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Are you future proof?

By Murray Bourne, 03 Jun 2008

Here's the deal. The world is undergoing huge changes and it will impact you whether you are a student or a teacher or whatever you do. Let's have a look at some of the changes.

pumping gas

Fuel prices will remain high: Are you ready to study at home? Do you have the skills for e-learning? Why travel to school when you can do it at home?

There has been phenomenal growth in on-line learning over the last 5 years. Many large corporations are moving to on-line training, since it is more cost-effective and (if done well) it produces more effective learning when compared to traditional classroom learning.

Do you have the self-motivation to study at home? The Web has dramatically changed the way that most of us learn things. Is your school keeping up? Is it ready to handle these changes? Is it preparing you to cope with these changes?

Are you ready to work at home? It makes no sense to get in a car (or bus or train) and travel all the way across town to an office and sit there all day working on a computer, then get back back in a car (or bus or train) and travel all the way home, especially when you have a computer or laptop at home. Sure, lots of jobs require you to be in an office, for very good reason. But many do not and if you are heading for a knowledge-based job, then there is a good chance you will be able to work from home, at least for some days a week. And it makes sense to do so. Why pollute the air and waste precious hours of your life sitting in a traffic jam? Commuting is so 20th century.

Do you have the skills and the self-motivation to work from home? Can you get work done without some supervisor breathing down your neck? And this is the kicker for most people − are you satisfied with on-line human interaction?

What you learn in school is out of date before you graduate: This is not always true, of course, but when I think about what my job involves now in 2008, more than 70% of what I do every day didn't even exist in 1998.

Let's think about changes in mathematics, since this is a math blog. There has been a revolutionary change in math, but most people (including teachers) have missed it. I am talking about the use of computer algebra systems which can do the mathematics for you. They can solve the algebra, draw the graphs, solve the systems of equations, do the logarithms, and integrate in several dimensions. For example, in Interactive Mathematics, I use various software tools to do some of the math.

And why aren't computer algebra systems more widely used? It's probably because many math teachers are scared of such tools. They are worried that students won't see all the steps in the middle of a math problem, as if that is the most vital aspect of math.

When it comes to solving a real math problem, what's more important? Understanding the problem and using the best tool to achieve a correct answer and being able to explain that answer, or is it doing pages of algebra and getting the correct answer, but having no idea why?

An important part of future-proofing mathematics is to change the math curriculum, so that students will become proficient in the use of math tools and (importantly) will know what they are doing and why.

I'll be writing some more articles about future-proofing and about computer algebra systems over the next few months.

Watch this space.

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