Surprisingly, I have found the use of TeX Notation quite easy, considerably easier than I expected, and the drawing tools, well, not so easy but time and experience and a soupçon of understanding will make it better.
I am sure that, in time, Moodle's TeX Notation wil be insufficient to meet my need in which case I will again look at AsciiMath and JSMath and Geogebra and MathJax and whatever other tools I can use. But in the meantime, the TeX Notation tool is providing me with what I need, experience and understanding.
So how about some expansion of the embedded TeX Notation? Is there a way of adding fonts, say, or more characters that is simple and straightforward?
Having said that, I'm a software developer so I guess that makes me a bit strange
Tex is OK, LaTeX is OK, Mimetex is OK and all the other math tools are OK for that purpose they were made for...
You actually answered to your own question: if you need some expansions to tex filter (fonts, colors, new commands or symbols...) you need to hack tex filter, edit site wide settings (preamble) which have site wide influence to all equations written with tex filter and so on. Or you need new tools like asciimathml or cgi mathtex to be able to create new commands and symbols or to use extra \usepackage commands, change dpi for each equation etc that you can't do with tex filter.
Or if you need to print maths and use tex you notice that images do not look nice on paper - and you may consider using asciimathml that prints maths as clear as all fonts on paper (with FF and mathML support)
Tex filter IS a really good basic filter that can be still further improved - and BIG THANKS to Howard for the original work!
LatexMathML, jsMath, mathJax, mimetex, mathtran, google chart api TeX, mathtex, Tex Live, Miktex, MacTex are using mostly the same syntax - variations of (La)TeX - asciimathml and algebra filter are trying to use some custom commands to make syntax simpler to use and mathML is another world...
I think there is a real chance of useful improvement if science symbols were also available or if the range of symbols used in the default package was enhanced. The issue for me is that I have no idea how to hack the tex filter, but the range of options are too limited. It has to be much simpler for people who know even less than I do, which is not much.
The reason I ask is that with everything happening here in the next year or so, we are going to have 200,000+ teachers with their heads in a serious spin. The technology is changing, the basic curriculum is changing the reporting, recording and assessment criteria is all changing, but the average age of teachers is rising, and the new curriculum will not give us the time or opportunities we need to meet its demands easily. This means increasing resistance to innovative programs like Moodle. Applying the KISS principle is going to be absolutely critical to the success of programs like Moodle. This means everything is going to have to be handed to people on a platter, or rather, keep the learning curves to a minimum.
Any suggestions would be welcome I can tell you.
In any event, I have promoted solutions other than the Moodle Tex filter because for many the use of the filter is beyond their ken, their resources, their staff. I have promoted solutions that were more easily implemented, but I have also tolled for the improvement of the Tex documentation, which as we see in many Moodle situations, may be adequate for someone with some systems experience, but is often far beyond those who come to Moodle.org looking for a single click LMS......
Many find Tex notation problematic (the hue and cry of those insisting on keeping the Algebra filter in place is perhas an argument to that effect) and that is one reason why Peter initially developed ASCIIMathML, which arguably IS easier to master than full blown Tex but, with the inclusion of LaTexMathML, renders a significant subset of "Tex" in addition to its own text expression syntax, and is extensible to address other syntax as well.
Likewise jsMath offered an alternative to the Moodle Tex filter that was very comprehensive, but eschewed MathML and could be very slow. MathJax, what one might argue is the nextgen jsMath, is a much more sophisticated application that can also be used with Moodle, is much easier to implement and allows the user to take advantage of browser compliance and local fonts, while transparently addressing the failure of IE and webkit to meet MathML standards.
Unfortunately or otherwise, the alternatives to Tex (and we do have to acknowledge as well that "tex" has many avatars) do not yet afford simple solutions for extending Tex. But then, neither does Moodle. Perhaps at some point someone will create a Tex configurator that could be added as a Moodle module that would make adding Tex Macros to one's tex installation clickable, as well as make it easy to do a full tex install without shell or /usr/bin access..... but that is not on the horizon, while a php script to install MathJax is..... There are, as with much of everything, no comprehensive solutions, and every plus comes with a price ;=}
Yes, I do believe that the default Moodle Math system needs a major overhaul. That does not reflect ill on those who did the original development. It rather reflects on Moodle's penetration into technical education and the development of Math notation technology over the last decade. One need only review some of the conversations here and there about Math notation not being a critical Moodle component to understand that many devs see the kinds of things we talk about here as nice add-ons, but far from critical core technology. Maybe schools in their countries do better in Math education- lol- but while a review of international Math scores might reflect well on Mauno et al most students in the US are NOT proficient per the NAEP standards when they leave secondary school, and only 70 some odd percent even graduate! We can't expect an LMS to help address this if it is difficult to find and use tools with which to teach Math.
