The Journal of Online Mathematics and Its Applications, Volume 7 (2007)
Creating Mathlets with Open Source Tools, Markus Hohenwarter and Judith Preinder

Introduction

Today's Internet provides a large number of freely available interactive materials and environments for mathematics learning and teaching. Many of them are small self-contained learning objects, so called mathlets, that focus on a specific mathematical topic or problem and are ready-to-use for demonstrations by teachers or self-directed learning by students. No matter whether they are scattered on personal web pages or organized in libraries like Math Forum, Library of Virtual Manipulatives or the Digital Classroom Resources, most of these mathlets have one characteristic in common: they cannot be changed at all or only with a lot of effort. Let us now distinguish three types of mathematics educators using mathlets:

  1. Consumers use existing mathlets as they are.
  2. Customizers adapt mathlets to their needs; e.g. they modify questions or tasks that explain what should be done with the mathlet.
  3. Authors create their own mathlets from scratch.

Most web pages providing mathlets focus on the first and last group whereby only a small number of authors creates materials that can be used by others. Those educators who want to change existing materials are often neglected. First of all, there is a technological barrier as many mathlets cannot be changed at all or only with some special commercial software. Secondly, changing a mathlet may constitute a violation of its author's copyright. However, there are good reasons why it seems desirable to be able to change existing interactive teaching materials. On the one hand, the quality of mathlets is quite diverse as only a small portion of them is reviewed or edited before getting published on the Internet (see for example MERLOT). By being able to change such materials, educators can work together to improve their quality. On the other hand, someone may want to add missing features or remove unneeded parts for their specific purposes. Basing this work on existing mathlets can save a lot of time and effort.

In this article we present an environment of open source tools around the dynamic mathematics software GeoGebra (Hohenwarter & Preiner 2007) where educators can join an online community for creating and modifying mathlets. By using cross-platform open source tools and collaborative software we overcome many of the technological and financial barriers of creating and editing mathlets. All materials in this environment are subject to a Creative Commons license that allows everyone to make customized works for noncommercial purposes.