Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is it really cheating in the 21st Century?

If this is your first visit to Teaching in Tallahassee, let me make one thing clear from the start - This is not a math blog! As most of my readers know, I'm a history teacher and I blog about both edtech issues and, on occasion, history topics. That being said, I believe that the appearance on the scene of a new math app raises some important questions about what constitutes cheating in our tech-infused world.

PhotoMath, which bills itself as a "smart camera calculator," is a new app for iOS and Windows smartphones (coming to Android in early 2015) that utilizes the phone's camera to solve math problems for users. I don't often get overly excited about new apps these days, but this thing is truly amazing. My immediate reaction was, of course, to lament over why this tool wasn't available as I struggled through high school math.

Once you get past the coolness factor, PhotoMath should force us to deal with some fundamental questions about the use of tools like this in our schools. I shared the app with a group of my 11th grade students this morning and their immediate reaction was elation over how easy their homework would be from now on. But once we talked about the apps potential for a little while, students began to appreciate PhotoMath as a tool that could help them learn. You see, in addition to providing the user with a solution, PhotoMath also provides all of the steps that go into solving a problem. That could be extremely powerful for struggling students, if used correctly.

So how do we define that fine line between cheating and proper use of the tools that emerging technologies provide? I think that can be answered in the same way that I would answer questions about many tech tools that students are using, whether or not we as educators approve.  We can either shut our classroom door to the tool (as many have done with smartphones), or we can embrace the tool, incorporate it into what we are doing, and teach students how to use the tool in a responsible and productive way.  One thing is for sure, kids are going to use PhotoMath. The question is: How will we as educators adapt?

I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Here is a video from the PhotoMath website that shows how this app works.

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