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Online Learning: Translating the Mathematical Language

Posted on Aug 29, 2012

Some students learn better with hands-on material, others audibly, while others might just be Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. It’s difficult to explain numbers through words; calculations through metaphors; formulas through hypotheticals. At times, math instruction is slowed down by a language barrier. To bridge this gap, online learning provides tools that help create a more productive conversation between the teacher and the student. If teachers want to be effective educators, they need to be as skilled an orator as they are a mathematician. Online learning gives them this option. Pontificate that, for a moment.

As was shown with the hypothetical geometry teacher from Monday (who is entirely more real than you know), the language of math is a vague one. Lowell provides the example:

“If a student is working with a fraction, for example, for a sighted student it’s simply a numerator over the denominator. In Braille it’d be the open fraction indicator, the number, the divide sign, the number, and then the close fraction indicator. The students have to be able to hear every piece of the problem as they’re going through, and they have to keep a lot of the information in their head.”

See what I mean? Online learning gives math a voice. That is extremely important for all students learning arithmetic. Not all people are going to learn in the same way. Lync allowed the WSSB to bring in a teacher who could speak the language while also giving the students the most accessible and productive way of learning it. For me, a literary nerd, I’m pretty envious of that opportunity, which is why I think Lync is an option that should be exercised for all students in all settings. Lowell ties in here nicely:

“We can actually move through things at their pace. That’s the key. That’s the real reason they’re getting an education that would be equivalent to their sighted peers. They’re getting it at the pace they need, with the tools they need, with the teacher who understands their needs. Those are the three things this technology is allowing us–to reach these kids in a way they understand.”

To give students an education in “a way they understand,” instruction and learning needs to be individualized. There must be some element that tailors courses and lesson plans to a student’s needs, method of learning, and comfort of pace. For the WSSB, back in 2010, this was the online and distance learning program they paid for through Microsoft Lync. Nowadays, you can do the same thing for free.

You’re probably squinting at the screen, thinking to yourself, “But how can such an awesomely named product like Microsoft Lync be free?” It’s not. The article referenced the lackluster-named, but equally remarkable product, Microsoft Office 365 for Education – a 100% free service for academic institutions that provides cloud-based e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing, web-based viewing and editing of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote to its users – basically a free version of Lync. It’s definitely worth checking out and forwarding along to your school. Lowell caps off my argument for Lync in education well:

“This system allows the best teachers to reach the correct kids–be it a kid who just can’t get to the school or a kid who is really, really good at math and their school doesn’t offer it, where they can connect to a classroom that is the right fit. Getting these kids into the right class is basically just a click away.”

To see what I’ve been describing this whole time, check out these links of the WSSB in action: Part 1 & Part 2

Let the pontification begin.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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