[Edu-sig] Computer Hatred

Shelley Walsh shelley.walsh9 at ntlworld.com
Wed Sep 24 07:31:13 EDT 2003

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. At
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 that
have trouble with just the kinds of mathematical topics that I would have
thought some experience with Python would help with, are even more terrified
of computers than they are of mathematics.

It isn't just Python, either, for all the talk about use of computers in the
mathematics classroom as dumbing down, my recent experience is that students
find it harder with computers rather than easier. I had statistics students
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 type
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 them
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 caution.
I am very much interested in your opinions about this.
Shelley Walsh
shelley.walsh9 at ntlworld.com

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