Saturday, June 13, 2009

Will WolframAlpha impact the IT literacy curriculum?

I recently posted a few examples of symbolic math calculation using the WolframAlpha Internet service, and asked how it might affect math teaching. WolframAlpha, which presents a command-line interface to Wolfram's Mathematica symbolic math package, is capable of doing math homework and solving exam questions from junior high through graduate school.

The pros and cons of using WolframAlpha in teaching math are discussed in the article A Calculating Web Site Could Ignite a New Campus 'Math War', and there is a Wiki with many examples on teaching undergraduate math using WolframAlpha.

Math teacher Maria Andersen posted a discussion of the likely impact of WolframAlpha on math education, in which she predicts that students will flock to it and many, but not all, teachers will do the same. She uses innovation diffusion theory to analyze the likely rate of adoption of WolframAlpha relative to traditional symbolic math packages.

The conservative view of using tools like calculators or WolframAlpha is captured in Isaac Asimov's story The Feeling of Power, depicting a future in which a technician amazes people because he has memorized the multiplication tables and can do arithmetic without a calculator.

Are math skills and concepts part of IT literacy? Is there room for any math in an IT literacy course? Where can WolframAlpha be used in the IT literacy curriculum?

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