Monday, March 9, 2015

Vive la Différence?

A colleague of mine says that he wants to spend time giving his students more video and I equivocate in my response. He presses the question: "Don't you agree that different people learn in different ways?"

Here's one possibly reply. First, to my understanding there's no evidence that trying to match delivery to different "learning styles" has any positive effect on outcomes. One example I came across yesterday: a Department of Education meta-analysis of thousands of studies found no learning evidence of benefits from online videos ("Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.", p. xvi, here). Perhaps the short version of this response would be, "Not in any way that makes a significant difference."

But here's another possible response, to answer the question with another question: "Don't you agree that it's important to have a shared, common language for communication in any field?" And as usual I would argue that acting like math, or computer programming is anything other than essentially a written artifact is fallacious -- in fact, overlooking the fact that writing in general is the most potent tool ever developed in our arsenal as human beings (including factors such as brevity, density, speed, searchability, auditability, etc.) is fallacious, a fraud, a failure.

To the extent that we delay delivering and practicing the "real deal" for our students -- namely, properly-written math -- it is a tragic garden path.


  1. I have a difficulty with your second response: it's not clear to me that a video necessarily undermines the written nature of math or programming more than a live lecture. Granted, I've seen very few math videos, but as I recall the ones I did see focused on the written nature of math in the manner of a teacher making heavy use of a blackboard.

    Taking a step back, I'm not sure what advantage there would be to using a video from the start when a live, capable teacher is an option. The teacher has an important advantage: being able to assess the students and respond in real-time when students aren't following. But I have experienced benefit from watching video of a live class that I attended: I can pick up things on a second hearing that I missed the first time.

    1. I guess that's a reasonable counterargument: what if the video is about the writing? But my colleague was saying this in exchange for concentrating on the writing. I said focus on the writing, and he countered with "people learn in different ways", so it was being presented to me in an "exclusive or" fashion.