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Topic: another "best practice"

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Subject:   Developers Area suggestions
Author: Don Speray
Date: Apr 20 2003
Here are two suggestions for MathTools to support development: a "gems" area,
and a "best practices" area.  Their intention is to raise the bar of software
and reduce wasted effort and time.

Gems are algorithms, tricks of the trade, and snippets of code.  Since these can
be found on many topics, in many places on the Web, a list of links might be
sufficient.  But it seems likely there are some that are peculiar to educational
math apps.  A simple one that I would submit is an effective
float-to-rational algorithm that has the property that, given an error
tolerance, finds the rational of lowest terms (this is not a trivial problem).
Another that would be very useful is how to visually edit formulas, as in
MathCad or Word's Equation Editor.  This feature shouldn't be rare today, and
there are a few free programs that do it.

Best practices are guidelines that product designers would consult before
design.  Again, software is software and it would be inappropriate to provide
generic guidelines, but there seems to be guidelines that more educational
application developers should follow if the bar is to be raised.  For example,
direct manipulation is common today in dynamic geometry programs, but it has
been around for decades in CAD/CAM.  There is little reason today for a student
to type coefficients as the *only* way to change the shape of a polynomial when,
at home, they use a joystick to change the 3D spline bodies of their game
characters.  It should be a turn-off to see a purported
graphhically-oriented mathematical Java applet that is surrounded by buttons
and text boxes as the only way to "interact" with it.  

Of course, you can provide a recommended feature only if you know how to do it,
hence the gems area would go hand in hand with best practices.  I would add that
threaded discussions are a poor way to organize useful information, once it has
been elicited.

I can only guess what best practices would say about many aspects of developing
educational software.  I have never seen street-wise information on this, only
research articles.  Maybe this is the place to hear from product developers who
know and are willing to share their experience.

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