Thursday, November 11, 2010

Being There

As I was driving back from giving a presentation at the ATMNE conference in Nashua N.H. last Tuesday I began thinking about how sensible the idea of conferenceing via webinar is. As I struggled to see the road through torrential rain on the 5-lane I193 through Manchester the thought of presenting my research to a national audience from the comfort of my office seemed really appealing. But the more I thought about it the more I began to realize all the things I would have missed had I stayed in my office.

I wouldn't have been able to pick up 16 copies of the ET math catalog for the students in my class; I wouldn't have met Marianne, the teacher from Maine, who was a student in my math class at Trinity College in 1984, and I wouldn't have met the teacher from Brookline, Mass. who is going to send me all sorts of interesting information about teaching math to students from a variety of different countries. I also wouldn't have attended an interesting workshop on how politicians use identical mathematical data to support completely opposing viewpoints.

When I finally reached the start of I89 and the 140 remaining miles home I started to generalize the idea of "Being There". I started thinking about the commercial on TV that shows a young lady in her pyjamas extolling the virtues of getting a degree "without even having to leave your bedroom". Can you imagine just how awful that would be? The URL for the program is even something like A Google search for getting your degree in your pjs shows a remarkable number of organizations offering this folly.

Call me old fashioned but I think it denegrates the art of learning and reduces the degree to a piece of paper you can buy on-line as if it were something on eBay. It also denies young people the opportunity of seeing the larger world, or joining in service activities and life-changing experiences through the Student Life Office. College is a place to make lifetime friendships with people from all over the country and the world. A degree is so much more than a bunch of courses with passing grades.

Today marks the last day in my math/science course we'll be exploring math. The rest of the semester will be devoted to science and design technology. The picture above is of a student's rubber band roller from last semester. more about that later.

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