Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A New Kind of Wiki

Well, not really... I'll just explain.

So, when Wolfram|Alpha (referred to as w|a below because I'm lazy) came out, I, like many of you, was pretty excited to play with it. I was primarily interested in its use as a free, online, computer algebra system (CAS). So when I tested it, I gave it the sorts of questions that I give my calculus students (in fact, I essentially tested it with exams I've given students). In many areas it was obvious what to do, in some areas I could mess around and get a reasonable answer, and in a remaining few areas, w|a seemed to come up lacking.

I thought it would be great to have a resource telling how to input questions you might typically ask a CAS, since apparently entering straight-up Mathematica code doesn't always work (I guess Wolfram still wants to sell copies of Mathematica). One of my early thoughts was that I should make one. And then I thought, surely somebody else has already done so. In fact, the folks at w|a probably already have some nice documentation online. I made a note to look into it, and thought it funny that I was hoping to find documentation for such an online system.

Not long after that, and before I did any more playing with things, Maria Anderson, @busynessgirl on Twitter, posted a tweet: "I am toying with the idea of taking a standard algebra TOC and putting up a webpage that shows which topics W|A can do." A fantastic idea (which she quickly refined: webpage -> wiki). Extend it to calculus, and I'm there. And show not just what it can do, but what it can't do, what it does wrong (or oddly), and ways to make it do what it can do.

I think such a thing should come into being. Perhaps it already has, and I missed it? Or perhaps there is some nice documentation for w|a that I've not yet found? If either of these is the case, could somebody point me to it?

If there is no such thing yet, I say it's time to make one. I'm getting antsy. In the comments below, if you want such a wiki to exist, would you please leave some helpful feedback? I'm particularly interested in: (1) What (free, hosted) wiki software would you suggest or suggest avoiding? I think right now I'm leaning toward wikispaces, though I've not looked into things a whole lot. (2) What should it be called? (3) Any other comments or suggestions you have.

To get things rolling, I'll say that this coming Saturday (May 30), if no links are provided to an existing webpage, I'll start a wiki somewhere that seems to fit the consensus of the comments (I hope there are comments, and they have a consensus). I'll then let you know where it is.

Update 20090526: Derek Bruff left a comment that he was starting one, and posted the link http://walphawiki.wikidot.com/calculus-i via twitter. Looks promising!


Kate said...

The Wolfriki. The Wolfiki. The Alpha Wolf. The Wolfcub Alpha. The W|A|W (pronounced "wow!").

I'd be all gung ho to work on this if I wasn't presently buried under 10 other projects. Please update your blog with your progress over the summer to give me another opportunity to jump onboard.

Maria H. Andersen said...

Seems that we could "crowdsource" this to someone's summer math class as a class project. Unfortunately, I don't have one this summer. Personally, I think we should call it the Walpha Wiki. If I had time I would really set one up ... but the dissertation takes priority!

Derek Bruff said...

If we stuck with algebra, it could be the WAlpha Walgebra Wiki. Not sure about calculus...

I'm a fan of WetPaint myself, but I haven't used it for anything math related, so I don't know how it would handle that.

Something that could handle TeX would be nice. Something that could handle screenshots of WAlpha results would be good, too.

I may fiddle around with WetPaint tonight and see what I can come up with.

sumidiot said...

Hey everybody! @Derek started one at
http://walphawiki.wikidot.com/calculus-iGuess I now have more work to do :)