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I am thinking of organising an introductory course on LaTeX for my colleagues in the philosophy department. I'm wondering what kind of resources are available for teaching LaTeX. And a related question, what are the best ways to motivate interest in LaTeX? (Word's Equation Editor does a lot of good work converting people to LaTeX, but for people who don't do much techy stuff, I want to show what LaTeX is capable of...)

I'm worried that a lot of my (self-taught) LaTeX knowledge is passive and I won't know what things I will need to teach at first.

Does anyone have any experience in doing this sort of thing? Are there good internet resources for this? (I cannot just assign the not-so-short guide as required reading for the course...)

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I wanted to advice PhilTeX, then I realized you already contribute to this nice resource of philosophy-related TeX stuff :). –  Pieter Oct 2 '10 at 15:15
    
I asked on the PhilTeX forum as well. I really should finish that post on emacs I drafted for PhilTeX... –  Seamus Oct 2 '10 at 15:26
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Also have a look at the related (but not duplicate) question “Introducing LaTeX”. –  Caramdir Oct 2 '10 at 16:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I'm going to address my answer the part of your question that had to do with “motivating interest”.

  • One way to sell LaTeX I think is to stress the potential benefits for the profession as a whole (and perhaps academia as a whole).

    In the current economic situation, nearly all Universities are struggling financially, and library budgets have been hit particularly hard. Couple this with the fact that institutional subscription costs of Academic Journals published by the large academic presses are ridiculously high, and we have a huge problem.

    The traditional workflow for a journal article would be composition in Word, then layout by the publisher in something like Adobe InDesign. Word is proprietary and expensive, and InDesign more so. But LaTeX generates output with comparable quality (--I actually prefer it--) using a format comprehensible to an intelligent end-user, and its completely free to use and open source.

    Point to Philosopher's Imprint as a Success Story. It's not uncommon to hear philosophers put down the quality of online journals, and put down this model. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Philosopher's Imprint is a huge exception. It's published by the University of Michigan, has a rock solid reputation for quality, and is completely open access to anyone with a web connection. It's no coincidence that they're using LaTeX for typesetting; it saves them thousands of dollars a year in licensing fees. Their document class is on CTAN; stress how easy it would be if all journals had their templates and bibliography styles there too.

    Imagine the potential savings to the discipline as a whole if this model caught on (not to mention speed in a discipline in which it can take well over a year for something to appear in print).

  • And while maybe I'm thinking overly optimistically, this could be a good segue into discussion of the benefits of open source generally, and the philosophy behind it (which I think would appeal to many, if not all philosophers, even those who aren't super-tech savvy). Stress that LaTeX is more cross-platform than Word, and that it frees us from the mercy of Microsoft and Adobe's pricing policies.

  • Stress the relief from the upgrade treadmill. I think a lot of academics are still smarting over the transition from .doc to .docx and being more or less forced into upgrading to Word 2007 as a result. Stress that the LaTeX format has changed little in the past 20 years, and as a plain-text based open format, it has no proprietary secrets to hide. (I know Microsoft has taken steps to move towards making their XML specifications an open standard, but from I hear, they're not really sticking to it.) And when you do upgrade your LaTeX system, it doesn't mean a lot of new costs.

  • Stress the typographical quality, and show some comparisons. Show off some stuff from the TeX Showcase. Give a brief explanations of things such as paragraph-as-a-whole layout, pair and margin kerning, ligatures, hyphenation, vertical justification, math spacing, etc. I think a fair number of philosophers are nerdy enough to appreciate these.

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You're right! I'm going to hand out ArchLinux CDs at the introductory session. –  Seamus Oct 3 '10 at 10:54
    
I can't tell if that was sarcasm or not ... But seriously, don't start them on Arch. Give 'em Ubuntu or Linux Mint discs. –  frabjous Oct 3 '10 at 14:07
    
It was kind of sarcasm. But I like the idea of championing open source software to my colleagues. –  Seamus Oct 3 '10 at 15:14
    
Too bad that Philosophers Imprint wants Word as first choice and LaTeX only if the article includes technical material. (I don't understand this - why not allow everyone to submit LaTeX?) –  cfr Jun 21 at 1:05

UK-TUG has some resources at http://uk.tug.org/2010/07/30/training-day-a-success/, which were used as the basis for a training course. This was a single day event with a variety of needs from users: physics, chemistry, linguistics, computing, etc.

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I have no idea what philosophers need from a text processor. The painless handling of references (both inside the document and to the bibliography) maybe? The question ”Most significant reasons that led us to (La)TeX” does list lots of good motivations. You could also impress them with http://people.umass.edu/klement/tlp/ (especially generating a index like this is probably rather painful in Word).

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Modern analytic philosophy is a very technical discipline, and uses a lot of formalism from logic, probability theory, linguistics, and so math mode, etc., is definitely a huge attraction of LaTeX. About Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, in fairness, the index there wasn't created with makeindex; it's just the index from the paper book, scanned and hyperlinked. I added the hyperlinks by running a sed script on the pre-existing text of the index to add HTML hyperlinks for the HTML version of the file, and later converted the HTML to LaTeX. –  frabjous Oct 2 '10 at 16:51
    
(Oh but thanks for the plug!) –  frabjous Oct 2 '10 at 17:00

A colleague and I developed and piloted an introductory course on LaTeX this last year, at our Community College. Our course was geared towards first-year (and up) university mathematics students.

If you're interested, you can see our curriculum here: http://spot.pcc.edu/~chughes/latexcourseCCOG.pdf The course ran as a 5-week course.

We found that the course was most successful as an online course- partly because students didn't want to come to campus especially for it, and partly because this pretty much forced the students to get a working installation at home.

One of the most useful things we discovered was to provide sample documents very early on- ranging from very simple to, 'wow-factor', stuff showing cross-referencing, hyperlinks, tocs, in-built graphics using PSTrics/tikZ/... etc.

The following link is a (very) condensed version of our course: http://spot.pcc.edu/~chughes/latex.php

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UC Berkeley had (has?) a student-taught LaTeX course. It basically consisted of a lecture each week followed by lab time with a weekly homework. Unfortunately, the presentation slides and homeworks no longer seem to be online.

To tell the truth, when I was involved in it, I don't think the course was ever as good as we hoped it would be. LaTeX is probably best learned experientially and it was difficult to replicate that in a more formal setting. That said, we did succeed in teaching some people LaTeX.

I'm not sure what sort of course you're envisioning, but I've become convinced that some sort of short "quick start" workshop might be the best route. Give people enough instruction to get going (perhaps encourage them to bring something they want to TeX during the workshop) and loads of resources. I guess I've given up on the idea of teaching people LaTeX, but rather getting them going enough so that they actually carry on and teach themselves.

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I think the quick start approach is what I'm leaning towards. I don't think it would work if I started handing out homework assignments to research students... But I think the set up and motivation is important: after that, if people want to learn, they can. –  Seamus Oct 3 '10 at 10:56

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