Back to step one || On to sustainability

Step 2: Driving Use

In order for the Math Tools site to become the center of an active, viable community, people need to a) know about it, b) find what they want when they get there, c) believe that the information they get is reliable, d) understand that the possibilities are rich, but not too complicated, e) make it part of their work and regular activity, and f) feel invested in its creation. The Math Forum has experience meeting these needs through its own Web site. To accomplish these goals for the Math Tools site, we will implement similar strategies as we have used before, but also develop new methods for engaging users in better discussions and for more effectively understanding user activity and preferences.

Attracting Users: Through the evaluation of the Math Forum project and work with other Web sites, we have found that the following categories of people are common across sites.

First-time visitors: Every Web site gets a stream of first-time visitors. They are minimally involved, but have potential for becoming more involved if they find what they want and find reasons to visit again.
Loyal readers/visitors: A portion of first-time visitors will find the site useful or interesting and will come back repeatedly for discussion or new content.
Contributors: A portion of loyal readers will be interested in contributing their thoughts and opinions, asking questions, and helping to develop new content or tools.

To attract first-time visitors, and to provide material and services that will assist as many people as possible to become loyal readers and contributors, we will:

Encouraging Discussions

Virtually all publicly-readable discussions have far more lurkers than posters. Successful discussions have a culture of encouraging people to participate.

Each course and content strand will have a facilitator to monitor all of the general discussions and the tool-specific discussions. Through upgrades to current Math Forum discussion software, the facilitators will have tools to highlight posts, flag time-sensitive messages, delete spam and flames, and change threads. They will be given access to our user database (see below) in order to respond and solicit participation more effectively.

Facilitators will use captivating quotes from discussions and articles, as is done on the programmer site. As the discussions and our user profiling develop, users will be given the capability to annotate existing posts, mark them for easy revisitation, and privately identify people they admire or wish to avoid. With Professor James Levin of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne serving as consultant (see attached CV), we will pool their comments and do cluster analysis to obtain community rankings.

Using User Profiling To better meet the needs of our growing community, we will develop a user profiling system that connects types of visitors to comments and ratings. We will also track users with cookies to follow user movement through the site and time spent in various areas. These tools will also aid the discussion facilitators in their goal of creating rich discussions, and help us build profiles of individual users in order to customize their pages. We hope to provide users with appropriate recommendations as a result of their past use and interests. We would like to use friendly, inviting questions, such as "Have you seen these items yet?" (and provide them with a list based upon past use) to help them find new tools to use.

We will work with Shodor (see subcontract) to explore an "" model for materials delivery that will provide feedback to users, perhaps in the form of "users who liked this activity, also liked this other one." Together we will conduct experiments with behavior tracking in the use of the tools to determine whether this service improves library utilization.

Our privacy policy and use of student information will be based on our current policy which appears at the bottom of our POW pages. As we implement our user database and gather information from site visits, and as custom and legislation dictate, we will update the privacy policy accordingly.

Engaging Teachers and Developers in the Community Teachers and lesson plans: The NLVM subcontract staff will continue to collaborate with Mimi Recker of the Instructional Architect project at Utah State (NSF, DUE-0085855) to bring to teachers the ability to insert math tools into web-based math lesson plans. We will extend these tools and materials so that they are available and applicable to all Math Tools. Teachers will be able to go to our site, find a math lesson, use and evaluate it and give it a rating. They will be able to modify it or create their own lesson and save it in the library for use by other teachers and students.

Summer Workshops for teachers and developers: Math Forum summer workshops and institutes in the past have led to valuable collaborations, content development, and a strengthening of the growing community. Each summer throughout the Math Tools project, we will hold a workshop for 10-12 teachers and 3-5 developers, extending the ideas of the workshops we held with the ESCOT project, which showed that such design teams can play a crucial role in the construction of tools of high pedagogical quality. The teachers will arrive first to work together on constructing problems that could benefit from the use of technology tools in a natural and integrated way. If the appropriate tool exists, we will incorporate it and produce an interactive tPOW. This process will also help us identify tools that need to be designed. When the developers arrive, we will form design teams of developers, teachers, and other technical staff. The design teams will spend the remainder of the workshop creating new tools or modifying old tools to fit the problems. They will continue collaborating via email afterward until their projects are completed.

tPOWs: The summer workshops will contribute considerably to creating tPOWs (Technology Problems of the Week), which will in turn strengthen site usage. Teachers who are uncertain about using a new mathlet or tool in their classrooms will have opportunities to begin experimenting with tools that are already placed in the context of rich math problems.

The Math Forum has never had a need to drive usage for the Problems of the Weekthere has always been more work than our mentors can handle comfortably. The Online Mentoring Project, described above, will speed the training of teachers, including in-service and pre-service, for this new project.

Assessment via Handhelds: One exciting idea that is coming forth is for teachers to use PDAs (Palm Pilot, Visor, etc.) to collect assessment data on students as they work on math projects. Our tools will provide good resources for math projects and we envision teachers helping their students and at the same time entering relevant assessment data in their PDA. SRI is developing this kind of software for science and Carol Midgett at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, is working on the beginnings of a similar project for mathematics via a PT3 grant. We will keep our users aware as these tools develop by consulting with Carol Midgett along with Jeremy Roschelle and Phil Vahey of SRI. This is an example of how we plan to engage our readers in new and important ideas and projects.

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