’s policy on proctored tests for online courses.
At a certain university in a different state, there is a policy which states that they will not grant transfer credit from an institution if that institution allows the use of any calculator in the course; the policy is applied even if students can only use the calculator for trivial purposes (computation). The policy is applied regardless of the course’s assessments of outcomes and regardless of the overall quality of the course.
These issues are coming up in conversations here at the AMATYC conference in Nashville. Both policies are implemented out of negative motivation on the part of the universities … whether a lack of trust for their colleagues or a lack of understanding concerning the uses of technology to support the learning of mathematics. Certainly, universities need to stop their use of arbitrary policies concerning technology, which amounts to a conceited attempt to impose a narrow view of what a ‘good’ math course must be like.
In other conversations, some of my colleagues suggest that we need to present arithmetic and basic skills without the use of a calculator. One person presented a good point in this regard: Some students confuse the input/output from a machine for the mathematics. I agree that students need to have a personal understanding of mathematics. However, we too often present arithmetic as the initial barrier in front of students, a barrier with little redeeming value and almost no long term benefits to students.
At the same time, I routinely see us in a general consensus of what good mathematics is … and what value it has for students. Concepts, properties, choices … reasoning, communication, problem solving. We generally support a ‘common core’ of properties that describe good mathematics. How, then, can we let minor details about technology determine the transfer of credits and the nature of a student’s first “mathematics” course in college? Are we so easily fooled by a surface feature (technology) that we do not see the value of the work going on?
This is not to say that all uses of online learning and calculators is good or valuable. Not at all. If we use that criteria — sometimes not used wisely — we would not grant transfer credit for any course taught in a face-to-face format because research shows that a significant portion of such classes provide no significant learning of mathematics. No technology, no pedagogy is beneficial without regard to the quality and wisdom of usage. Every tool can be used poorly.
It’s time for all of us to make decisions based on an evaluation of all components of a course — the outcomes, faculty, instruction, assessment, and integrity. There is no room for prejudice in dealing with people … or with courses. If a person feels that they are unable to evaluate the quality of a course due to the presence of a particular technology, then their professional responsibility to allow others to make the determination. I would prefer, however, that a person with such a prejudice to seek a better understanding so that their prejudice does not exist anymore.
This is not a problem about ‘us’ and ‘them'; this is a problem about ‘we’. A professional community, committed to providing good mathematics in service to our students and their success. This is not easy work; rich communication is required, and levels of trust. The path forward is always walked by all.
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