Lauded math program short-changes students, teachers
By Sara Weber and Maddie Friend
There is nothing like the real thing — a sentiment easily forgotten in today’s technological world. Classrooms are turning into computer labs, assignments are electronically submitted and online video tutorials are substituted for qualified professors.
NAU’s recent implementation of a lab and program called The Lumberjacks Mathematics Center, intends to assist students with their assignments through personally modified lessons. The lab stresses the value of virtual education, but still requires students to attend class. In an attempt to emulate the classroom environment, students are required to stay in the lab for the duration of their scheduled class time, even if they finish their virtual work early.
The lab is dedicated solely to students in Math 114 and below, leaving the educational needs of upperclassmen unattended.
The lab uses WeBWork, a free program already available to students enrolled in a math classes. Despite this, the program cost an estimated $11.6 million dollars, according to Arizona Daily Sun. Although the price is outlandish, it is also insufficient for bringing NAU to equivalent technological standards with ASU and UA. Although the program claims to be a “leader in helping students succeed by using technology for instruction and program delivery,” NAU is left struggling to achieve feats already accomplished by our competitors.
According to the Arizona Daily Sun, the program software will monitor which problems students answer questions incorrectly, and “offer help via videos or tips, as graduates and other instructors stroll the room offering help.” This big brother-esque technology seems impressive, but is truly unnecessary. Students spend more than enough time on their computers at home; class time should be focused on communicating with peers and teachers. Solving problems through discussion and application with teachers and fellow students should be encouraged, not deterred.
The university webpage describes the program as a class “requiring fewer faculty to educate more students.” It will require, however, graduate assistants to teach three classes instead of two, as they have in the past. The value of a university education lies in the interaction with professors and scholars in their field. Without this interaction, a university education becomes little more than a cheap Internet tutorial.
Athough the program aims to give students more time to engage in solving their homework problems with a mentor at the ready, it falls short of this objective because it lacks a crucial step: professors teaching students the necessary skills to be successful on their work. Lauded as state-of-the-art, this program instead short-changes students of valuable mathematics skills by forcing them to struggle through hour-long sessions in front of a computer instead of viewing math problems as dynamic issues requiring creative answers.
While commended as a milestone in advancement, the program was more of a PR-fueled campaign for the state and university instead of a viable alternative for mathematics education.
The opening ceremony of the lab was held in the Health and Learning Center and led by the notorious Gov. Jan Brewer. The mid-morning speech was interrupted by protestors disputing SB 1070 and police intervention. The irony here is Brewer, the self-proclaimed “education governor,” cut $170 million from state universities’ budget this year.
With educators relying more and more on websites and online tutoring, students are left to suffer the repercussions of detached instruction. Pushing students into labs only furthers the gap between student and teacher, making it increasingly difficult to ask for help when it is needed. Students should be encouraged to reach out to tutors instead of resorting to computers.
Rather than turning to labs where students will morph into zombiefied renditions of themselves, no longer capable of class participation, teachers should be using class time to apply theories, not just spew out notes from the text. Students need to interact with and apply what the book and notes assert. Conveying information only accounts for half of the learning process; the other half requires active use of the information.
Editor’s note: Sara Weber, Assistant Copy Chief and news reporter, and Maddie Friend, Copy Chief, wrote this editorial on behalf of the staff.