Monthly Archives: January 2009

Online Mathematics Degrees

image Last week, I received an email from a reader regarding the online mathematics program at the University of Illinois in Springfield.  I wasn’t familiar with the program and have started taking a closer look.  One of the questions that was asked by that reader was what sort of things should he be looking for in an online mathematics degree.  To my knowledge the are very few fully online bachelor’s degrees IN MATHEMATICS available at this point.  However, with technology advancing at its current rate, the barriers to such a program will be virtually gone in the next few years.

So what exactly are the barriers to an online mathematics degree? I have a few ideas but I’m interested in what other folks are thinking, so I am scoping out the blogosphere and reading as many articles as I can get my hands on.  If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. 

Even as an online mathematics instructor, I still believe that the majority (vast majority, in fact) are better off in a face-to-face setting than online.  Now, the only course I teach is a College Algebra course that is required for all bachelor’s degrees at Wayland. None of my online students are math majors or will become math majors.  I’m not discouraging them, but they are all attending our external campuses where we don’t offer the full program in mathematics, for lack of demand, primarily.  So these students range from a few students straight out of high school to the majority of which are adult learners returning to school.  About half of the students I have are truly motivated enough to do the self-teaching necessary to learn the material through the online medium, but the communication barrier still looms as the largest hurdle to success for almost all of the students.

image To answer the reader’s question, “What should I be looking for in [an online mathematics program]?”, I replied the following:

While many Universities have moved to put several undergraduate courses online such as College Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Calculus.  There is much less available in terms of the upper level courses that involve abstract mathematics and proof techniques.

Most of all, abstract mathematics needs a high level of communication and interaction during the learning process.  Conveying ideas in those courses are very challenging using the online medium.  I think the courses need to have both asynchronous elements and synchronous elements, meaning that there will be times you work on your own time schedule and others that you interact with your class or your professor with immediate feedback.  That’s probably the biggest thing.  You also need the benefit of interacting with fellow students in the program.  A cohort of learners is extremely important during the process or mastering abstract-level mathematics.

What else would be important for mathematics degree to be completely online or is it even possible?


But Tell Me, What of Your Teachers

(Presented by Dr. Wallace Davis at the Centennial Heritage Chapel at Wayland Baptist University, with possibly original elements and some from anonymous sources)

While some Universities may boast of their age, of their ivied walls,
Of their great endowments, their marble halls,
Of their vast curricular scope and reach,
And of all the wonderful things they teach

Tell me, tell me of their teachers

For no printed word nor spoken plea
Can teach a heart what men should be,
Not all the books on all the shelves.
Oh no, it’s what the teachers are themselves.

I take it back!

image So far since the beginning of the week , I have received no less than four messages claiming to have attachments that did not.  Within seconds of receiving them, a follow-up email arrives confessing the stupidity, idiocy, or moron-itude of the sender plus the previously promised attachment.  I point no fingers as I am as guilty in this matter as anyone else.

Worse yet are those “Reply-to-all” instead of “Reply” mistakes.  Even worse is the Reply instead of Forward to.  I recall one time receiving an answer to a question from the Facilities Manager here on campus (my land-lord, basically) which I did not like.  Instead of forwarding to my wife my response of “Ugh!”, I replied that back to him.  Nice move, Einstein.

So, here’s a recommendation to all you happy clickers that let the send button do the talking when you’re not quite ready:

Email Delivery Delay in Outlook 2003/2007:

This allows you to double check and re-think sending your email even after hitting the send button.  It causes your email be held for a specified number of minutes after hitting send.

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts, and then click New Rule.
  2. Select Start from a blank rule.
  3. In the Step 1: Select when messages should be checked box, click Check messages after sending, and then click Next.
  4. In the Step 1: Select condition(s) list, select any options you want, and then click Next.

    If you do not select any check boxes, a confirmation dialog box appears. Clicking Yes applies this rule to all messages you send.

  5. In the Step 1: Select action(s) list, select defer delivery by a number of minutes. Delivery can be delayed up to two hours.
  6. In the Step 2: Edit the rule description (click on an underlined value) box, click the underlined phrase a number of and enter the number of minutes you want messages held before sending.
  7. Click OK, and then click Next.
  8. Select any exceptions, and then click Next.
  9. In the Step 1: Specify a name for this rule box, type a name for the rule.
  10. Click Finish.

Forgotten Attachment Detector in Gmail

For Gmail there is an experimental feature that detects from the wording of your message that you intended to attach a file but did not.  It pops up a warning if it thinks you meant to attach something.

To enable this feature, go under the Google Labs section of the Settings page in Gmail.  Scroll down to “Forgotten Attachment Detector” and select Enable.  Then click “Save Changes” at the bottom.

I just turned it on for the first time and ran a few tests on the way I might say that I have an attachment.  For example:

  • I have attached a file” – works
  • see attached” – works
  • see attachment”- works
  • “Attachment” as subject line – did not work
  • Here is the file I mentioned” – did not work

Not bad.  It’s worth having running in the background.

Mail Goggles in Gmail

For those emails that you send late in the evening or over the weekend when your head isn’t in the right mindset to respond to some naysayer at work, wouldn’t be nice of something stopped before you vented all over them.  How about having to work out 5 arithmetic problems before you send? That would give you time to reconsider what you have written.

There’s another experimental feature in Gmail that does just that called Mail Goggles.  I don’t use this one but I’ve played with it.  You can control the difficulty and set a schedule for when this will interrupt your sending.


I have yet to discover a way to delay the delivery of an email sent through the Gmail web interface.  If anyone knows how, I’m certainly interested.





Another Calculus Limerick

I love a good math limerick.  And, no, “Nantucket” is never a destination for some mathematician in a good math limerick.  Here’s a new one I discovered online:

[tex]displaystyle int_{0}^{frac{pi}{6}} sec y , dy = ln sqrt{3} (i)^{64}[/tex]

For the laymen,

The integral sec y dy                         -> (read as “seek y dee y”)
From zero to one-sixth of pi
Is the log to base e
Of the square-root of three
Times the sixty fourth power of i.

This rivals my favorite limerick of all time. And I can’t talk about limericks without repeating it for you:

[tex]displaystyle int_1^{sqrt[3]{3}} z^2 , dz cdot cos left( frac{3pi}{9} right) = ln sqrt[3]{e} [/tex]

Again, for the unconverted,

The integral z-squared dz
From one to the cube root of 3
Times the cosine
Of three pi over nine
Is the log of the cube root of e.

“It’s gold, Jerry! Gold!”

Recent Coding Projects

image There have been a number of interesting projects I’ve been asked to work on over the course of the last few weeks.  They all involve writing a little code and so I want to document some of those projects here.  They are not math related but my interests are broader than just numerical analysis and bioinformatics.  Plus, in the age where “google” has become a verb, I attract occasional visitors to this site looking for solutions to problems that I have solved for myself, like repairing a broken headphone jack or enabling wifi on a misbehaving smart phone.

Consolidating data in multiple excel workbooks

Consider the case where you might have a large set of excel spreadsheets spread across a number of different workbooks.  If you want to consolidate, merge, extract or just combine data, there isn’t really an ideal tool for doing this.  There is a “Consolidate data” function in excel but it isn’t suited to large numbers of files because it becomes tedious opening and selecting the range over and over.  While many Excel gurus might have other solutions, I decided to go the macro route.

As in most cases, I was able to find resources available online that would accomplish something similar to what I wanted.

Goal #1:

Take all the data (used range of cells) in all the worksheets in all the workbooks in a specified directory and combine them into a single sheet (or several sheets in the same workbook if they don’t fit)

Continue reading Recent Coding Projects