Mathematics and the WWW

Section 7:
How the Web can be used to help with other important problems facing the mathematics community

2 April 1997

The webbe of our life is of a mingled yearne, good and ill together.
                                 Shakespeare, All's Well IV iii 83

Other important problems and the Web

The mathematics community under fire
The University of Rochester made a decision to shrink their math department, a seismic disturbance for the mathematics community. Great support and well-articulated important ideas came out in the department's defense. Good answers are still needed to crucial questions that were raised. For example,

Sure, we all know, but can we articulate these things to the rest of the world? If we can't, we face an epidemic of Rochesters. If you send them to me, I'll post your answers on the Math Forum.

A couple of places where we've been unsuccessful of late:

The mathematics community is not a community
It consists of various factions marching to the sound of their own drums: research mathematicians, college teachers, two-year college teachers, school teachers, those in math education research, school administrators, students, those educating future teachers.

What the Web can do to help
The Web can be an environment where these disparate segments can meet and interact. On the Internet nobody knows you're a college math teacher. It's possible to make use of non-intrusive discussions for civilized discourse among people from various subcommunities (and also for juvenile flame wars, but we won't tell where). The Internet affords new possibilities for fruitful encounters if we can just learn to make use of them.

On the other hand, there may well be significant situations in which it is important to know each other, to know who we are; thus we're thinking of some projects that will use the Web to make visible each other's worlds.

The NSF is planning to use the Web to get the mechanics right for preparing and submitting grant proposals, allowing proposers to track their proposals through the assessment and award stages, and for reporting on grants.

Last summer at the MAA Mathfest in Seattle I was privileged to attend an MAA Section Officers meeting (I snuck in by impersonating two folks who work for the Joint Policy Board). Here are some problems that were discussed:

What is the common solution to all these communication problems? To put all the stuff on the World Wide Web. (I tried to point this out in a moving and passionate speech to the assemblage, but the reaction seemed to be one of polite lack of comprehension; by this summer's Atlanta MathFest I suppose the section offices and MAA Central will be converted -- it will be old hat and of course all that stuff will be on the Web. I'll have to find out from our Kay Somers, since I don't expect to be invited back. The life of a prophet is tough.)

The needs of two-year college mathematics
The Internet ain't being used; two year colleges are just getting connected -- but they teach about half the college mathematics students. An expressed interest from a two-year college teacher: dialog between two- and four-year college mathematics teachers on what four-year colleges want by way of preparation of students from two-year colleges. This is worth pursuing. Our communities need to interact.

Some of the changes in education and its structure that the Web might offer to create opportunities for two-year colleges: inexpensive education, adaptability to local needs, quicker shifts in course design to new job environments, closer work with employers in workforce training, etc.

The needs of school mathematics
A number of Web sites are concerned with school mathematics: The Math Forum, The Math Archives, The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Math and Science Education, NCTM. The needs of this community are so vast that we can use all the help we can get.

Some of our activities at the Math Forum
We are very interested in developing new modes of communication to meet the needs of particular audiences and discussions -- standard mailing lists and newsgroups just can't be the final stage in Internet communications! We have some ideas and are starting some experiments. Keep in touch, especially if there's anything you'd like to try discussing.

In the following, I give references to general areas of our site and mention some of our specific programs.

    The NCTM Standards

    Curriculum reform needs

    Teacher needs

    Student needs

    Parent needs

    Mathematician needs

    Communication Problems

    Some special school mathematics activities

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Gene Klotz