THE PARADOX OF DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION - A DESIGN TRADE OFF
The digitalisation of education have, besides many other changes, also affected the textbooks and many mathematics teachers now use digital textbooks. The main benefits argued for with these are that they will provide automated assistance to students and make it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction  according to students’ varied needs and learning processes. The idea is that good e-textbooks have the ability to provide personalised support to each student .
However, there is a lack of studies of how the introduction of such technologies affect the everyday practice of teachers. This research aims to understand mathematics teachers’ experience when they differentiate their instruction using a digital textbook of second generation (based on interactivity and personalisation) . A case study was conducted with six mathematics teachers in grade 1-9. In a three week intervention they were given the ability to try a digital textbook, that had the ability both to be personalised by the teacher, as well as having support for adapted levels of difficulty depending on the students results directly. Data was collected through focus group interviews and classroom observations.
Our data show that differentiation with a digital textbook, which might sound very appealing, challenged the teachers’ everyday practice. First, the digital textbook makes it easy to assign different mathematical tasks at different levels and the adaptive feature assigns appropriate tasks. This variation in tasks and lack of control regarding adaptivity makes it difficult for teachers to influence and follow the individual student’s learning progress. Second, it is not possible for the teacher to see how students solve mathematical tasks, in contrast they just see if the students got right or wrong answers. Teachers emphasise that they got excluded from students’ strategies, and that access to this is central to be able to support students’ mathematical learning. Finally, the personalisation of the progress and tasks made collaborative activities around problem solving difficult. Teachers could not plan for collaboration since the students worked with various tasks from different mathematical areas, becoming increasingly distributed in their progress.
Based on these results, the use of digital textbooks to support differentiated instruction, show that there is a distance between vision and reality. For that reason, it is important to understand these design trade-offs since they reveal teachers’ need and how technology could meet them .
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