The History of the ATLAST Project

ATLAST is an acronym for Augmenting the Teaching of Linear Algebra through the use of Software Tools. The project originated as an outgrowth of the activities of the Education Committee of the International Linear Algebra Society (ILAS). Steven Leon, a member of that committee, received an ILAS seed grant to write a proposal for a project to promote the use of software in the teaching of linear algebra. At about the same time, an independent Linear Algebra Curriculum Study Group (LACSG) was formed under the support of the National Science Foundation. The LACSG came out with a number of recommendations for reforming linear algebra education. In particular, they recommended that the first course in linear algebra be taught from a matrix-oriented point of view. They also recommended the use of software in teaching of linear algebra. The original ATLAST proposal can thus be viewed as an immediate effort to implement the LACSG recommendations.

The ATLAST Project was funded by an Undergraduate Faculty Enhancement (UFE) grant from the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation. The original grant supported five workshops during the summer of 1992 and an additional five workshops the following summer. Each workshop was limited to thirty participants. During the first year there were 250 applicants for the 150 workshop slots available. Although it was necessary to turn away many highly qualified candidates at that time, the project was able to accommodate all of those who reapplied for the following summer.

The ATLAST Project received supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation to run an advanced Developers Workshop at the University of California, San Diego, during the summer of 1994. Twenty five former ATLAST participants were invited for an intensive four-day workshop to develop additional exercises for the ATLAST book. Participants worked in small groups to develop exercises on particular linear algebra topics. The projects were tested during the workshop and revised and improved during the month following the workshop. The San Diego workshop produced a remarkable set of exercises, a large percentage of which have been included in the ATLAST book.

A second UFE grant allowed the ATLAST Project to continue through the 1996-97 school year. This grant supported five workshops during the summers of 1995 and 1996. Because of timing, we were only able to include a few of the exercises from the two 1995 workshops in this book and no exercises from the three 1996 workshops. One of the 1996 workshops was an invited Developers Workshop. The emphasis of the 1996 workshops is on the development of classroom lesson plans that make use of ATLAST M-files to help students discover and visualize important linear algebra concepts. We hope to make much of the material developed in these later workshops avaliable over the Internet and in future editions of this book.

The original ATLAST proposal expressed hope that the project would play a significant role in the linear algebra reform movement. In addition to developing computer exercises, all of the ATLAST workshops have devoted time to discussing linear algebra curriculum and other matters related to the teaching of linear algebra. The workshops offered a perfect opportunity for linear algebra instructors to get together to share their ideas and experiences. Many of the participants continue to play an active role in reforming linear algebra education. Indeed, there have been at least seventy-five presentations by the ATLAST participants (including presenters and coordinators) at regional and national mathematics meetings during the past five years.


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Created on: January 6, 1996 (asb)
Modified on: May 23, 1996 (asb)