October 5, 2009

Making IT and Mathematics Compute!

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

A story which appeared on the French side of Profweb with the title Ça clique en mathémaTIC last June by our colleagues at Cégep de St-Félicien described an interesting use of DECclic and Maple. This information inspired teachers in the Mathematics Department at Cégep de l’Outaouais to present their own teaching techniques. Far from comparing two platforms or two programs, the goal of this story is to explain the process which led to another option and to permit colleagues faced with the choice of selecting a platform to learn about a plug-in for some platforms which creates an invaluable tool for teachers of science and math.

Several years ago, the Department of Mathematics began researching an educational platform. Our criteria for selection included simplicity, wide selection of applications and flexibility to adapt to the varied needs of the members of our department. Adapting our teaching to the requirements of a platform was pedagogically out of the question. We explored several options, but were rapidly seduced by Moodle.

… a plug-in for some platforms which creates an invaluable tool for teachers of science and math.

Moodle was created by a teacher for teachers. As it is open-source, it didn’t take a long time for the entire world to begin collaborating to improve it and to rapidly correct its few faults. Today, Moodle is used in 208 countries and translated into 76 languages. In Quebec, more and more universities are adopting Moodle (Concordia, UQO, UQAM, UQAC, Université de Sherbrooke, Polytechnique…). The Swiss site Moostic demonstrates a course from the viewpoint of the teacher and of the student.

The wide variety of activities available on Moodle includes the insertion of videos, various types of documents, links, homework assignments, forums with RSS feeds, diaries, self-correcting tests, surveys, activity calendars for the cegep, the course and each student as well as personal messages to students, separation into distinct groups and e-mail follow-up for personal messages, forum messages and grade revision. Creating a course with Moodle is intuitive and ‘doable’ for even the most confirmed luddite.

Although our students do appreciate having all of their course documents in one place as well as the links to supplemental activities, it is Moodle’s forums that have garnered the most appreciation. Asking questions 24/7 and getting a response in writing is a real learning tool and an incentive for collaboration.

Moodle was created by a teacher for teachers.

In mathematics, we had a particular problem which was mathematical notation. For several years, we either scanned our written solutions to insert them into forums or developed approximations using letters such as Sxdx, V2 instead of .

We didn’t want to impose macrocommands on students such as with the program LaTeX and it was for that reason that we turned to the Spanish plug-in Wiris, an on-line calculator using Java. It doesn’t have the power of symbolic calculus software, but it meets the needs of most of our courses. Best yet, Wiris installs in Moodle allowing the display of equations as is and an integral calculator within the course site. If this wasn’t enough, Wiris, like Moodle, is free!

You are cordially invited to discover both Wiris and Moodle on the ‘Divers-Wiris’ at college’s website.

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