During the COVID-19 disruption to education, the use of edtech tools surged. In fact, according, recent research, downloads of education apps in the U.S. increased by 130 percent.
Within this surge, math saw the biggest jump in edtech tool usage. Math has historically been board-based in the classroom and paper-based at home. And while students had used digital tools like math games and at-home practice apps, these were strictly supplemental. Over this last year, however, as a result of COVID-19, teachers and students have had to adapt to using digital math-related tools, some for the first time.
Since March of 2020, the usage of Texthelp’s own STEM application, EquatIO, has risen by more than 150 percent.
We recently spoke with Texthelp’s Chief Technology Officer, Ryan Graham, on the current state of edtech tools in math and the future of math education. As popularity and usage of digital tools rises, Graham shares his thoughts on what makes a good digital math tool.
Q1: Although we’re seeing high usage of edtech tools in math now, why do you think the adoption was slower pre-pandemic?
A: I think there are several reasons for why adoption was slower pre-pandemic. Teachers are stretched for time, and moving from paper-based exercises to digital ones has historically been a time-consuming process. Also, many tools that educators have used in the past have been complex and designed for higher-level mathematics. When the pandemic hit, teachers discovered the modern, digital tools that are now available, such as EquatIO, and how easy it actually can be to switch to digital math instruction. Teachers were also able to see how much students benefited from having digital versions of math available.
Q2: Based on what you’re hearing in your own work at Texthelp, as well as from others in the industry, what have users–teachers or students–highlighted as benefits of digital math tools?
A: The main benefit of digital math tools is that they make math accessible to everyone. Students are able to express themselves using multiple types of input (speech, handwriting, and typing), which enables them to focus on the concepts rather than creating the math. There’s also a huge benefit for vision-impaired users, offering alternative ways of representing and hearing math. This removes a barrier that existed with paper-only resources.
Q3: What are the keys to developing a digital math tool for students and educators?
A: To put it frankly, simplicity and the understanding that everyone learns differently. Math is a complex and far-reaching subject, but creating digital math doesn’t have to be difficult. Keeping the tools simple and user-friendly for students, educators, and those with accessibility needs ensures that everyone can express themselves. It also ensures that the digital tool won’t be a hindrance to learning or instruction.
Q4: From your point of view, what does the future of math education look like now that teachers and students are becoming accustomed to using digital tools for the subject? Are there any technologies you think will have a big impact on the teaching and learning of the subject in the future?
A: Now that teachers and students are becoming more familiar with these tools, I think more and more math lessons, assessments, and homework will happen digitally. Teachers have seen how much time they can save using these tools and, more importantly, how they can get meaningful and constructive feedback to their students in near real-time.
From a technology standpoint, I think machine learning and AI will play a big part in both the teaching and learning of math in the future as well. In the assessment space, in particular, its use could help teachers save time grading assessments. In remote learning scenarios, it could provide instructional support to students at home struggling with a particular math problem or without one-to-one support.