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Mathematica in education: Old wine in new bottles or a whole new vineyard

Philip Ramsden
Organization: Imperial College
Department: Mathematics
Journal / Anthology

Innovation in Mathematics: Proceedings of the Second International Mathematica Symposium
Year: 1997
Page range: 419-426

On its own, a new piece of technology is not enough to change anything very much. Things change, in any field, not through technology alone but through the way people use it. How people use it depends in turn on how they think about it. In the early history of many technological innovations that went on to shape modern life profoundly there was a period in which the innovation was seen, and therefore used, mainly as a new way of doing old things. The revolutionary potential of new technology lies, however, in our finding new things to do with it. The impact upon educational practice of powerful software like Mathematica has been less profound than optimists hoped of pessimists feared. In many classrooms, I argue, it may be used as an adjunct to a curriculum and pedagogy unaltered in its essence. I here compare some possible approaches to the use of Mathematica with students, and ask of each one how close it comes to realizing the potential of the software to transform the experience and nature of mathematical learning. Version 3 presents our community with fresh challenges and fresh temptations. I show how Version 3, at the same time as it opens up new, exciting avenues for educators, also makes it easier than before to "bend" Mathematica to old-fashioned pedagogic strategies that leave much of its potential unexplained.