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RE: Webmath

From: Robert Miner <robertm@dessci.com>
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 08:02:13 -0700
Message-ID: <D1EFB337111B674B8F1BE155B01C6DD6190905@franklin.corp.dessci>
To: "June Lester" <june@sfu.ca>, <www-math@w3.org>
Hi June,

Thanks for reminding us that at the end of the day, it's not about how you put the math on the screen, it's what you do with it. Your interactive Flash widgets for linear algebra are nice.  They remind me a bit of 

   The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives <http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/index.html>


   ExploreLeaning Gizmos <http://www.explorelearning.com>

Over the years, there have been some similar projects -- I'm sure you can name them better than I can.  But since my early days at the Geometry Center, it seems to me that almost all of them have fallen into the general basic pattern of an central interactive manipulative, which is generally a big square area on a page by itself, surrounded by a halo of pages with explanation, activities, assessments, etc.  

For the manipulatives, I've seen all kinds of different technologies, but the main ones are Java, Flash and DHTML.  Each has it's own strengths and weaknesses, but my sense of the current trend is that Flash is in the ascendent for this kind of thing.  Java is okay, but client-side support for Java is not as good as that for Flash, and I suspect Flash is easier to program for most people.  DHTML has a huge range, but it is very hard for fancy stuff, not only because of problems displaying math, but because of all kinds of browser differences -- versions of JavaScript, DOM differences, CSS differences, HTML layout differences, etc.  It's ironic, that while there has been a huge amount of effort over many years to standardize and implement all the parts of the DHTML platform (MathML included) it has only been partly successful (see  squabbling on this list as ample evidence of that).  Java, with it's open community process, is better, but still suffers from incompatibilities.  Purely proprietary Flash, on the other hand, seems to be fairly solid and uniform across most platforms.

However, most of the folks I know still trying to do real, interactive math on the web -- regardless of the technology they use for the manipulative -- still complain bitterly to me about how hard it is to create the halo pages, with a mix of expository math and text.  They always ask me for a good authoring tool along the lines of an HTML editor with an built in equation editor.  They wouldn't care if it made the cruftiest HTML + images, so long as it was simple, graphical and intuitive. 

What is your sense of this?  


Dr. Robert Miner
Director of New Product Development
W3C Math WG co-chair

Design Science, Inc.
140 Pine Avenue, 4th Floor
Long Beach, California 90802
Main:   (562) 432-2920
Direct: (651) 223-2883
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-----Original Message-----
From: www-math-request@w3.org on behalf of June Lester
Sent: Sat 7/15/2006 4:20 PM
To: www-math@w3.org
Subject: Re: Webmath

On 15-Jul-06, at 1:10 PM, Patrick Ion wrote:

	The WebMath list has been used mostly recently for general announcements
	about conferences involving math on the Web or product announcements.  It
	hasn't been very active.  I have no idea if the moderator June Lester would like
	it otherwise.

Hi, all.

I originally started WebMath because I was interested in math on the web in general - not just the technical aspects of MathML, but also in the design of onscreen mathematics in general - visual, interactive, and all those wonderful things we were promised.  I thought it was a good idea at the time because the hype was that MathML was just around the corner, and soon there'd be lots of people interested in putting math online.  Obvoiusly, I was wrong about that one.  I still scan this list to see if anything promising looks like happening, but it appears to be mostly squabbling over technical details, with little in sight for ordinary mortals/educators wanting to do math online.  

In retrospect, I'm not really sure I want MathML to become that easy anyway.  I have nightmares of huge numbers of mathematicians thinking "oh, good, not I can put my papers/lecture notes/whatever online" without ever thinking if perhaps there isn't some better way of communicating math than by pages of symbolic text.  With all the affordances now available onscreen, reproducing print onscreen seems hopelessly behind the times.  Yes, I know about ease of searching, annotating, etc. - but it's still TEXT.  Great for publishers looking to migrate their print activities online, but not much else, AFAICS.

For people interested in knowing what I think onscreen math could be, below are a few links to some preliminary essays, prototypes, etc. I've done over past years.  Most of it is several years old - I didn't used to have much time to work on this stuff.  However, about a year ago, I "semi-retired" and began a new Ph. D. in "onscreen mathematics communication design" (at least that's what my application said) at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University. Thus far, I'm mainly doing courses, but the point is (eventually) to research the issues and ideas like those discussed on my MathDesign site, and hopefully produce design guidelines for others interested, not just for education, but possibly for, say, an online journal interested in promoting innovative mathematics communication through web affordances like interactivity and visualization instead of merely porting mathematical text to the screen. I can hope, can't I?  :o)   Meanwhile, I'm also keeping an eye on Adobe's Apollo - don't know much about it yet, but maybe a combination of PDF for text with Flash interactivity is the way to go ?

Would I like the Webmath list to be otherwise?  I certainly would like more activity - wouldn't any listowner?  But please, pretty please, don't conduct arguments about MathML there, OK?  There are more interesting and important things to discuss.



MathDesign (archives):  <http://www.thejuniverse.org/Mathdesign/previouslyIndex.html>

Linear Algebra Widgets:  <http://thejuniverse.org/PRESENT/index.html>

Conference Paper: Designing Interactive Matheamtics <http://thejuniverse.org/Professional/DesignIntMath.pdf>

Demo Interactive Calculus Lesson (PDF, 7 Meg) <http://thejuniverse.org/Professional/DemoLesson.pdf>
Received on Tuesday, 18 July 2006 15:02:26 UTC

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