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The JOMA Mathlet Project - Seeking and Refereeing Mathlets

Tom Roby

The JOMA Mathlets Project (nee "Applets Project" before we adopted the term "mathlet") was funded as part of the NSF Digital Library 2 initiative. As such, it is a child born before its parent, the MathDL Project, which was funded the following year under the NSF National Science Digital Library Project. The idea of JOMA as an online journal was central to the Mathlets Project from its inception, but it had no base of support. Fortunately, MAA interest and NSF funding have allowed MAA to create the journal as part of the larger MathDL context. The Mathlets Project funding has in turn given JOMA a jump start in mathlet collection, testing, and reviewing, along with the construction of some of the necessary infrastructure.

A team of five students worked for ten weeks in the summer of 2000, mining known collections and using search engines, to harvest 622 potential mathlets. They were asked to do a rough cut, keeping only what they thought would be useful. Though they might have eliminated some applets of value, this can always be corrected later through the normal submissions process. In practice, they kept many things that the faculty reviewers, who came later, easily eliminated from the publishable pool.

The students tested whether the mathlets work on both Macintosh and Windows platforms, running Internet Explorer and Netscape, and categorized them according to "generic tables of contents". The latter were created at Swarthmore by Gene Klotz and Steve Maurer to make it easy to browse mathlets by topic. (Although the AMS has classification schemes that are useful for research, no schemes were handy for dividing up the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.) About half of of the sites the students collected fell within the calculus table of contents; most of those remaining were precalculus, with some advanced courses also represented.

[Editor's Note (2004): The generic table of contents has been replaced for classifying Mathlets by the Subject Taxonomy -- see the link on the JOMA Home Page.]

In late August a retreat was held at the Math Forum in Swarthmore, where eight faculty from a variety of institutions and backgrounds gathered to review the calculus mathlets. Although we never achieved consensus on all the definitions and reviewing criteria, we eventually converged in the neighborhood of a local maximum. It was much easier to do this while actively engaged in deciding what mathlets would be good to publish. The next section has our current review criteria.

Another component of the Mathematical Sciences Digital Library, which includes JOMA, is the less-stringently-refereed Library of Online Mathematics and its Applications (LOMA). LOMA will provide a repository for mathlets that seem useful but may not be up to the standards of JOMA. The same general criteria are used but not applied as stringently. As just one example, a well-designed mathlet that only runs in one browser or under one operating system would be accepted to LOMA if the author did not want to make changes.

[Editor's Note (2004): LOMA was later renamed Digital Classroom Resources (DCR).  To access DCR, return to the MathDL Home Page.]

Many of the sites harvested by the students were clearly unsuitable for publication as mathlets, having been designed with some other purpose in mind. No slight is intended against any of these authors, most of whom still have no idea that their work was ever scrutinized for fitness in a journal they never heard of. For those mathlets that we did find suitable for publication, we attempted to contact the author(s) directly and ask whether they would care to submit their work to JOMA. Most authors responded positively, allowing us to publish their work.

In section 4 you will find comments made by some reviewers describing mathlets that proved unsuitable for JOMA.

In the future we expect -- like most journals -- to get the bulk of our submissions from authors before we review them. But we will also happily take recommendations from the math community of sites that are worth pre-reviewing. In the short term, we plan two more web-harvesting expeditions, for issues of JOMA focusing on precalculus and statistics.

Tom Roby, "The JOMA Mathlet Project - Seeking and Refereeing Mathlets," Convergence (June 2004)


Journal of Online Mathematics and its Applications