Students Review Mathematical Concepts on the Internet
M.A. Khamsi, H. Knaust and N. MarcusDepartment of Mathematical Sciences The University of Texas at El Paso El Paso, TX 79968 mohamed@math.utep.edu, helmut@math.utep.edu, nancy@math.utep.edu
Introduction
Our project has been supported since its inception by the
Description S.O.S. Mathematics is a website featuring review material in Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus, as well as more advanced topics such as Matrix Algebra and Differential Equations. Our material is not meant to be a cornucopia of complete web-delivered Mathematics courses. Instead, we aim our site at students who want to refresh their memory of mathematical topics they have learnt in the past, or who want to supplement the material in a mathematics course they are currently taking. Consequently, most of our webpages contain short explanations of a mathematical concept followed by examples of typical problems with their solutions. At the end of a webpage the students usually find exercises to check their understanding of the material. We are quite surprised at the diversity of our users. Besides our target population of lower-division college students, our site has attracted adult learners who are studying for professional examinations as well as hobby-mathematicians. Many parents seek help on our web site to assist their children with their homework chores. In addition, the site is used heavily by the authors and other interested faculty in our department, both for students’ review of prerequisite material and for in-class presentations by faculty. In response to requests by many users and in addition to our original plans, we have enlarged the scope of our website to include "Cyberexams", a practice test site for our users, and some web pages containing mathematical tables and common formulas.
The Start of Our Project The idea for S.O.S. Mathematics was born in the summer of 1996. Year after year we had complained to each other that our students had forgotten some of the prerequisites for the Mathematics courses we were teaching. Teaching at a university in the fourth poorest congressional district, we were well aware that our students had sold their old textbook immediately after the end of the previous semester, so now they were "stuck" and did not have easy access to the material we assumed as a prerequisite. With computer laboratories spreading throughout our campus, we thought that the Internet presented a solution to this dilemma. The NSF-funded
Design of the Website Our choice of technology and presentation was driven by the following concerns: (1) We assumed that our students would access our site either at the university (variety of platforms, no customizability) or at home (old machines, slow Internet connection). Therefore, we decided not to use frames and not to require plug-ins or Java-capability. (2) We wanted to write a lot of material; thus we chose a technology, which was "easy" on authors; most of us were familiar with LaTeX. Consequently, we decided to produce our pages via the LaTeX2HTML route. Mathematica), and also quite a few GIF animations.
(4) Because of the size of the project, we felt we had to pay particular attention
to easy navigation through the site. Indeed, it is quite easy for our users to jump from
one topic to another. (5) Unlike a book, we did not write our first webpages
in a "linear" fashion. Instead we picked our first topics among subjects our
students had had most trouble with in the past, such as solving inequalities,
factoring polynomials, partial fractions, Taylor series.
(6) While our department was in the middle of "Calculus" reform,
we wanted our material to be "reform"-neutral to help our students
bridge the gap between the old and the new material. Consequently, S.O.S. Mathematics
includes topics both from the reform viewpoint and from the "traditional syllabus".
Present and Future of S.O.S. Mathematics Today, our S.O.S. Mathematics site contains more than 2,300 webpages. S.O.S. Mathematics has become very popular. Indeed, since August 1996, more than 220,000 users have read a total of about 1.5 million of our webpages. We have received numerous awards including designation as an We feel that our site is only about 60% complete. During our experience in the last two years we have learnt that there is quite a need for mathematical help via the Internet. We therefore plan to extend our site to include more topics from the high school curriculum such as Geometry. We expect the main production phase of the project to be finished by 2001. The UTEP administration has felt for quite some time that our project has reached a point where it should be able to support itself. Therefore we have started a company:
Some Remarks about Website Design Issues
November 1998 |