Derin Sherman's instructional technology page

This page consists of an assortment of useful software references, tutorials, and links. While much of this technology may not have been explicitly designed for educational use, my students and I have found these utilities and programs to be quite useful.

Web-based class project reports using templates

Students spend more time on assignments when they know that their assignments are going to be published. Although it is impractical to produce paper publications for all the work done in a single class, it is quite practical for instructors to produce "online publications" using a system of HTML templates that students can build on to create their own project reports.

This tutorial will show you how to use HTML templates to create web-based class project reports.

Using Excel to convert numeric grades to letter grades

This is an Excel spreadsheet that lets you enter numeric grades. Excel then automatically computes a letter grade.

Mapping Complex Functions

Analytic complex functions have the convenient property of solving Laplace's equation. This is useful because many physical systems obey Laplace's equation, thus a graph of a complex function can illustrate the behavior of a physical system. The picture shown above illustrates the magnetic field lines around a superconducting cylinder, which is also the laminar fluid flow around a solid cylinder.

Using this application, you can plot your own complex functions. Note that this is fairly memory and compute intensive. I recommend using Chrome to generate the plots. This application was written by David Bau and modified by me (Derin Sherman) with his permission.

Using Inkscape to edit PDF documents and create technical illustrations

Inkscape is a free open source program that lets you edit PDF documents and create high quality illustrations. It is extremely useful for creating technical illustrations, but it can also be used to create other graphic effects. For example, the buttons on this page were created using Inkscape.

In addition to a number of Inkscape references, I have also created a tutorial on creating fractals in Inkscape. The Inkscape fractals act like any other Inkscape object, so you can create visual effect with the fractals, such as the cut-out effect you see on the fractal snowflake image to the right of this text.

Using the POV raytracer to illustrate physics and math concepts

The POV raytracer is a free program that can be used to build virtual computer models that are then photographed using a virtual camera. The computer uses the known laws of optics, together with some clever shortcuts, to produce photorealistic images. The POV raytracer can be used to make purely artistic images, but it can also be used to help visualize complicated physical and mathematical concepts. It can also be used to teach students about the interaction of light and matter.
I have used this program to illustrate many physical concepts, and there are links to several references, including a tutorial I wrote on how to visualize matrices.

Using Terragen to create fractal landscapes

Terragen is a program that lets you create photorealistic fractal landscapes, such as the one you see on the right side of the screen. Terragen does not use any digitized images to create the landscape. Instead, it uses fractals to model the mountains and clouds. It also uses raytracing to determine the interaction of light with the objects in the scene.

In addition to random fractal landscapes, Terragen also permits you to sculpt your own landscapes. In addition, it is possible to import GIS data into Terragen and thus recreate actual terrain.

Although Terragen is a commercial program, there are freeware versions of the program available for non-commercial and educational use. Terragen can run on both Windows and Macintosh computers.

This page was created by Derin Sherman. I am a member of the physics faculty at Cornell College.