The Move to Digital: The Status of Math in the United States, and the classroom of tomorrow


Here at The Textbook Guru, we’re kicking off a two-week series of posts about The Move To Digital, exploring how increased digital technology, platforms and strategies are changing the textbook and education landscapes. To kick off the series, I’m happy to present a guest post from Brian Lepley of the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, where innovators provide free math and research videos and textbooks, designed to make education more accessible and affordable:


Pundits and educators agree that over the next decade there is going to be a radical shift in the way education is structured within the U.S. We spend the most amount of money on education and yet it has been well-documented that the U.S. is struggling to compete with many of the other leading nations across the globe, specifically in math and the hard sciences. In order for the U.S. to continue to maintain its position as a global leader, educators are going to need to think of new and different ways in which to reach the youth of the nation.

With the advent of the Internet and the decreasing cost of video production technologies, some of the world’s greatest teachers are now right at the fingertips of students everywhere. Several new learning environments and tools have also been developed that truly individualize the learning process for students and make it significantly more effective. These advances in technology present a new way to think about education as well as make us consider the difference between how students learn today versus how students will learn tomorrow, specifically in this case with regard to math.

Math Today

Whether in elementary school, high school, or college, the majority of today’s math classes consist of a teacher standing at a chalkboard (or whiteboard) lecturing his or her students. There is some dialogue between the teacher and the students, but for the most part, the students are required to simply be sponges absorbing the information conveyed to them by the teacher.

When the students arrive home, the teacher usually will have assigned them problems out of their printed textbooks which they need to accomplish for homework. If the students are struggling with their homework, they have three options for resources before going to a parent, friend, or tutor for help: 1) their esoteric textbook that is probably written in a language that does not engage them; 2) the notes they took from today’s class; or 3) the Internet. While the Internet is a great resource for struggling students, it can in fact be a hindrance to their learning because it is very difficult to find and distinguish high-quality content on the web. Also, there are also several online homework systems that schools have begun to implement but very few of them provide helpful, directed feedback other than to tell students their answers are incorrect.

The next day, the teacher begins the class by going over the homework from the night before; however, because the teacher needs to move onto the new lecture material, all of the students questions’ probably will not get addressed. This leaves potential gaps in the students’ understanding of the material that could potentially result in them falling behind their peers going forward.

Math Tomorrow

There could be many different looks or setups to the math class of tomorrow, but this is one setup we are particularly fond of and think would be great for individualizing learning. Teachers would no longer assign problems for homework, but instead would assign students chapters in their multimedia-centered, digital textbook to cover. No two students learn alike, and thus these digital textbooks would act more as learning environments, giving students several different ways in which they could consume the material: they could read it as they traditionally would; they could watch it via teaching videos that correspond directly to the material covered in the specific section; or they could interact with it via the interactivities, simulations, or visualizations that really bring to life the material discussed in the section. In this way, students could consume the content in whatever way best suits their learning style and they could do it at their own pace.

Class time would now be dedicated to students working through problems from the material they learned the night before on a digital system. This system would not just tell students whether they were right or wrong, but would give them directed feedback of where they went wrong. The main focus of the teachers now would be spending more time with each student, actually helping them work through each problem and thus creating a more individualized approach to their learning. In essence the classroom would be flipped, where the teacher is no longer the dispenser of information but rather a guide for their students’ learning.

With the proper implementation of some of the technologies discussed above, education can be transformed in this country to reach today’s students more effectively. If we don’t focus on fixing education to give these students the proper tools they need to succeed in the future, the U.S. will continue to fall further behind the rest of the world as our new generation of engineers, scientists, businesspeople, and scholars will lack the same skills that their peers possess from around the world.

Check out Salman Kahn’s TED talk to see a potential application of the math class of the future.

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  1. Pingback: The Move to Digital: Why Publishers Want It to Succeed (and what we’ve learned) «

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