Mathematics tools FAQ

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This FAQ is a recent creation and is still building. If you have a relevant question and answer, please add it to the bottom.
 NOTE: Since this page was started, Moodle has introduced the MathJax editor for Atto. While the information here is valid, it is only useful for the tools they discuss. 

Does Moodle have any Math tools in it as native?

It certainly does, and if you look at the Using TeX Notation pages, they will give you a good start on how you can, quickly and fairly easily, build a small body of knowledge that will allow you to move on to bigger and better things. With Atto the preferred editor, additional functionality included the MathJax editing dialog box. This allows users to edit Maths Functions easily and quickly without having to use TeX notation.

What kind of Maths tools can Moodle use or adapt?

There are two ways to use maths tools in Moodle, aside from the use of MathJax. 1. Plugins that integrate new functionality into Moodle. The list of Plugins for Moodle include among others Dragmath or WIRIS. 2. Many external programs that can be used to generate content that is easily imported to Moodle. External programs include MathType which works with several Moodle Plugins.

Does Moodle have an interactive whiteboard feature?

Not as such, but it seems both the interactive and content is controlled by the whiteboard. You can use an interactive whiteboard to display Moodle, but unless you incorporate screen grabs from the Moodle into the whiteboard software, Moodle probably will not work as a genuine PHP App. Having said that, it is possible that at some stage in the future, a plugin for either, or even both, may be developed.

I am using Windows Server 2003 and am trying to get the TeX filter to work.

There are often three issues here, the first is the way in which Windows assigns permissions. You need to give write permissions to I_USER (or IIS_USER - all those people who use moodledata through internet) on moodledata folders and subfolders like D:\moodledata/filter/tex/ - and executable files need executable permissions.

It is also possible that what ever permissions you give to your files, Windows may permit running executable files on folders that are placed to system folders like c:\program files - I have seen this happen in Windows Vista and Windows 7 so it's probably true also in Windows Server 2003. If you install MikTex or TexLive for example to C:\Miktex (Texlive) or D:\Miktex (Texlive) and GhostScript and Imagemagick the same drive, such problems should not exist.

Sometimes you may need to delete old (Miktex) install folders from system (environment) variable PATH or add the correct folder to PATH if the install script has not done it automatically. Windows will not find the right files from the correct folder without the PATH being correct. (The TexLive installer scripts usually makes this automatic, but MikTeX needs be done manually.)

Finally, PHP settings may also prevent running of executable files - in the php.ini file look for the field "disable_functions", it should be empty and check the other programs security measures (in programs and scripts themselves) they should control running "non secure" commands like exec() or system(), not prevent them.

Thanks Mauno

We need to install Latex. Will all our current equations with the $$ tokens still work?

The original TeX program written by Don Knuth used the $$ tokens to denote TeX. TeX has grown and evolved into a number of different versions, which have had further developments. Most TeX And LaTeX still support the $$ token, but it is usually undocumented. This is where a test Moodle comes in handy - installing a LaTeX into a test environment then checking the result will answer the question of which LaTeX will accept the $$ token. Be careful here, some newer versions of LaTeX use delimiters, not tokens, to denote TeX sequences.

While LateX, or some version of it, is the preferred tool for many users, it is no longer really needed for creating the essential maths expressions or equations. As Atto is now the preferred editor, part of the development of Atto was devoted to incorporating the MathJax Editor as a core tool. This has made it easy to develop most expressions.

OK, what is the difference between a token and a delimiter?

In TeX tokens are symbols used to denote a TeX command or control sequence. These can be $$ used in the native Tex Notation filter and supported by many versions of TeX and LaTeX, but they can also be \[ \] or any variation of any number of other symbols. A delimiter is what the LaTeX rendered in these pages uses. Moodle Docs went over to LiveTeX a little while ago, and now use the <math> </math> delimiter, in much the same manner as html commands use.

With an increasing number of alternate tools, MathSlate, MathType, etc, to export TeX to Moodle, it is often necessary to ensure that the right tokens or delimiters are used when generating the TeX to be exported. Each tool will have its own set of step to be taken to generate the TeX, and at some point, you will likely to be asked, or there will be a setting, to select whether you want a $$ token or other delimiter. Since Moodle v2.7, the Atto editor and and the MathJax filter, the preferred delimiters are \( and \) to open and close the TeX code. It is suggested that any export setting use the delimiter as a preference to ensure it is acceptable in current and future versions of Moodle.

We were using MathType but after a recent upgrade, the formatting of expressions is not working like it should

Most likely, the transition from the TeX filter to the MathJax filter has meant that the older $$ tokens are being misread so equations and expressions are being placed on single lines rather than part of a sentence. There are a couple of possible remedies here. One is to disable the MathJax filter and exclusively use the TeX filter. If you are really comfortable with TeX, then that is a perfectly valid solution. Alternatively, if you go to Site Administration > Plugins > Filters > MathJax, scroll down to "Add additional delimiters" and enter $$, that should also eliminate the problem.

The rendered image for our TeX equations is a poor quality GIF file, can it be made better?

Yes it can. If you try to improve the quality of the image by changing the dpi ratio from 96dpi to 120dpi, the image gets larger, but there is no real improvement to the perception of the rendered image. However, there is a way out for all now. Using the MathJax filter, create an expression, run it, right click the rendered expression and in the menu, go to Math Settings > Maths Renderer and select the file type of SVG. SVG is a vector graphic file type and can scale up or down without losing its clarity.

See also