Monday, June 8, 2009

Of course it's the computer's fault (or the horse's fault, if you're a Hamasnik)

Sitting in the airport waiting on a flight to Toronto, I scanned this week's email from ScienceDaily and found this gem:

Students who get stuck look for computer malfunctions

When students attempting to solve a mathematical problem, were informed by the computer that their answer was incorrect, they often focused on trying to find the reasons for this in the functions of the educational software itself.

"They would maintain that their answers merely needed to be rephrased, that the computer's answers were wrong in the same way as answers on an answer key of a mathematics textbook could be wrong, or provided other similar explanations," says Annika Lantz-Andersson.

Does this really surprise anyone who has ever dealt with (a) computers, (b) students, or (c) human beings in general? [The article does not indicate the age of the students, but I'd guess high school.]

I'll bet the Hamas attackers in this story blamed their hi-tech option, the horses...

One noteworthy element in the story:
"There is a kind of silence in the relationship between students and the educational software they use. The computer never gets tired, is not bothered by endless examples of random answers, does not distinguish between students, but on the other hand cannot provide individually-fitted feedback, which is one of the most important tasks of a teacher", she continues.

This reminds me of one of the major reasons why Torah sheb'al peh, the spoken Torah (midrash/mishnah/gemara), was meant to be kept verbal rather than written. The ideal teacher/student relationship requires bi-directional feedback, which will never occur with a written text.


  1. May not be the fault of the Horses, but earlier this year when Hamas tried using "Stinger man-portable air defense system" against Israel they ran into a real computer problem.

    The US made system have a safety device against friendly fire and will not fire against aircraft with codes designated as US or allied forces.

    When Hamas tried the missiles against Israeli aircraft, they got a message "friendly aircraft" - opps!!!


  2. Re students and computers, one tenet of student computer use is that the computer is always right, except when it's wrong. Most students accept that whatever comes up on the computer is the correct answer.

    Back when the NY Regents exams in math first allowed the use of calculators to answer certain questions on the exams a problem arose. The State sent out a notice to schools that they should not count the answers wrong even when actually wrong on the calculator assisted problems because "students may not know that they have made a mistake in using the calculators and will not know that the answers are wrong, and should not be penalized."

  3. Ssshhhh, don't tell Bad Cohen; he writes educational software! ;)

  4. Michael-
    Got to read the manual...

    I wish they had told us (the students) that!

    Teaching or testing?

  5. RH - both.

    He complains all the time about how the (academic publishing) company that puts it out is willing to pay for development time, but outsources the content for things like ENGLISH literature to Russians. (rolling my eyes)

  6. Tzipporah- Who else would know English literature?