Saturday, July 30, 2016

Learning Is Not a Strict Progression

Image Source: Lost My Music, Tumblr
I hope it doesn't come as a shock to anyone by this point, but I am a bit of a geek (my geekdom is bigger on the inside). I recently watched a short video Machine is Us/ing Us for a class and it reminded me of this quote from Doctor Who regarding the progression of time.

I remember in grade school when we would be told to skip lines so that we can go back and add to our rough drafts. That progressed to the dreaded asterisk when we needed to add even more after editing. Followed by arrows for switching the order of paragraphs. Editing became such a nightmare that many students gave up and settled for a lower grade, rather than re-write an essay multiple times.

Today's student has the ability to continue improving a piece of writing without the necessity of re-writing it each time. Google Docs, and newer versions of Microsoft Word, allow the student to see a history of revisions. Now, not only can our students make those changes, they can watch the progression of the changes being made. The Chrome extension Draftback creates an animated video of the changes using the revision history of a document. I haven't used it in a while, but I believe you can speed up the replay to create a time-lapse of the documents creation and edits.


As technology has advanced, we have had the opportunity to advance with it. In addition, computers too are learning from us. When I taught math, I would often make a comment to students that the calculator was not a substitute for their own knowledge. Some human, at some point, invented that calculator and it can only function as it has been programmed. The computer might simplify tasks, however they are not self taught. Computers rely on the programmer starring at a screen of code and formulas.

Image Source: iato19459, Reddit
I will conclude with one final sci-fi reference that puts this into perspective. Data from Star Trek was an android that strived to be more human. While his outside was that of a human, he was in fact a machine. Data spent the better part of Star Trek: The Next Generation trying to become more human and yet couldn't. He wanted to speak with contractions and yet he was unable to and would often say things like "I will..." instead of "I'll..." He was unable to learn from the human because his programming was not written in that way. Data was however able to compute what appeared to be impossible mathematical situations in a few seconds.

Both humans and computers must continue to grow together. We will continue to program computers and build more advanced machines, but they can only go as far as the human creating them. I often tell my students that teaching is like a puzzle. I provide them with my knowledge and experiences which their brain then combines with the knowledge and experiences of other teachers. In the end, the student should surpass the teacher because they are adding to the collective knowledge within their own brains.