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I have been trying to encourage my students to use TeX in writing up homework, especially in early math major courses, like intro to proofs, where the typesetting is not too arduous. I have had very limited success with students taking it up. Does anyone else encourage/require assignments to be typeset? What strategies have worked best for you?

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Why TeX and not LaTeX? Did your students got any introductory courses on how to use LaTeX before? Perhaps the early learning curve is to high for them to try to figure out by themselves. –  Juan A. Navarro Jul 30 '10 at 22:35
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LaTeX is certainly fine. I tend to conflate the two. –  Johnson-Leung Jul 30 '10 at 23:12
    
I feel like building communication skills is often skipped out on in math and CS education and I think TeX can be a good tool for building those skills. I'm glad you are trying to incorporate it! –  fryguybob Jul 31 '10 at 0:24
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Should this be community wiki? –  Loop Space Aug 2 '10 at 8:22
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@Andrew: I don't think so. There's no clear consensus here yet (and on SO, plenty of people would be clamoring for CW), but why? I think someone writing a good answer to this question deserves the rep he/she gets when it is upvoted. CW would take that away, and for what benefit? –  jalf Aug 2 '10 at 12:46

9 Answers 9

All of my reports were typeset in LaTeX in university. Only once I've tried to typeset math homework using LaTeX and it was a pain. It was much quicker to write up the answers on paper than to do context switching between typing up LaTeX, thinking & waiting/viewing the results.

One way would be to have an interactive web2.0 website to submit LaTeX typeset answer with automatic rendering. Gradually making the students love LaTeX syntax.

I've started out with LaTeX with a small "LaTeXiT" app on macos which would render equations into pngs and allow me to drag and drop them.

Later on you can introduce ready-made templates for question answers.

(this is from student perspective what might have made me take up latex earlier on.)

And be nice and release your document. All of my professors refuse to give me latex sources citing that sources are theirs. Make these sources licensed under creative commons and put them on something like http://docs.latexlab.org/ to allow students "fix" lecture notes =)

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This is why an intro to proofs class seemed so ideal. The homework is much more like a report than for a calculus class or something. I would also love to incorporate TeX into my blackboard page, but I am not sure if I can do that myself or if I would need to go through our (less useful than it should be) IT department. –  Johnson-Leung Jul 30 '10 at 23:04
    
I like the idea of having a "web 2.0" kind of tool to ease students into different parts of TeX. Detexify (detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html) seems like half of that and various other sites that take math mode text and render an image is another half. Someone needs to pull it all together though. –  fryguybob Jul 31 '10 at 0:26
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+1 for the idea of using docs.latexlab.org –  Suresh Jul 31 '10 at 5:21
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@Jonson-Leung: In my Uni we ditched blackboard and went with the open-source sakai which is MUCH MUCH better. And free. Although the uni did sign up to be "platinum" supporter and donates 10 000 each year but that is nothing compared to blackboard license fees we paid. –  Dima Jul 31 '10 at 13:04
    
+1 for releasing the document. Especially when learning, being able to see how something is done is very useful. One of my professors uses LaTeX for all his assignments, but only releases the PDFs. He simultaneously claims that the difficulty of copy-pasting the typeset text (usually into Word) makes us learn by typing rather than copying, and that we should all use LaTeX. This entry barrier means that only a few students use LaTeX as suggested. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 31 '10 at 15:20

I tried this in my real analysis class this past spring with limited success. I required my students to type at least one of their solutions using LaTeX for the first several homework assignments and then bumped it up to two solutions later in the semester. A few students fell in love and were turning in their entire homework set in LaTeX by the third week while others conveniently ignored the requirement most weeks and then turned in several LaTeXed problems every few weeks to make up for their lack. Since they were all required to turn in a LaTeXed paper for the end-of-semester project, they knew they had to learn it at some point.

To get them started, I had them install TeXnicCenter and did a 10-minute introduction to LaTeX during the first week of class. I also posted a .tex file with comments on my website for them and posted the homework assignment each week as a .tex file so that they could just fill in their solutions without worrying about document setup.

Since each of my students had a college-issued laptop, if they were having problems that seemed machine-specific, they could just bring the laptop to me and we could troubleshoot together. I also started having them submit their .tex files so that I could see what their code looked like and comment on it.

I am very interested in how other people approach this (I think you're correct that starting in an intro to proofs class or an early class is the best way to go) since I think I only convinced about half my students to really learn LaTeX and see it as the only way to type mathematics. It doesn't help that they were all given extra credit in calculus for typing their homework in Word.

Here's a document that I wrote for this coming semester in hopes of encouraging my students to use TeX. I'm going to give them templates for their first few homework assignments as well.

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Word...shudder... –  fryguybob Jul 31 '10 at 0:27

Here's one idea: you could create a one-page cheat sheet listing some basic LaTeX commands, including the notation that will come up in the class. You could send them the source and make compiling it an assignment.

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Even better, you could in addition provide a simple style file already defining a few macros and semantic commands for your particular class so that students find the LaTeX syntax more natural and helps them type their formulas more easily. –  Juan A. Navarro Jul 31 '10 at 10:41

As a Mathematics/Engineering student approaching the end of my undergraduate career, I can say that typesetting my Homework was a pain until I had a nice refined template to use. Based on my experiences, I would suggest the following:

  • Provide your students with a LaTeX template that they can use as a starting point for their homework. Something that has nice features like a "Problem" environment that auto-increments question numbers and has support for sub-problems (parts, a, b, c, etc). Bonus points for nice headers/footers that show the student's name, current problem and "Continued on next page" if the answer is long. Providing a nice template eases the learning curve and can really sell some people on the elegance of TeX.

