When Did Tools Become Something Bad?

One of the new apps that exploded on the internet yesterday was “Photomath (G+)”. The app allows anyone to take a picture of an algebraic equation and it will spit back both the answer, and the intermediary steps to take to solve the problem. The implications are quite staggering, and show the power of marrying the optical capabilities of our smartphones with wildly differing applications.

SiliconRepublic came out with the salacious headline “New algebra solving app could make teachers’ lives hell“. While the article is basically a write up on the app, and not a conversation about the educational implications, I do take quite the exception with the article title.

My biggest problem with the headline is the implication of terrible pedagogy. The only real way that this app becomes disruptive to a teacher is if that teacher is marking homework. Which is, pedagogically speaking, unsound. We are never sure who has done/helped/eaten the homework that comes in the next day. I don’t ask for homework to come back anymore, because it is only an extension of what is done in class, and not an important artifact of student learning. Otherwise, I can see many benefits of the app. First and foremost, it would be a great way to check work. I can see students pulling out a device after attempting a question to determine the accuracy of their answer, and if incorrect, being able to see where they went wrong. I know that I would have benefitted from that, especially when the teacher was with someone else, so that I could have built the capacity within myself. Anything that can help build capacity, and show the student that their device isn’t just mass media consumption, should be celebrated from the rooftop.

The disconnect between the media image of teaching, and the reality, leads to inflammatory headlines like the one at SiliconRepublic. The result here is that we no only have to battle preconceptions within our classroom, but also wage a PR battle with those looking in. It is true what they say, you gotta love what you do.

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