Technology Advice Request

So I am going to begin a PhD in math at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in the fall.

(Congratulations me! EXCITED.)

Do not for a second think this means I am abandoning Team Teacher. K-12 education 4eva. More on this another time.

Anyway, for a math teacher blogger I am sort of a luddite so I could use some internet advice.

I’m trying to start a study group for my cohort at NYU. (We have to pass a written exam during the first year of study; a lot of folks e.g. me want to get it done in the fall.) So far nobody who’s written back is going to be in New York over the summer, so an online study group seems indicated. Question: what’s a good platform for an online study group?

We need to be able to ask, answer, and reason through stuff. We need to be able to write stuff. My thoughts so far:

Idea A: a group-authored WordPress blog. I have never done anything group-authored on WordPress so I don’t know how to think this through, but it supports LaTeX so we can typeset stuff. Somebody can post on a question or problem they’re struggling with and other folks can answer in the comments. Drawbacks: everybody needs a WordPress account, right? And writing a post is not the most user-friendly thing compared to commenting. And we’d need to be deliberate about how to make it easily navigable.

Idea B: somehow get our hands on the platform used for MathOverflow and Stack Exchange. It’s already set up for questions and answers and also has full LaTeX support. Drawbacks: how will we get our hands on the platform? Also, the “reputation” part would be bad for our purpose – can we omit it?

Idea C: One of my classmates suggested a Facebook group. I’ve never used a Facebook group for anything and somehow the idea seems lame to me, but I don’t have a valid basis for that. Do you have experience with them? What are they good for?

Okay, do you have other ideas for me? Do you have any additional thoughts/advice about these ideas?

Thanks for real.

UPDATE 4/20:

To clarify what I think we need (although if you have experience with online study collaboration, I want to hear what you think we need too) –

We need to be able to ask, answer and discuss math problems. I think that means we need to be able to typeset math, so LaTeX support is a plus; we need to be able to have back-and-forth discussions, so support of comment threads or the like is a necessity; and we need to be able to participate in multiple conversations at once, so some sort of easy-to-navigate organizational structure would be nice. (The last of these is the primary drawback of a WordPress blog as I see it.) Also, the ability for multiple people to contribute content in a user-friendly way would be nice.


When I sensed this turning into a much bigger project than I intended, I went with WordPress. I got lots of great suggestions that I’m looking forward to learning more about when I have the time.


12 thoughts on “Technology Advice Request

  1. Congratulation on acceptance to Courant – prestigious program.

    Not sure best solution situation, but you might consider paying ($5/month) for a hosting service such as InMotion. They seamlessly support for both WordPress and Moodle. You can setup as many accounts as you like in either. I use Moodle to host my math classes (I teach HS math in Fukuoka Japan).

    If you run across Dr. David McLaughlin at NYU (math professor, last a heard provost) say hello. He was the head of the applied math department at Univ. of Arizona when I was in graduate program 1987-90.

  2. I think you could do a free blog with multiple authors with no problem. This will probably do almost all you want to do. LaTeX support is baked right in.

    The stack exchange software is nice, but the real stuff that runs SE can’t be used unless you jump through a bunch of hoops to get a SE site proposal approved by SE. There are lots of knock off versions meant to run on drupal and other CMSs out there, but it would require some decent knowledge of how to set up a CMS like drupal, and tweak it to your liking.

    But honestly, if people aren’t seriously into doing Q&A type stuff that Stack Exchange does, I think a free blog is powerful and will be a great entry point for novice users, with plenty of flexibility for advanced users.

  3. 37 signals has several online apps designed for group collaboration. The main one I know is called basecamp.

  4. Thanks so much!

    @ Robert – For our purposes can you see an advantage to Moodle over WordPress? We don’t need the course/assignment/etc. infrastructure. What we really need to be able to do is ask and answer questions and engage in discussion about math. So we need to be able to typeset math, have conversations, and navigate easily between conversations.

    @ quantumprogress – Okay then I’m giving up on the Stack Exchange idea since I had to look up “CMS” to know what it stood for. Thanks for the heads up.

    @ Ben – Basecamp looks like more money than I want to spend – what are the features of the 37 signals stuff that you like?

  5. Facebook won’t do what you will need (even not knowing yet exactly what you will need)

    WordPress is reasonable – but a blog is a blog. You can have responses and responses to responses, but revision and refinement might not be ideal.

    Think about a free wiki? Where you can do the revision/refinement thing, and also host ongoing threaded discussion?

    Good luck. It is an exciting path you’re on.


  6. Congratulations to YOOOU! Super. Duper. Jealous.

    Never done online studying collaboration but I’d probably go wordpress. Also don’t forget about voicethread – could be ideal for some of your purposes. Let us know what you decide and how it goes.

  7. Congratulations Ben! I’m glad you won’t be leaving NYC. 🙂

    On your other topic, you might try PmWiki ( (At least) two Bard math profs use this for collaboration, so it might just work. There is some support for LaTeX, and I’m sure Greg (below) would be happy to offer suggestions. You’d have to drop PmWiki into a website, but the set up is pretty easy.


    Example PmWikis:

    John Cullinan:

    Greg Landweber:

  8. You can get your hands on OSQA – the free version of StackOverflow. It takes some doing to install, though – you may get a non-Luddite friend to do it. Here is the instance we have at Natural Math:

    I like Wikispaces, WordPress group blogs, or Posterous for communication, too.

  9. @ JD, Kate, Japheth, Maria and Carl –

    Thanks so much guys. I love this asking-for-help-on-your-blog thing, you guys are so helpful! I went with WordPress to keep it simple for myself and it’s working out so far. I actually don’t have great experiences with either PmWiki or the Google Apps suite for this sort of thing because they’re a little back-end-y, i.e. you feel like you’re editing rather than interacting with a website. Of course this is also true of WordPress as far as writing new posts goes, but commenting is more user-friendly. (Actually so far nobody has posted a question besides me; several folks have answered though; perhaps this illustrates the point.) Well see… Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to playing with Moodle and Voicethread when I have more time. And Maria, one day maybe I’ll learn enough about CMS’s or whatever to install the free version of the StackOverflow platform…

  10. Congrats of PhD pursuit!

    I know you said Google Apps, doesn’t feel right for you, but I’m adding my plug. For my grad school classes, using Google Docs has been top choice of collaboration. A group of us usually organizes a “collection” for the start of a class, invites people who will participate, and share resources there. (Sorting into additional sub-collections as we go along helps keep things organized.) Most of that’s been in the summarize articles and share study guides vein. Bonus of being able to have multiple people edit the same thing at once.

    All of that said, I think Idea B sounds awesome. Let us know if you pull it off?

  11. no advice… i imagine i’m even more
    luddish than you are… but just:
    hey, wow. good for you.
    you’ll probably be an outstanding
    mathematician if civilization stands
    for a few more years. it’ll probably
    cost you some of your commitment
    to K-12. you probably won’t mind.

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