The Spectre of Math

July 14, 2010

Microtypography

Filed under: LaTeX,Mathematics,Teaching,Technology — jlebl @ 5:38 pm

I have been playing around with the microtype package for PdfLaTeX. The results are really nice. Using the font expansion does increase the size of pdf a tiny bit, but not much. It is definitely worth it I think. Overall using the microtype package, I seem to be getting better line breaks, especially in tight places where there are floating figures (where text flows around them). To use simply add
\usepackage{microtype}
to your file, and make sure to use pdflatex rather than latex and dvipdf.

What it does is two things. Firstly it will add protruding punctuation (say periods actually hanging off sides of your paragraphs) to make a more straight looking justification. Furthermore, it may “stretch” the font by a tiny bit on certain lines to get a more even “greyness” of the text (for example, getting more uniform inter-word spacing). It also gives the justification algorithm more freedom in finding better line-breaking points, so you generally get better line-breaking (less hyphenation, etc…). It is the font stretching that adds a bit to your files since you need more copies of the font in the file, but the size increase is not terribly big on large files in relative terms. Still with microtype and PDF1.5, the 2MB differential equations pdf goes down by about 200k compared to no microtype and PDF1.4.

I want to do a bit more cleaning up and perhaps some more fixes before I post updates to the Notes on Diffy Qs, Basic Analysis, and the SCV minicourse. Probably within a few days.

Speaking of the notes, it is interesting that the real analysis notes are now downloaded more frequently by new unique IPs than the differential equations. On average about 30%-40% more. That is surprising, I would have thought that real analysis (taken almost exclusively by math majors) would be less interesting to “the masses,” rather than differential equations on the level of calculus (taken by almost any technical major).

Deadlines …

Filed under: Mathematics — jlebl @ 5:12 pm

So, early the first fall I was at UIUC (2007), I submitted a paper. It finally got refereed and was accepted in June 2008 (which in retrospect seems pretty quick). I just got the page proofs a few days ago (returned them already). So it took more than two years to get the page proofs. Then there was this funny sentence: “In order to maintain production schedules, we ask that you correct proof promptly and return it within 5 days of receipt.” Emphasis theirs. Apparently, they are in a hurry.

My irony meter broke again. I assume it is OK since it’s the American Mathematical Society. In a more irony/sarcasm sensitive country, I would think they were making fun of me.

July 9, 2010

Homework, copying, and solution manuals

Filed under: Mathematics,Teaching — jlebl @ 4:41 pm

So apparently copying homework makes for lower grades. Duh!

Well it’s something I’ve noticed too. I have taught differential equations at UIUC 3 times. Twice the longer version (286) and once the shorter version (285). First time I taught from the Edwards and Penney book (standard at UIUC). Second time I was making up my notes, but still mostly taught from the book and assigned problems from EP. The third time I taught only from my notes, leaving EP as optional reading only. The last time I assigned problems only from my notes, which do not have a solutions manual (on purpose).

The first two times, with problems assigned from EP, the overall class grades were actually rather similar. However, the third time, assigning homework from my notes, the overall grades were significantly better. In fact, no curve needed to be done on the final at all. There were other factors at play, and material was a little different, but overall I would say the exams were similar enough in both scope, length, and toughness. The differences were seen even on the first exam which was very similar in scope and content for both 285 and 286. And the difference was pronounced, definitely about a grade point higher on average.

My teaching style was not different and I didn’t cover material differently. The type of homework problems were similar. The big difference in my opinion was that more students suddenly had to work out homework on their own. I remember my grader telling me that when problems were from EP that approximately half the class has their solutions more or less word for word from the solutions manual. (yes, students are not supposed to be able to buy the solutions manual, but … they do).

Now I don’t think you will gain many friends among the students by making them work out problems they have no ready made solutions for. In fact I heard many stories how this significantly reduces your student evaluations. My evaluations were comparable across all three semesters, so I guess the fact that the grades were higher because of it cancelled out any negative effects of making students do more work. (I do not read too much into the numbers from the student evaluations, I simply look at the handwritten comments for any useful constructive criticisms, which tend to be rare)

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