I teach physics at a community college, often to biology majors who are not math or computer geeks. For certain assignments, I require them to type up materials that include math. A typical application is writing half a page of notes on a textbook chapter. In the past, I suggested that they use OpenOffice for this, and I wrote up some instructions for them on how to use its equation editor. This is awkward, however, when they want to print their work on campus, since most of the campus computer labs don't have OpenOffice. OO's equation editor is also rather clumsy IMO.
Is there a better way to do this?
I am looking for a solution that is cross-platform and has zero cost (and preferably one that is open source). My students do not already know LaTeX, so there has to be some kind of GUI.
LyX has most of the same pros and cons as OO. I would really prefer a Web-2.0 zero-install solution rather than a standalone application.
Google Docs has pretty decent math support now, and most of the math features are fairly easy to use, although I was baffled by how to produce exponents using the GUI. It's not LaTeX, but it does have a lot of LaTeX symbols built in as keyboard shortcuts (and typing x^2 was the only way I could find to get $x^2$). Unless I hear about something better, this is the solution I'm leaning toward. Printing is extremely awkward. When you do File:Print from Google Docs' interface within the browser, you get a PDF file which contains the equations rendered as lousy-looking bitmaps. I dislike the fact that it's not open-source.
I like the way MathJax works in SE, for me, in Firefox. Is there any system analogous to Google Docs that uses MathJax? The main reasons I'm not leaning toward such a solution are that: (a) my students need a GUI; and (b) for a student walking into a campus computer lab and using IE on Windows, I believe there would be a significant performance hit while the fonts were downloaded. On my linux box at home, printing sort of works, but not well -- equations are rendered in a font that is the wrong size, and they overlap the surrounding text.
Solutions based on ASCIIMath will produce hassles for students using IE on Windows, since they'll either need to download the MathType plugin or switch to Firefox -- and they can't necessarily do either of these things in a campus computer lab.