Mathematics and Virtual Culture: an Evolutionary Perspective on Technology and Mathematics Education

Shaffer, David Williamson; Kaput, James J.
November 1998
Educational Studies in Mathematics;1998/1999, Vol. 37 Issue 2, p97
Academic Journal
This paper suggests that from a cognitive-evolutionary perspective, computational media are qualitatively different from many of the technologies that have promised educational change in the past and failed to deliver. Recent theories of human cognitive evolution suggest that human cognition has evolved through four distinct stages: episodic, mimetic, mythic, and theoretical. This progression was driven by three cognitive advances: the ability to ’represent‘ events, the development of symbolic reference, and the creation of external symbolic representations. In this paper, we suggest that we are developing a new cognitive culture: a ’virtual‘ culture dependent on the externalization of symbolic processing. We suggest here that the ability to externalize the manipulation of formal systems changes the very nature of cognitive activity. These changes will have important consequences for mathematics education in coming decades. In particular, we argue that mathematics education in a virtual culture should strive to give students generative fluency to learn varieties of representational systems, provide opportunities to create and modify representational forms, develop skill in making and exploring virtual environments, and emphasize mathematics as a fundamental way of making sense of the world, reserving most exact computation and formal proof for those who will need those specialized skills.


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