The JOMA Applet Project: Applet Support for the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum

Back to the main proposal || On to evaluation


User groups

1. The user front end

Our digital library will support separate entry points for faculty, students, and developers. (When we extend our work to the pre-college world, other potential users such as parents, schoolteachers, and students will be accommodated.) There will be common threads, such as the basic organizational structure of the table of contents for the various subjects, but there will be different presentations for the various user groups.

Using formative data collected to identify and respond to user needs, our evaluation services will be designed, developed, and implimented to meet the needs of different users. Our intention is to make the site welcoming and easy to use. Applets and teaching units need to be readily locatable by subject, level, necessary environment, curricular role and context, relation to standards, and other criteria that users find important. We will carefully work out the metadata classification, building on what has been done for applets by EOE and for Web standards by IMS [17], and collaborating with groups in other areas, e.g. the engineering education project NEEDS and ENC, the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse [18], a sister project with the Math Forum in metadata endeavors.

2. Services for faculty

We will provide an introduction to the site for faculty, survey papers discussing the contents of the collection, a place for asking questions about the site, a discussion group concerned with using applets in teaching, an archive of frequently asked questions, and a special area for asking "why doesn't someone develop an applet that does XX?" all of course searchable. A search engine will be at hand and the tables of contents for the various courses will be featured for browsing. In addition to showing which topics have applets and teaching units and which have applications to science and engineering, the contents will make apparent what is lacking; prizes will be advertised and approaches suggested for those who wish to help fill in the holes.

Faculty will be encouraged to write their own teaching units making use of the applets and other small programs that emerge. We will give directions and develop any necessary software help so they can conveniently use the applets in their work (at least those that reside on our server). We have a subcontract with the ESCOT project that will assist non-technical teachers to exploit interoperability, combining applets in teaching units aimed at filling curriculum gaps. Industries will be asked to provide awards for the best new teaching units in various areas. A letter from Microsoft is attached in Section I stating that they are very positive about supporting such prizes, as well as prizes for students and developers.

3. Services for students

While the entry point for faculty is intended to help teachers quickly find and use materials, while also encouraging them to become contributors, the student front end will focus on using materials to help in understanding mathematics.

Student services will discuss how to find useful material. For browsing, the tables of contents will highlight items recommended by students and teachers, and those frequently accessed. Flags will indicate applications to the sciences and engineering. There will be a student discussion area, the possibility of asking questions about the site, and FAQs. We will give modest honoraria to student groups and perhaps to exceptional students to discuss how they use the library effectively. Feedback from students -- the real end users -- will be encouraged, and their input will be solicited for improving the teaching units, suggesting needed topics, and improving the site.

We will be encouraging students to take a more active role than is customary. They will be involved in evaluating and making recommendations for teaching materials and software, in site improvement, and in contributing their own work. Experience indicates that students can be good Java programmers: two years ago the Math Forum had an 8th grader submit a nice applet showing how to simplify an algebraic equation in response to a Forum problem. (Moreover, the programmer of our most successful programming project started working on what was to become the Geometer's Sketchpad when he was a college sophomore.) We will provide a venue for students to discuss mathematically oriented Java programming. Alexander Bogomolny [12] has agreed to serve as a consultant for this. The JCampus site [19], which has a collection of Java programming resources for computer science students, has invited our students to take advantage of their materials.

Students have also written good supplementary materials. (See "Famous Problems in Mathematics" [20], written by Isaac Reed during the summer of his sophomore year. These pages have received many favorable comments and were selected by the Canadian Mathematical Society as worthy of notice [21].) While really excellent material may be rare, we believe it is of great importance to support student efforts in this direction.

To stimulate all this programming and writing talent, we will encourage students to submit their work to a special section of our digital library where it will be carefully reviewed separately from other material, and we will award student prizes in various categories.

4. Services for developers

We will offer a developer's introduction to the site and discussion possibilities, together with useful information and tools. The tables of contents for developers will highlight areas of the curriculum that lack applets. For developer support, we will provide articles on curricular directions and programming techniques by Alexander Bogomolny.

4.1. Interoperability and reusability

Re-use and interoperability of applets in the digital library will be investigated by the ESCOT group at SRI. Using an integrated team approach, they will (a) develop and maintain a portion of the developer section of the JOMA Web site that documents the reuse and interoperability of open source software and recommends appropriate alternatives for JOMA contributors; (b) work with developers submitting to JOMA to encourage re-use of existing applets in novel ways; and (c) develop recommendations for applet re-use and interoperability to inform developers and digital library personnel.

This effort will document various strategies for open source software, reuse, and interoperability, and will recommend appropriate alternatives for JOMA contributors. A regular JOMA "column" on these subjects will appear four times a year. ESCOT will also analyze contributions to JOMA for current and potential reuse and interoperability and will report annually on these topics across the digital library.

In consultation with the PI and the JOMA Applets Editor, ESCOT will choose one contribution per issue and attempt to:

  • inform the author(s) about ways to enhance re-use and interoperability, and encourage updates;
  • or, if the contributor is not available for further work, seek equivalent tools or components available in open source form, and let the community know of their availability.

Each year, ESCOT will work with four authors to develop JOMA contributions that re-use existing components in novel ways. The authors will need curricular and subject-matter expertise rather than technical development skills. In accordance with the ESCOT "integration team" approach, authors will be paired with in-house developers.

We are banking on the likelihood that developers will wish to have their work catalogued in a central, recognized, and easily accessed location. Our preference will be to offer the source code for applets, although professionals may justifiably balk at this. The next best would be class files (Java binary--as close to compiled as Java gets); links to the applets would be the third choice. Since some institutions may regard their academics' work as their property, even though it is rather small scale, our approach will be for developers to retain intellectual property rights to their work. We may ask institutions to pay to use the library if they insist on retaining intellectual property rights.

Some developers (and institutions holding intellectual property rights) may be persuaded to make their work available to users for a limited time. For example, I might want a teaching unit on the remainder term in Taylor polynomials for just the week in which I cover that topic. Users who sign an agreement to limit distribution to their teaching needs could be issued a "library card" and would be able to "check out" such material for a specified amount of time. We will pursue this option if we encounter excellent material that might otherwise be unavailable.

5. User communities

An important goal of this project is to enable the sharing and discussion of applet use and development, both between and among its diverse user groups. Web-based discussion groups will be available to all users. These will be archived, fully searchable, and if necessary moderated, using special software that the Math Forum has developed. (The Math Forum staff has found Web-based discussions to be more effective when they include email notification, so this will be an option.) As part of our community-building efforts, we will identify groups with common interests (e.g. matrix applets) and ask whether they wish to be notified when anything meeting such an interest is posted.

The growth of leaders from each of the user groups will be tracked and these individuals will be encouraged to take on various digital library functions. Thus, faculty members will asked for reviews, students to survey available material for various courses and discuss how satisfactory it is for their learning, and developers will be encouraged to fill crucial curricular gaps.

We will also create possibilities for interactions among the communities. Faculty may post requests for specific applets to the developer group; teachers and students will be asked to provide feedback to developers for works-in-progress; students will give feedback to authors of teaching units, etc. There will also be an open forum for all users to discuss common problems.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

Home || The Math Library || Quick Reference || Search || Help 

© 1994- The Math Forum at NCTM. All rights reserved.

The Math Forum