Reading and writing mathematical notation in e-learning environments

Josep Cuartero-Olivera, Gordon Hunter, Antoni Pérez-Navarro


How do students and teachers communicate mathematics via the internet? Why do they use these methods? Is there any better way of communicating mathematics via the internet? In addition to the time needed to understand a concept, it is also a challenge for students to write formulae in e-learning environments, since most computers and software are not designed to write formulae. Furthermore, most physics, mathematics and engineering students do most of all their initial analysis and calculations using pen and paper and then have to translate it into a computer environment. Does this extra time investment play a role in the academic results achieved?

This paper presents exploratory research into the different methods used by teachers and students to communicate mathematics via the internet and to use appropriate patterns according to the different subjects and knowledge areas. It explores the reasons that make students choose one method or another and analyses the extreme case: when students write mathematical formulae on paper and then scan this electronically.

The analysis is carried out on engineering subjects at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in which mathematics plays an important role: 17,000 emails are analysed and five physics teachers are interviewed as part of a qualitative study about handwritten scanned exercises.

This paper shows that the key to explaining students' behaviour is the time factor. In order to reduce the time required to write the required mathematical formulae, the paper proposes a speech-to-text tool, such as TalkMaths, to help students create and edit mathematical formulae, since speech is the fastest and most natural way of communicating.


e-learning, mathematical notation, mathematics communication, TalkMaths

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