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Figuring Web Calculus via Special Browser

At Texas A&M University, professors have developed a special curriculum designed to make high-quality calculus courses available to those who do not have access to the traditional classroom. The courses, first and second semester WebCalc 1 and WebCalc 2, were developed by Don Allen, Mike Stecher, and Philip Yasskin at Texas A&M beginning in the fall of 1997. They cover material required in the two-semester engineering calculus sequence and are also available to high schools as AB and BC advanced placement courses.

The course is recommended for self-motivated students, the type who might want to take a calculus course at a small high school that d'es not have enough students to offer a traditional class. It is also excellent for mature students wanting to take a college calculus course on their own schedule while working during the day. And the professors say it is also perfect as a review course for a high school math teacher who is suddenly told she will be teaching AP calculus next fall and has not looked at calculus for the past eight years.

An introduction and description of the course is available on the Web at However, the course material itself is not accessible using either Internet Explorer or Netscape. That's because the quality of mathematical display via those browsers is not up to the standards of the course developers. Rather, students must obtain a specialized browser called Scientific Notebook. The browser, which can also be used as a sophisticated graphing calculator, is available for about $99 from MacKichan Inc. or free for 30 days at

It comes with Maple and MuPad computing engines.

From within Scientific Notebook, the full text of the courses can be obtained via the Web by clicking on File + Open Location and going to for WebCalc 1 or www.academicsolutions.

com/webcalc2/mindex.tex for WebCalc 2. This brings up the main table of contents for each course. There are hyperlinks to the chapter tables of contents and the pages of the course. The text includes a derivation of the basic concepts with pop-up notes for more detail, proofs, and historical references. In addition, there are many examples with full solutions, exercises, and pop-up quizzes.

In the studio mode of delivery, the students come to a computer lab three days a week for 50 minutes. There, they read the course text and practice with exercises and pop quizzes. When they don't understand something, they ask their neighbors or call the instructor or teaching assistant over for direct one-on-one help. Then, for two days a week for 50 minutes, they meet with the instructor who answers questions, d'es a few more examples, gives a quiz on a chapter, and introduces the material from the next chapter. The students also take three midterm exams and a final.

In the distance mode of delivery, a college student covers the material at his or her own pace but is expected to cover two or three small chapters a week. After each chapter, the student takes an unproctored quiz. The quiz is posted on the Web, and the student

e-mails or faxes the quiz back to the instructor who e-mails or faxes the results back to the student. In addition, the student takes three proctored midterm exams and a proctored final. The proctored exams are taken at a location that is mutually acceptable to the student and the instructor. If the student needs help, the instructor sets up a Web-based tutoring system with a chat room and an online mathematics whiteboard.

High school access varies, as every high school has to work out its own procedures. However, here is a possible schedule: The high school students would meet in a computer lab five days a week for 50 minutes to read the text and practice with exercises and pop quizzes.

It would be best if the school could designate a math teacher who would be available to answer questions. If that is not possible, the WebCalc authors will set up a Web-based tutoring service similar to that for distance-mode students.
The students are expected to cover two or three chapters a week. After each chapter, they take a quiz, which is proctored by someone at the high school. In addition, the students take three (or six) proctored midterm exams and one (or two) proctored finals. If the school can provide someone who can grade the quizzes, midterms, and finals, that is great.

Otherwise, the WebCalc authors will set up a grading service where the school faxes the tests to the graders who fax the results back to the school. For home schooled students, the parents proctor the exams and the WebCalc authors provide the Web-based tutoring service and grading service.

At Texas A&M, grades have been about equal to those from the traditional sections, sometimes higher and sometimes lower. Blinn College reports that the completion rate for WebCalc students is the same as for traditional students.

For more information, contact Philip Yasskin, Ph.D., Texas A&M University, (409) 845-3734 or [email protected].

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