Teaching STEM Online with Mathematica

When using the Mathematica classroom assistant, I have no need for paper and pencil.

I have a little something to report on explaining math, particularly calculus, via email. This past spring semester, a family friend took an online calculus course and, due to an inadequate algebra background, was struggling to pass. Having taught online before without the proper tools, including Mathematica, explaining math via email was a nearly hopeless, torturous task for the teacher, not to mention the student. This time around, I was very pleasantly surprised at how easily I could type an email with the Mathematica classroom assistant and precisely explain the problem, with no video necessary.

As a videographer, when using the Mathematica classroom assistant, I have no need for paper and pencil; I did not need to turn on and focus a camera and concern myself with audio quality and recording, editing and rendering, and uploading a large file.

Example problem explanation

Considering that teaching and learning STEM with Mathematica is quite different than teaching and learning without it, it’s a tough sell for instructors who are used to a chalkboard, printed textbooks, and paper and pencil. It’s an even tougher sell for instructors who aren’t interested in learning or who don’t have time to learn anything else, as well as for uninvolved administrators.

Stephen Wolfram called a teachers’ focus group meeting at a Wolfram Technology Conference, where he showed a slide of Khan Academy and a few other educational outlets and posed the question of what can be done differently.

I first recorded video, similar to Khan Academy tutorials, via VHS for my students in Spring 2003 as an out of classroom review for our last test and final exam. I did this again in Fall 2003 and Spring 2004. It was well received by the students, but not supported by the faculty and less supported, in fact practically opposed, by the complacent administration. Since I couldn’t “sell” anything to my students, I ended up bartering for postage stamps to cover media duplication cost. Recording the video was a pleasure compared to running out of time in class.

Now, after explaining just a few problems with Mathematica, what I see can be done differently and more efficiently is to use online video instead of VHS, DVD, or other media, as well as using Mathematica screen capture, maybe with audio, instead of with chalkboard and video camera or paper and pencil.

I’m more than a little surprised that it only took half a dozen calculus problem solutions to see that a laptop with Mathematica can ‘almost’ replace a video camera.

Now I have some ideas for using a computer to produce video without a camcorder. And I’m considering what additional audio and other gear for different budgets will work with Mathematica.

About the blogger:

Michael Lyda

Michael Lyda, a Wolfram Community member, was a college math instructor for seven years. Currently, he teaches and tutors privately and part-time through his site, www.HelpWithMath.Net, which is being completely redone with webMathematica. Lyda also works with a combination of video production and small database administration for a non-profit religious ministry. For any custom software needs, Lyda tries to use Mathematica.