Communicating mathematics today

A few thoughts about how we can use current technology to communicate mathematics. Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in any of the sites or products I mention and I am sure there are plenty of alternatives. Neither can I guarantee their success, naturally. They just happen to be things I know and have used myself. I’d be quite interested in hearing what other people are using.

A good place to start is Skype. It is a great internet phone system which works quite well. It’s free from computer to computer (for now anyway) and fairly cheap from computer to land-line. A useful feature for collaborations with more than two people is the possibility to make conference calls. There are Windows, Mac and Linux versions of Skype.

What I haven’t found a good way to do yet is to also be able to write mathematics for others to read while on Skype. I haven’t tried the beta version of Skype with camera. During the AIM workshop I heard that some people use iChat successfully. I also heard of some version of tablet PC’s used for this purpose.

— I did a little searching since writing the above paragraph and found something that could be quite useful. It’s skrbl (read it aloud). You create a whiteboard where several people can write or draw on. It doesn’t require any downloads; it works directly on the assigned webpage. It worked for me on Firefox when I tried it. The mouse is a bit cumbersome to use to write formulas but perhaps one should use instead some kind of pointer device. It looks like this in combination with Skype could be a good setup for collaborating in mathematics.

For talks I have occasionally used a digital voice recorder, something like this: Olympus WS-100 . They are pretty inexpensive and work well. It’s easy to record and download the sound file directly to computer afterwards. A colleague of mine listens to talks while driving some times.

I understand that a consortium of 5 UK universities will start this year a program of teaching graduate courses to students in all of them through the web. I’m quite interested to see how this goes. I’ve also seen joint seminars (UBC and SF in Vancouver) done with video conferencing. Investing in this kind of technology seems to be a pretty good idea to me.

Finally, for all my classes I no longer use the blackboard. Instead, I write in regular white paper with a thick black marker. This gets projected by a Document Camera to a screen for the audience to read. (You can find one description of the camera here .) After class I scan the notes and put them on the web. For this I use Igal, a series of perl scripts to organize fotos on a webpage. You can find some examples in my website.

I find the fact that I keep a record of exactly what I said in class (including asides, tangents, answers to questions, etc.) very useful. The students typically do too and, no, it does not seem to translate into them feeling less inclined to come to class.


One Response to Communicating mathematics today

  1. irrationalpoint says:

    Have you tried Adium with LaTeX equations? I blogged about how to set it up, over at my old blog, here.


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