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.

Oops.

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?

My Last Visit with John Conway

4 weeks ago