Wolfram Education Portal – Interactive maths

January 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Posted in educational, useful links | Leave a comment
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Given the all the recent hoo-haa about Apple’s iBooks, it is interesting to look at the new Educational Portal from Wolfram, the company behind the Mathematica computational application and the Wolfram|Alpha ‘knowledge engine’.

As you would expect, the focus is on maths, a topic that really benefits from truly interactive learning resources. The first two courses are the key foundation topics of Algebra and Calculus. “In the portal you’ll find a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive Demonstrations, and more built by Wolfram education experts.” Access is currently via a free account, although they warn that they may start charging in the future. You need to download and install a free browser plug-in so that you can view the interactive CDF Computable Document Format pages.

iBooks are fine if the topic requires words, images, audio/video, animations and MCQ questions but it runs out of steam if you need to calculate, graph or visualise data. That’s where CDF really shines – not as glossy as an iBook, but seriously functional. At the moment you can view and interact with CDF on your desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux) or online (again, desktop browsers only). Their website says that Mobile apps are ‘coming soon’, including an iOS browser. That may well be the case, since they already produce many iOS apps, known as course assistants. It looks like Android users will be out of luck again – no iBooks and no CDFs :-(

Tutors can create their own CDF resources using Mathematica, so the creation of free Open Educational Resources is a possibility. It is interesting to look at the licensing agreement, which in many ways is similar to the one about Apple’s iBooks that has upset so many people. Again, if you want to give away your OER there is no problem, but if you want to sell it, Wolfram would like a slice of the action. Seems perfectly reasonable to me, and is in fact a driver in favour of OERs.

And the resources themselves? Algebra has a comprehensive collection of matching lesson plans and textbook pages, all with plenty of interactive examples, while Calculus is much less formal with 19 demonstrations and 12 problem-solving widgets. There is plenty there of interest to science, maths and engineering students from college to University.

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