Yesterday we had a one-day workshop on using web-based technology in math courses. The premise was that the technology used in our math courses has been almost unchanged over the past ten years, despite the big improvements in web-based applications that are available to us. The need for web-based apps is becoming more pressing, now that we are moving to a bring-your-own technology model, as individual students’ laptops will not have the programs that we need and would not have identical versions in any case.
So, we explored a variety of apps — principally Geogebra, Shodor, WolframAlpha, and Desmos — in the context of the courses we are teaching. Not surprisingly, each had pros and cons. We found some good Shodor apps, though in many cases the competition was better. Geogebra (also free and web-based) was great for some purposes, especially things like algebraic properties of geometric transformations, as a replacement for Geometer’s Sketchpad, but often there was a lot of overhead involved in learning how to use it. WolframAlpha was all-around wonderful, though its interface could be difficult and unfriendly. Desmos was clearly the all-around winner for lots of reasons, such as its ability to graph transformations and to make flexible graphs of systems of inequalities with very little overhead.
The bottom line is that we have to resolve the tension between concentrating on a couple of apps — thereby permitting students to gain expertise and comfort in those — and using different apps for different purposes, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each. We also concluded that some apps might well be suited to demos by the teacher if not to use by students.
Stay tuned for the outcomes…