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MyOpenMath: A Review

Joshua Tan

MyOpenMath, a platform maintained by Prof. David Lippman at Pierce College through his development of the open source software IMathAS, is a free-for-use online implementation of the learning management and homework grading software that serves as the backend for Lumen Learning as well as dozens of implementations on independent institutional servers. The MyOpenMath platform provides a free and open instance of the course management and homework grading software that can be used by anyone with an instructor account, a status awarded to applicants from accredited institutions who can demonstrate their role to site managers.

The MyOpenMath libraries contain both template courses and question banks developed by the community of users. Initially designed to address the needs of a dynamic, flexible, and randomized system for assessment, the platform has moved beyond its initial intended purpose to serve as a way to administer placement tests for introductory mathematics and has become a full-fledged learning management system replete with calendar options, internal communications, forum options, and content hosting. MyOpenMath should really be repackaged as OpenStudy as its versatility and wide-ranging functionality have established it as a useful tool for just about any instructor of any course.

Key features of MyOpenMath include a diverse array of question types which include the normal short-answer, essay, multiple choice, multiple answer, matching, and numerical varieties towards more complicated questions that let answers be matrices, tuples, strongly typed (as in the instance of requiring particular formats such as scientific notation, complex numbers, inequalities, computer algebra and symbolic computation), graphical, or any mixture thereof. This allows for some of the most flexible and creative assessment opportunities provided the instructor can invest the time in creating well-posed activities.

The prime way to interact with students through MyOpenMath is through assignments which are structured around blocks that can either be pedagogical content (text or other user-provided multimedia, embedded web content) or questions which are either chosen from the library of user-generated questions or made by the instructor. With complete control of content possibilities up to the backend implementation, there are any number of possibilities that can be realized up to and including interactive content that is adjustable by the instructor.

Randomization can be done at the level of question banks which is the traditional form or can be hard-coded into a question to provide for a unique student experiment in each assessment. This also provides for a way to allow for practice and additional attempts as new instances of a question can be actualized that follow the same format but rely on randomized indicators. For example, rather than asking a student to convert 10 kilometers into meters, MyOpenMath can ask a student to convert any number of kilometers between a and b into meters.

The ideal use case for this platform is for technical classes that require calculation that can be checked by computer grading. This allows for more students to be assessed in a greater capacity than in traditional settings where each instance needed to be investigated by the grader.

Some barriers to entry are apparent. A significant amount of time should be invested to develop a truly unique and well-organized course. Aside from a steep learning curve for front-end development, question writing requires at minimum a few minutes and in many cases can take hours for the most complicated forms. Once present in the library, of course, these questions can be reused and updated to make the ultimate expenditure of time worth it, but initial implementation requires an up-front investment of resources that is not always available. Functionality is ultimately prioritized over usability in a way that can cause some conservation for the non-technical user and the enduser experience is often hampered by an interface that has an outdated aesthetic and lack of optimization for the user experience. Because the development resource is dependent on volunteer labor and a donated budget, there is no guarantee that new features of bug fixes will be had in any timeframe, but the community and Prof. Lippman especially is remarkably responsive to concerns.

Overall, this platform has far more benefits than it does drawbacks and there is likely a use case for every instructor who is interested in using OER in their classrooms. I recommend that you either give yourself the time to learn the system or have a competent guide to help you along.