Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Teaching with LaTeX

I've noticed a problem teaching Math to Computer Scientists.  (Aside from the fact that many don't seem to think they need it.)  When written assignments are handed in, they are often a mess and work is not properly shown or pointed out.

To be fair, this is exactly what I did as a student.  When not writing out a proof, my written assignments had a gaggle of work followed by an answer that I circled.  I hope my poor linear algebra grader will forgive me someday!  I ignored directions to: lay things out nicely; put only one problem on a page; and remove abandoned or incorrect calculations.


My proof assignments came out a bit better (because the order is part of the correctness) but I still failed to rewrite things after realizing adjustments were needed. 

Now, on the other side of the grading process, I see many papers that would benefit greatly from some organization.  Not only would it make them easier to grade (certainly a perk!) it would help bolster their grades.  By turning in an electronic version of the assignment, it's much easier for a student to go back and correct mistakes.  If a line in a proof is wrong in a hand-written paper, fixing it nicely means rewriting the entire page.

Computer science students are going to balk at that rewriting.  These are students learning to use the latest programming development environment, each of which lowers the number of keystrokes (or mouse distance) necessary to get their code written. 

Thus I'm highly considering teaching LaTeX the next time I'm in charge of discrete math.  Naturally this would cost me in terms of needing to cover it and make sure everyone knows how to use it.  There are some other downsides: namely that students would have an easier time inappropriately sharing their work.  With any luck they would still stick to the honor code!

The benefits would not just be for this course, however!  Knowing LaTeX is a valuable skill that they could reuse in an Analysis of Algorithms course as well as their other courses and projects.  I continue to replace WYSIWYG editors in favor of LaTeX for many purposes.  Every time I move a document to LaTeX I'm glad I made the switch.

Has anyone had experience forcing students to use (and probably learn) LaTeX?  I taught it once in our programming languages course, but only at the very end and only for two days.  What are some pitfalls or benefits I haven't considered?

An Update on the Summer Workshop in China

From an email from Fraser Stewart:  (I should have posted this sooner, I apologize)

Hi Everybody,

To update you on the status of the proposed workshop in China.  I have been given a budget, which will cover accommodation + food, for around 40 people, as well as a trip to see the terracotta warriors.  However, the event must take place this year.  So I need to set a date for this quickly so I can submit a budget to the financial department of the university, book hotels, rooms for talks and so on.  I would also like to stress that I have a very tight budget, so it may not be possible to cover everybody's expenses, but I will try to cover as many people as possible.

Due to the fact that CMS is taking place in June, and Integers in October, I would like to propose two times that I think will be suitable.

30 August - 3 September and 30 November - 4 December.

My plan is to have 4 days of talks and discussions, and one day to see the terracotta warriors.  We will also be taking submissions, and wish to publish a special edition of Integers.  All submissions will go through the normal peer review process, and a condition of attendance is that you must be willing to review at least one paper.  Also, as I said earlier, the money is very tight, so all attendees must pay their own air fare.

If you could please get back to me ASAP with two pieces of information that would help me out a lot:

1.  If you are willing/able to attend.

2.  The time you feel is most convenient.

Once I've had some responses, and have a better idea of attendance, I will send out a confirmation email and begin the organisation process.  Thank you everybody for your attention, and I hope to see you here.

Take it easy,

 Please respond directly to Fraser at: fraseridstewart [at] gmail [dot] com