When one thinks about having an html editor that reads and writes graphs, equations etc so that it is transparent to the teacher and student, then we are talking about an effective tool for math education. At present there are half a dozen different text expression syntax for Math notation, and arguably NO reason apps should not/could not allow the user to employ any (much as implemented in part by DragMath) transparently.
In part, the preprocessor features of asciimath, and the actual preprocessor libraries of MathJax, take a step in that direction. The folk at Beyreuth have been hard at work with solutions like jsxgraph and geonext and hopefully by the end of the year one will be able to see how much technologies can be transparently integrated with Moodle 2. But that takes time and energy, commitment and resolution...... and part and parcel of marshaling resources to any task is the decision of whether to commit resources to fix the old or to develop the new (or bag the whole thing.....) And that question is one for the developer forum.....
Open, transparent and universal access to web based Math........
What I do see though is that there is a huge need for these kinds of tools but I do not see anyone developing them in any sort of organized manner. You are certainly correct in that as the technology changes and gets better, it can be more easily integrated into existing systems, such as Moodle, but the demand has to come from Moodle Users. (This is one of the reasons, I suspect, Moodle 2.0 has taken so long, trying to be too many things to too many people instead of clearly partitioning "core" and "peripheral" needs for an LMS - but that is another issue.)
Maths is a "core" subject, but is not well catered to when it comes to learning tools. Lots of worksheets, few of which I have actually found useful - still better to do my own. Lots of advice, most of which says exactly the same as I do in the class, but I would like to do more than just use Excel in a maths class with computers. All that does is shows them how Excel works but if they had to build proper formula and see the end result created right in front of them in genuine math notation - that would be something grand. Something like a visual tool for maths.. click the sqrt symbol, enter the power and so on and see .
I am not surprised there is a decline in graduands from your system Marc, we are experiencing a similar issue - for similar reasons I would expect. I try to be conscientious, but I am not a good maths teacher. I try not to turn the kids off all together - don't know how successful I am though. I am rather good at basic Trig - don't know much else, but get better at Trig every year. Have had former students complaining that they still remember their Trig, if nothing else. Which is why I really want something in the Moodle to be able to offer a Trig class online.
We are also seeing great steps taken in integrating STACK, Webworks, SAGEmath etc., but once again, it takes a good deal of work to get things to play nice together, even more to make usage transparent. And there are lots of applets out there that are crying for integration (such as descartes, CaR, GSP, etc.)
Perhaps we need a specific MUG to squeal about Math support in core Moodle? Moodle User Group Advocating Math Services - MUGAMS - with a logo of Phi superimposed over the golden arches - LOL.
What you really want is for the tools that are out there to be easily accessible to you and your students and frankly Mauno has done some great work along those lines, though he may complain that he is a Math teacher and not a Moodle dev And while there are lots of folk working on a variety of apps, there are not so many working to integrate those apps; and that is where the tire hits the road so to speak, Moodle-wise. There are those I know of who have done such work in the past but have not, for a variety of reasons, maintained an active involvement here. Go figure.....
I do understand people coming and going, new replacing older more experienced hands. It is a matter of where do I perceive my contributions to what I care about are best placed? As our priorities change we go somewhere else. I have a great deal of respect for those who are passionate about something, they stick with it. A guy I know, played 1,000 games of baseball.. every weekend of the season, at 24 games a season that is a lot of seasons. (I would have had a heart attack myself..) What we must appreciate is the legacy they leave and most of the time that is pretty positive.
I would expect that someone in the near future will pull some of this together and make it work - someone young and happy to just spend the time doing it.
http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=152634, but essentially, I developed a Word template for creating questions as tables in Word, and a Moodle plug-in that converts those Word tables into Moodle Question XML, and then into the Moodle question database.
The plug-in supports embedded images in Word, and I noticed that the MathType Equation Editor for Word supports the ability to convert equations into external image files, and replace the equations with the names of the images, e.g. <<Eqn001.gif>>.
I added a macro to my Word template to insert the images instead of the placeholders, so it makes quite an effective and efficient question editor with equation support. I believe that if it was considered worthwhile, it would be possible to extend the plug-in to support the conversion of standard narrative Word content, including MathType equations, directly into HTML+images in Moodle.
This would obviously not be a HTML editor with equation support, and the equations would become images in the output HTML, but nonetheless, for those unfamiliar with any of the many formatting syntaxes for equations, or who cannot install the various filters on their Moodle servers, it might be a useful alternative.
There is a screencast demo online at www.moodle2word.net and you can also download the Moodle question import plug-in and templates from there.