Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Web + Mathematics -- Take 2

At the end of 2006, I posted a rant about the sorry state of working with Mathematics in the browser. That post elicited some good feedback, but I was still dissatisfied with the overall situation. I still am, to some extent. Microsoft still couldn't bring themselves to add support for MathML in IE7 (along with a host of other things) - at least MathPlayer is still there to paper over the gaping hole. Apple's Safari browser is into version 3 and still struggling with MathML. It's not encouraging.

But there are good things happening. Peter Jipsen of Chapman University has developed a javascript approach to entering equations in a simple syntax (well, simpler than LaTeX, at least, and nowhere near as verbose as MathML itself) and rendering it on-screen with Presentation MathML. It's called AsciiMath. And it works! Not only that, adding it to Moodle proved to be simplicity itself.

There are a few caveats. (Isn't there always?) Because you are using Presentation MathML, you need the MathML fonts installed on your computer. And if you use IE, you need MathPlayer (or a real browser, but let's not go there.) If you use Safari... sorry, try Camino or Flock.

But it's a big step in the right direction. Especially if you are using a VLE like Moodle, since it means that students can enter their own mathematical equations and expressions without needing to resort to other software for its creation and/or editing.

Being able to type in `x^2 +(3x)/5 =0` and getting a good-looking equation on-screen is exactly the level at which students (and teachers) need this to work - a simple, effective way of entering their equations resulting in immediate and effective presentation.

Peter Jipsen - you're a legend.

No comments: