Summary: Is IT It?
Assist Prof. Helmer Aslaksen
Department of Mathematics
Faculty of Science
There's currently a lot of talk about the use of Information Technology in teaching at the
NUS with the assumption that IT is good. I'm a strong advocate of IT in teaching, but I believe
we must realise that IT is no panacea, and that not all of its use is effective.
I started using Computer Algebra Systems in my classes in 1993; I put up my first course
web page in 1994; and I set up a calculus lab in 1996. I'm also very interested in language
learning, and I have been following the development of language learning software closely. I'm
very excited about the way computers enable us to do things we couldn't do before. Yet people
are using computers to do things there was no reason for them to do in the first place.
First of all, the focus must be on teaching, not IT. A lot of courseware looks incredibly
flashy, and is obviously designed by expert graphic designers and programmers. But is there a
clear pedagogical goal or are they just trying to show off. For example, most language learning
software allows you to record your own voice, and look at a graphical representation of the
waveform. What exactly is this supposed to teach you? If you are learning Chinese and need help
with the tones, you need a program that can analyse the pitch. This is totally different from
looking at the waveform and requires powerful specialised programs.
Thanks to the current fascination with the web, some people seem to think that the way to