Wednesday, August 14, 2013

LaTeX in the Proofs Course

Let me first say that I am interested in hearing from anyone who has required students to use LaTeX in their introduction to proofs course as I will be requiring my students to use LaTeX for the first time this fall.

For over ten years, faculty at Grand Valley have been requiring students to submit a “portfolio of proofs” as part of the requirements for MTH 210 – Communicating in Mathematics.  (This is our introduction to proofs course.)  These problems are often posed in the form of a conjecture, which the students have to either prove or disprove.  MTH 210 is a so-called Supplemental Writing Skills (SWS) Course and the portfolio project is used to satisfy the requirements for such a course.  Basically, a designated SWS course give students an opportunity to submit their work for review before submitting it for a final grade.


The portfolio for MTH 210 consists of about ten problems and students are usually allowed to submit their work on most of the problems two times before the final submission.  Another feature of the portfolio project is that all work must be submitted electronically and completed on a word processor capable of typesetting mathematical equations and expressions.  In the past few years, we have allowed students to use LaTeX to complete their work, and a few faculty have required students to use LaTeX.
I have encouraged students to use LaTeX but have not required them to do so, but I am going to require them to do so this fall.  Most students have used Microsoft Word and its equation editor to complete their portfolio problems and have found it reasonably easy to use.  I have encouraged students to use MathType hardly anyone has done so since there is a modest price for MathType. 

Perhaps the main reason I did not require LaTeX is that I have become very efficient with using Word’s reviewing capabilities and can make my comments electronically and return them to students quickly.  However, some things have changed that make it easier for me to require students to use LaTeX.  One is that I now have had an iPad for 18 months and can use the app  iAnnotate to make comments on pdf files as easily as I can use Word to do so.  Another is that there are now online versions of LaTeX that students can use without having to install it on their computer.  I will be encouraging my students to use writeLaTeX (https://www.writelatex.com/).


One last plug for a web site:  Another issue with having students submit their work electronically is how to have them do this.  I have tried various methods over the years and a separate Gmail account for the course worked quite well.  However, last year I started using a web site called DROPitTOme  (http://dropitto.me/).  This can be set up so that students can send their work to a DROPitTOme folder in your DropBox account.  You set up a special account with a password that allows students to send their file to your Dropbox without having access to the rest of your Dropbox.  This worked very well and I will continue to use it this year.

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