[Edu-sig] Computer Hatred

Laura Creighton lac at strakt.com
Wed Sep 24 08:35:02 EDT 2003

In a message of Wed, 24 Sep 2003 12:31:13 BST, Shelley Walsh writes:
>I while back I wrote to Kirby about something that happened to me when I
>tried to use Python to help with understanding of mathematical concepts. 
>that time I didn't have time to participate in this group when Kirby
>suggested it, but he told me he posted what I wrote to the group.
>Basically the discovery that I am making over and over is that students t
>have trouble with just the kinds of mathematical topics that I would have
>thought some experience with Python would help with, are even more terrif
>of computers than they are of mathematics.
>It isn't just Python, either, for all the talk about use of computers in 
>mathematics classroom as dumbing down, my recent experience is that stude
>find it harder with computers rather than easier. I had statistics studen
>who even in a distance education class where they were supposed to submit
>their assignments on Excel spreadsheets, would go so far as to submit
>something that was in tabular form in a textbox carefully using the space
>bar to get things to line up correctly. I had several others who would ty
>without the = sign almost exactly the calculations that Excel would have
>done for them in a cell, and then repeat the same keystrokes in their
>calculators, and then type the answer displayed in the calculator. Most
>recently I have been teaching a "Nature of Mathematics" sort of survey
>course where use of spreadsheets is even part of the course, and I have a
>student who will do exercises from a section specifically about use of
>spreadsheet, and do the exercises perfectly, but refuse to actually put t
>in an Excel sheet, saying she can't deal with Excel.
>Anybody have a clue about what is going on with such computer phobics or
>what to do about it?
>I am ideally very attracted to the ideas that Kirby has about integrating
>mathematics and programming, but my recent experience is suggesting cauti
>I am very much interested in your opinions about this.
>Shelley Walsh
>shelley.walsh9 at ntlworld.com
>Edu-sig mailing list
>Edu-sig at python.org

Some of what you are seeing is the normal reaction to VERY BAD USER
INTERFACES.  I.e. they aren't _afraid_, and its not a _phobia_ -- they
just think that the tools stink and are a tremendous waste of time.

They are (or think they are) more productive without the tools you
suggest, and they resent having to learn something when they have a
much better way to do it on their own.  It's clearly not laziness,
either.  Part of their problem, if they are like the people I have
known, is a basic issue about 'control' and 'flexibility'.  They want
to do the job their own way, under their own control, and the system
they have is so inflexible that they have to learn a completely
different way to get even the tiniest of correct results.  But the
people I am used to dealing with already know how to get correct
results with a calculator or a pen, and they heartily dislike being
re-trained to suit some computer's idea of how the job should be done.
Telling them that after training they would be more productive is not
the issue.  Poor or Inflexible user interfaces make them feel slow,
stupid, and _wasting their lives_ -- so they quit in disgust,
resentment, and anger.  And I don't blame them.  I needed to make a
GANTT chart for a grant proposal yesterday, and after 2 hours with
Microsoft Project, it is back to pen and paper for me as well.  I'll
program PyGame to make pretty boxes. :-)

So, for your immediate need, you want something to do statistics
designed by a somebody with a clue about Human Factors.  Fortunately,
we have such a beast, Salstat, written in Python by Alan Salmoni who
just got his PhD in Cardiff University in Wales, cc'd on this note.
(But his account may be full of viruses again, we're getting pretty
hard hit still.)  http://salstat.sunsite.dk/  I hand it to undergraduates
who used to be told to use SAS or SPSS, and they don't pester me with
questions about how to use it.  I'd try it and see what happens.  If
they hate SalStat, they can send mail to Alan, who is really interested
in such bug reports and _really cares_ about their interactions.

He also knows more about exactly why people have troubles like you 
describe than anybody I have ever spoken with, so I hope his account

best of luck,
Laura Creighton

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