Archive for Education

Using Math in Moodle

If you’re like me and interested in using math notation in Moodle, I believe you have 2 options. The first option is to use the TeX filter that is in Moodle. This is a LaTeX type editor. To enable, go to site administration -> plugins -> filters
TeX in Moodle: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Using_TeX_Notation
And more notation info: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Using_TeX_Notation_2

The big problem with TeX in my mind is that it is a bit awkward to use. However, if the range of notation that you want is narrow, you can quickly learn how to input what you need.

I think the better option is to use ASCIIMathML because it is easier to use, is more intuitive and also looks better. However, one of the big problems with ASCIIMathML is that it only works with Firefox. No other browsers are able to display its notation without other plugins. There are two workarounds for this. First, you can demand that users use Firefox. Secondly, you can use a version of ASCIIMathML that has a “fallback.” How the fallback works is if the browser does not display the ASCIIMathML correctly, it automatically switches to displaying LaTex images.

First let’s start with the ASCIIMathML. You can find a bit of information about it here, including a link to download: http://docs.moodle.org/en/ASCIIMathML
I found this thread on the Moodle forums to be very helpful:
http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=153697
For my examples below you have to include a javascript file inside your Moodle installation. I am assuming that you are putting the ASCIIMathML.js file in the folder:
http://www.yourdomain.com/moodle/lib/asciimath/
Adjust this url with your own domain.

To get asciimath working in Moodle 2.0, go to site administration -> Appearance -> Additional HTML
In the “Within HEAD” section, paste the text:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://yourdomain.com/moodle/lib/asciimath/ASCIIMathML.js”></script>

What this does is ensures that the ASCIIMathML javascript is inserted into the head of every html page.

If you don’t have Moodle 2.0, you have to find your config.php file for your theme and insert the text there. For example, if you are using the theme FormFactor, go to the file: http://yourdomain.com/moodle/theme/formfactor/config.php
Open the config.php file in an appropriate editor (I use Codelobster) and somewhere between
<head> and </head> insert the line:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://yourdomain.com/moodle/theme/formfactor/lib/asciimath/ASCIIMathML.js”></script>

In firefox you should now be able to use ASCIIMathML notation. I had an additional problem and had to edit my asciimathml.js file. Somewhere around line 50 in this file I had to change
var avoidinnerHTML = false;
to
var avoidinnerHTML = true;

Okay, now that it’s working you can try a fallback version. I used ASCIIMathMLwFallback2.js from http://dlippman.imathas.com/asciimathtex/AMT.html

I edited the same “avoidinnerHTML” in the .js file, uploaded it to the same /lib/asciimath folder, and edited the “Within HEAD” section to use the new javascript file name. I now have ASCIIMathML working on all browsers. More info on fallback can be found at this Moodle forum link: http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=134706

Merit Pay Discussion

Shortly after I put up my previous post I came across a discussion about merit pay for teachers on CBC’s The Sunday Edition. The discussion was between Peter Cowley, who I have blogged about before, and Ben Levin, a former deputy Minister of Education in Manitoba and Ontario.

Peter Cowley seemed much more reserved in this interview than in the previous one that I had heard. The fact is that both Cowley and Levin seemed to agree on all issues other than whether governments should move forward with merit pay (and their respective support for unions in general). Cowley is a proponent of it, even though he didn’t actually state any reasons why he thought it is good or works. Levin pointed out studies that have shown that merit pay does not work, as well as a few other bad things about merit pay:

  • can cause internal strife and tensions between the haves and have-nots
  • no other industries use merit pay (as I had pointed out)
  • if 25% of the workforce achieves merit pay, there will be a huge economic cost to the system
  • if less than 25% of the workface achieves merit pay, there will be disenchantment and demotivation

I hope government policy makers and stakeholders take a listen to these types of debates and discussions in order to come up with a reasonable reaction to the question of merit pay.

You can follow my musings on education via Twitter @bcphysics

Falcon and Merit Pay

Last week Kevin Falcon went on record with adding merit pay for teachers as part of his platform for his leadership bid. Seeing as it comes from Falcon, it’s no surprise that I have a few issues with his ideas.

To begin with, I don’t know Falcon’s motives for merit pay. Is it to save money, to get better teaching, or something else? From the reports I’ve seen summarized, research has shown that merit pay does nothing to improve teaching or learning. Making matters worse is the concept that merit pay would at all be tied to standardized test scores, or that better standardized test scores would be achieved if teachers were on merit pay. I’m not clear if Falcon has either of these on his mind but I suspect that they both play a role in his thinking. I think that standardized testing has a valuable role to play in education, but more in terms of specific tests designed for specific purposes and goals relating to policy and research. In terms of ranking students, schools or teachers, standardized testing makes little sense to me.

One of my biggest gripes with merit pay is the myth that this is how the “real world works.” As someone that was a mechanical engineer for 15 years, I think I can offer some insight into this. While merit has some influence on pay scale, my experience is that it lags behind other factors quite significantly. Supply and demand is a much stronger determiner for salary. A specific skillset that is desired but rare will fetch higher pay, regardless of one’s ability to master that skillset. The other factor that greatly influences salary is level of responsibility. The more things you have to do or be responsible for, the more you get paid. One can argue that levels of responsibility are based upon merit, and in some cases this is true. However, “in the real world,” promotions and employment are often products of nepotism, popularity, politicking, negotiating, timing, poor management and poor methodologies for employee evaluation. For teachers, this whole issue is moot since responsibilities are extremely even across the board with flat organizational structures. Falcon would also be surprised to learn that most companies give out annual raises to their employees. Yes Kevin, it’s true. Teachers aren’t the only ones that get paid more just because they’ve been working longer. Read the rest of this entry »