  • Absolutely, positively, provide the TeX sources to any assignment or notes page you hand out. One of the most pointless, time-consuming activities I have been forced to undertake is copying problem statements out of a PDF, pasting them into my homework document, and then regenerating all the mathematical typesetting and enumeration markup that did not copy cleanly or at all. Bonus points for using the homework template you developed to provide questions- then there is no copying and pasting, students just have to fill in the answer.

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Sharpie, if you have a template for engineering homework, you might be interested in this, tex.stackexchange.com/questions/393/… –  EricR Jul 31 '10 at 18:49
    
You might also be interested in this - I have the same problem: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/371/… Unfortunately, I have 2 years before the end of my undergrad career... –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 31 '10 at 20:19
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can you share your template? –  Amir Rachum Aug 1 '10 at 11:21
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Sure. I have it GitHub, but it could use a little clean up and some comments could be clarified. I will update my post when I have gone over the template. –  Sharpie Aug 1 '10 at 16:49
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+1 For suggesting to provide source for assignments. This is what get me to learn. –  Geoff Aug 26 '10 at 21:46

I get reasonably good results with the following strategy:

  1. Include the following line in my syllabus: "Nicely typeset solutions will be awarded a modicum of extra credit."

  2. Distribute .tex source for nicely typeset but obviously fake solutions for my first homework.

  3. Award a modicum of extra credit for nicely typeset solutions.

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how much is a modicum, usually ? –  Suresh Aug 1 '10 at 5:43
    
I really like the idea of a distributing fake solution set. I'll definitely try that out this fall! +1 –  Johnson-Leung Aug 1 '10 at 23:33
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A modicum is more than epsilon, but less than 1/N. Naturally. –  Blake Stacey Aug 2 '10 at 5:48
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In practice, for a 10pt homework problem, a modicum is at most 0.5pt. But the amount really doesn't matter; even 1sp extra credit would draw them in. –  JeffE Aug 3 '10 at 11:26
    
I tried offering extra credit for using LaTeX in one of my classes. You have to be careful about how you word it! One of the students simply submitted his homework in a giant \begin{verbatim} \end{verbatim} block! –  ESultanik Aug 27 '10 at 19:34

A few of my undergraduate physics classes required LaTeX in one way or another. Our reports for each experiment in the laboratory course had to be in two-column APS classic, for example. In our third term of quantum mechanics, we each did a term paper on some subject drawn from the literature (general instructions, LaTeX templates and a sample paper are available here). In some circumstances, having one or two big LaTeX projects over the course of the, ah, course might be preferable to lots of shorter LaTeXnical assignments.

Edit to add: For example, if the structure of the class is such that a longer writing project like a term paper is possible, then the students can gain familiarity with LaTeX features beyond equations and text formatting, such as building a bibliography and adding figures. These would be beyond the requirements of an ordinary problem set; the student who uses BibTeX for a weekly homework assignment is not a student who needs help being enthused about typesetting. But this might be a bit much to spring on people who've just encountered the TeXniverse for the first time.

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One university that I know of designated 5 out of 25 marks for "clarity and style". Since writing clearly is a recognisable skill and one that mathematicians really ought to learn, this is easily justifiable in a mark scheme.

However, I would be a little disturbed to find someone awarding credit only for LaTeX'ing documents. Although I agree that TeX and its derivatives are by far the best system for writing mathematics, it can be a little overwhelming to start with and so actually requiring it (other than for a TeX-specific course) would seem to me to be on dubious pedagogical grounds. I would rather go down the route of encouragement rather than requirement.

It has just occurred to me that students learning LaTeX might actually be a side-benefit of something I'm planning on next semester. I'm thinking of running a maths-enabled forum for my students to ask and answer questions. They'll be able to use a LaTeX-like system for entering their mathematics to get it converted in to MathML. That might get them introduced to (La)TeX equation markup without needing to know all the extra stuff (like what to put in a preamble). Hopefully, once they see how easy and intuitive that part is, they'll recognise that it's worth learning how to do it properly.

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Introduce LyX to your students. First impression of LaTeX is scary after years with word processors. But both GUI approach and good tutorial of LyX may attract your students. It has almost all the benefits of LaTeX, for starters, and easier to learn compared to LaTeX.

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Put the source code for a sample answer on your course website. Better yet, don't worry about it. It's really not fun grading assignments that have errors that, if written by hand would imply complete lack of understanding, but if typeset imply only a trivial typo. (For example, it is easy to forget a partial in a tex expression, which is something that only weak students would do with pen on paper.) Do you really want to write "C" (or worse) on such a paper?

I bet that most people reading this site love tex and latex. But if students are not using these things of their own free will, then that indicates that these things are not useful to them (yet).

I use latex for all my course materials, which are quite mathematical. The results are manifestly more beautiful than they would have been, had I used word or openoffice. Guess what? A lot of students notice this, and start using latex, without my asking.

Tex and Latex can argue for themselves.

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