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Collaborative curriculum development in engineering and The sciences: The connexions 7 year experience with MathML

Friday, December 8, 2006 - 2:30pm - 3:00pm
EE/CS 3-180
Ross Reedstrom (Rice University)
Connexions uses a collaborative, community-driven approach to content creation,
organization, and dissemination. We provide a set of open source tools and an
open repository for the publication and exchange of educational materials, by
anyone, from anywhere , to anyone, anywhere.

More than three thousand modules in 13 languages are used by over a million
people worldwide for both formal and self-guided learning in fields ranging
from computer science to music and from mathematics to biodiversity.
These XML-based modules allow instructors to compose customized courses,
providing students with new opportunities to explore the connections between
different ideas and domains, as well as to extend the repository with additional materials of their own.

A significant core of our content is in engineering and other mathematically
intensive disciplines. We use content MathML source materials, transforming to
presentation MathML for web presentation, and PDF for print. Since are not
ourselves the authors of most of the content, we do not have direct control
over tools and methods our authors use to create markup. While requiring
cMathML provides well known, significant advantages for users of the repository
(flexible format output via transformations, alternative notational
conventions, consistent notation using mixed sources, etc.), it has a
significant cost for our authors. Lack of tools is still the limiting factor
for adding more math in more modules. The current version of the MathML
standard is somewhat limited in the fields of math covered by semantic markup.
Specific notational conventions can also be difficult to accommodate.

Regardless, over half of our content contains math. We are currently working
to improve our tools for input as well providing validity checking (as a subset
of theorem proving) of math. Providing means to explore this body of materials
via structural math search, in combination with other metadata and fulltext
searches, has just now become useful. We will discuss currently successful
methods of assisting authors in creating MathML markup, what hasn't worked, how
the math interacts with other aspects of distributed collaboration (through
both space and time), and some characterization of the body of math available
from the Connexions Repository.