Digital Textbooks for the Mathematically Curious

by Dan Lynch

Currently, there is a surge of interest in making complex subject material accessible to everyone, including very young students. This platform strives for the ideal of an educational medium that is universal, crosses language barriers (e.g. non-verbal content), and is accessible to people of all ages. Many in the world do not have access to resources like universities, which makes it even more critical that those who do have access to such resources use it to help those who do not. Factual content is beginning to be expressed through interactive and immersive media such as real-world gaming. Given the towering amount of information now available, it is important to convey information that is as clear and engaging as possible. Thus, while the platform would be searchable for quick learning, it would also offer more immersive environments for deep educational experiences.

Scientific content increasingly relies on the presentation and authoring of complex multimedia diagrams and figures, sometimes interactive, to convey information in a non-textual way. Wikis and user-generated hyperlinked content have both been very successful in the case for text---this is what I aim to do for mathematical diagrams.

Digital textbooks are becoming more and more prevalent with the birth of the tablet and various technologies. Most digital textbooks are not interactive with mathematics, however. This system provides a deeper learning for math by providing interactive diagrams, which can make learning more fun and engaging.

Digitizing the curriculum

I have developed a system that brings interactive, mathematical learning content to the iPad. This system is novel compared to previous systems because a reader can interact with the figures on the page and explore mathematical concepts.

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Deeper Learning

One of the main questions is whether or not this system encourages deeper learning. Does this system catalyzes the learning process: can students learn concepts more effectively when presented with a digital textbook with interactive, mathematical diagrams compared with traditional paper books? Are students more engaged with a digital textbook?

Open Contribution and Open Standards

A web interface has been created to allow users to publish eBooks using a device with a keyboard. The author can add descriptions which can be searched through when readers are creating collections.

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The format we use for the eBooks are a synthesis of two open standards: HTML and LaTeX. This allows the non-programmer to author eBooks for the iPad, which enables the publishing of content that may have otherwise not been published.

Local Storage

Readers can download content from the Web and store collections onto their device for reading without a network connection.

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The implementation of the system integrates various technologies: Objective-C, JSON, Ruby on Rails, and MySQL to name a few. The applets themselves are coded in Objective-C, and the eBook content is authored in HTML and LaTeX entered through a web interface.

Technologies used included: