Mathematical Field Notes

Archive for June 2013

E-Learning: Spring 2013

leave a comment »

Henry Wilton, Bonita Carboo and I are the UCL Maths Department’s e-learning reps. In the interests of sharing ideas, here are a few things I have discovered this Spring about e-learning which may be useful to others.


Moodle is the online platform UCL uses to interact with its students. I am only just waking up to the possibilities it offers.

Most importantly for mathematicians, Moodle has LaTeX functionality. You may not discover it immediately, because the syntax is a little strange: you need to surround your LaTeX by double dollar signs, e.g. $$\sin(x)$$. This acts as if it were single dollar signs in ordinary LaTeX.

I was initially unconvinced of the utility of online forums for students, but that changed drastically. I had a feeling that students wouldn’t use them, but I decided to give it a go. I was being asked many questions by email, many of which were duplicates, so I created a forum for the students to ask questions during exam term. If I was emailed a question, I didn’t answer it and instead strongly encouraged the student to ask on the Moodle forum. The result was a big uptake of the forum with sixteen threads involving posts from sixteen different students in the month leading up to the exam. This is only 10% of the class, but I was able to point others who asked questions by email to the answers I had posted on the forum, saving me time. If I had realised earlier how effective this would be, I would have introduced a forum from the outset.

You can see stats on how many views your forum is getting by going to Navigation > Reports > Logs (thanks to Fiona Harkin for pointing this out). The revision forum had had 2491 views in just over a month. I would say this has been an extremely effective tool: while it was a lot of work to answer all the questions, that work counted for more.


Sage is an open-source computer algebra program. You can run it online using the Sage Notebook if you have an OpenID or using the Sage Cell Server which allows you to run small scripts without the bother of signing in. You can even embed it into webpages to create interactive content.

One of the biggest problems my students had was getting practice calculating Fourier series, so I have written the bare bones of a short (easily extendable) interactive webpage for next year which should give them the practice they need. I will add more examples to this (if and) when I have time. If you want to see how the page works, you can see the Sage code embedded in the HTML by viewing the page source. The important things are the script tags in the document head.

E-learning development grant

I am now the proud owner of an e-learning development grant to facilitate the filming of mathematics lectures and make them available online. I will expand on this in a blog post of its own.

Written by Jonny Evans

June 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

Posted in Code, E-learning, Teaching