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Socializing Mathematics?

  1. Dec 29, 2012 #1
    First, a definition of what I mean by socializing Mathematics
    A platform whereby people can either learn, teach, or advance Math/Physics/etc. either as individuals or groups by directly using, modifying, or expanding others work under the same platform. Think MIT OpenCourseWare meets KhanAcademy meets Wikipedia.

    More specifically:
    1) An individual should be able to create a Math/Physics/etc article, tutorial, or workbook
    2) Anyone should be able to come in and make changes and expand materials, much like a wiki*
    3) Anyone can group these materials together, forming either a series of related or progressively harder learning materials. Complete courses can even be built this way.
    4) People can "friend" or "follow" other people or projects, collaborate or build teams, and either learn or share ideas.


    * unlike a wiki however, any changes made are not made to the original but instead a completely new copy - or "branch" - of the material is created allowing you to work off of that instead of directly editing the original. You can then "push" those changes back to the original - if the author approves - or branch off the original material into your own, separate version.


    I've noticed a growing trend in socializing things - everything from taking photos (InstaGram) to web browsing (StumbleUpon). As a web developer, I find GitHub (a social platform for coding) invaluable - the fact that a single person's idea can explode into a project that is magnitudes more useful than originally intended blows my mind every time I see it happen.

    Because social coding consistently pushes the web in particular almost too fast to keep up with, I was wondering if a similar approach could be done with Mathematics (as well as with Physics and other sciences). I couldn't find any existing platforms and only a few failed or abandoned attempts.

    The idea is that learning material perpetually gets better with each persons input, forming a sort of super/"perfect"/optimized Lesson. Researchers also get a platform to share and collaborate on ideas, which is in my opinion superior to emailing or collaborating in person.

    1) Do you think Mathematics can even be socialized?
    2) Do you know of any existing or work-in-progress websites?
    3) "Should" it even be socialized? Would such a platform help students or actually be a set back?
    4) Related to 3, would such a platform be a good compliment or even substitute to formal education, or as an aid for home-schooling/self study etc?

    My Thoughts
    I think it could work. OpenCourseWare has been around for over a decade, whereby a school publishes some of its material freely. However, it is extremely limited because a person is trapped into one specific instructors material/teaching method.

    With OpenCourseWare you lose a critical requirement in learning anything...feedback. With a social platform you can set up a virtual classroom or have volunteer mentors - much like KhanAcademy. In the absence of a real human, you can also gauge your own progress by analyzing computer generated reports, graphs, and suggestions.

    Unfortunately, credibility gets lost because now even a 6th grader can start their own course, although I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing! Certainly with programming, code is code and as long as it works it doesn't matter - but I'm not sure this applies to learning material for the sciences? The line between teacher and student can begin to blur, and all of a sudden students can be learning from students...which is weird.

    The very nature of the "open-ness" means that if a person likes that sixth graders material but sees flaws, they can clone a copy of it and modify/expand it themselves.

    What are your thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2012 #2
    There was blog a few years back (I can't remember precisely what it was) that hosted an online reader collaboration in that resulted in the solution of a few outstanding problems in combinatorics, which I thought was a wonderful idea. I think things like that should be done more often.
  4. Jan 2, 2013 #3
    I know Gowers led something that sounds very similar a few years ago (and I believe that project is in some sense ongoing, or has new iterations).

    As to the original question in this thread, what you're describing sounds like a lot like Stackexchange, which isn't really encyclopedic (you can go there and search "groupoid" and find related questions, but probably not a definition, at least not right away) but does incorporate certain Wiki-like functions, e.g. people with sufficient reputation can edit others' posts.

    MathOverflow is also like this but at research level.
  5. Jan 2, 2013 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    This is what is wrong with wikipedia and it should never be considered a reliable source. Even though they have people constantly trying to catch and correct misinformation and outright vandalism, you never know if what you read is correct or if you go back tomorrow it will be the same. I catch errors on wikipedia all of the time. It's fine as a "starting point", but you need to check for accuracy if accuracy is important. So no, I don't see much value in an "anyone can post" scenario, unless you have a small closed group of pre-approved members that can post.
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