What should Mma be?
- To: mathgroup at yoda.physics.unc.edu
- Subject: What should Mma be?
- From: elbert at middlebury.edu
- Date: Wed, 9 Dec 1992 13:56:36 +0000
Ok, I haven't followed much of the thread on this subject and might be duplicating something here, but... It is absolutely clear to me that what Mma should be is a whole lot more accessible! That means, mostly, one thing....much, much cheaper! I hope the following doesn't read as a flame...but I have struggled for three years to get more of my student's access to Mma and am a little frustrated. I think that lots of this list has a bit of a research perspective, but one of the greatest uses for Mma is in teaching. This tool could become almost as commonplace on college campuses as word processors (well, at least as commonplace as spreadsheets). One of the great strengths of Mma is it's profound breadth (you can argue that this causes many of it's faults of course)...the system can be used for far more math than a typical user ever needs....so take advantage of that by letting it become a tool that students encounter in many different courses. The tool would be far more useful if students used it from the beginning level onward and thereby learned Mma the only way you can...in chunks as you need them. It is hopeless to think of having students take a special course in Mma...except for the odd specialized short course...that isn't the way education works-and no ones curriculum has room to give up another course to put in a Mma course. Have them learn a little Mma in their Calc course, use the same tool in Economics, find it useful again in Geology, and so on....this way students develop real facility with the tool and begin, quickly, to find their own applications in places it isn't explicitly suggested. The problem is that students cannot afford the software and neither can most institutions. The student pricing is flawed because students get a less-than-full featured version of the software...that is bogus. The educational institution pricing is flawed because it still costs too much. I think my institution is a pretty good example of a well-off college. We have nice facilities and the support of the administration in new educational initiatives. But we cannot find the cash to outfit a good sized lab of Macintoshes with Mma and then keep them updated (updates should just be plain free for several years, the cost of mathPlus is too much). Instead we have it installed on a few machines and students have to go to specific computing places and specific machines to use it....this discourages use and makes it impractical to require it's use in any but a minimal way in courses. What would happen if the software cost an order of magnitude less? I know many faculty that could require purchase of the package for a course and our labs would fill out with copies...in the end I think Wolfram would sell more than 10x as many copies and would end up making more money! And think of the many less financially well off school that could begin to use it...it might even make some real inroads in high schools. We could also, finally, reach critical mass for this tool and begin to see real growth into sectors of the curriculum that never considered it before. It would be a quantitative boon to the pedagogical processes and I bet Wolfram would reap benefits in the research and business sectors by the increased numbers of Mma-literate graduates. Wouldn't it be exciting to know that you could use Mma and assume that your students have access to it? Does anyone have to think twice about students having access to a word processor anymore? Of course not. Does anyone get away with NOT worrying about students being able to use Mma? CAVEAT-I guess schools with lots of NeXT machines around have much less of a problem because the software is bundled...but I think those institutions are still rare and even at those school, few students have a NeXT of their own. ADDENDUM-The password protection scheme is also an albatross...it makes installation on public-use computers difficult and, in our case at least, with a higher hardware cost...that puts faculty at odds with computer center administrators. Wolfram has to realize that software use on campuses is driven by faculty and faculty already have a hard enough time getting their "support personnel" to make things happen...Wolfram shouldn't make it harder. David Elbert Department of Geology Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 05753 Elbert at midd.bitnet