Some thoughts on grading

Grading is always a touchy and emotional subject. When students misbehave, you automatically feel the urge to punish them with a bad grade. When students receive a bad grade, they will be angry and pissed off. And ‘bad grade’ is relative to what they expected, not ‘realistically bad’, like in a fail grade. In most cases, they will also think you are unfair if they honestly expected a better grade. And they will be gradually more pissed off, the more work they put in your class. So make sure you put as much thought into planning your grading scheme as into the rest of the preparation, because the grade might just leave the biggest lasting impression on students looking back.   The good student receives bad grade problem I just cleaned out my old archived data and remembered I had this class with a teacher I really liked. But now, I hardly remembered her. Then I realized it probably had something

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LaTeX for PhD students

Today, I decided to finally publish some thoughts on why I think PhD students can profit from using LaTeX. In this post, I try to avoid common not-all-that-creative reasons and point you to some aspects you might not yet have thought about like the fact that your PhD thesis will yield two PDF outputs with (more or less) the same content but very distinct different formatting requirements. Enter LaTeX. 1 PhD = 2 (!) print outputs, i.e. thesis print and printed book publication Typesetting your PhD in LaTeX is a good idea because of the citation management, for formulars and for images. You probably already know that. But another aspect a lot of people tend to forget while writing their PhD thesis is that a thesis will usually result in two different output PDFs with different typesetting needs: The thesis to be handed in at your university and the print publication which follows. But these two usually have some important

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[Guest Post] Your 24 hours. Time management or How to get to know yourself while organizing your life. Part I

I am happy to introduce the second guest post by our friend, the LaTeX Noob. This time not on LaTeX 😉 So, here we go. Enter the Noob.   I am currently writing my PhD thesis and, hell yeah, it is rather pleasant, because I am good at getting sh*t, I mean, stuff, done. Now, I will tell you how this is possible and show you how to achieve that too.   Before time management, find structure in your life first However, it was not always that easy and organized. I have to admit I am generally a structured person: I like notebooks, I do keep a bullet journal and I love calendars to organize my life. But how to get the great amount of work together with one’s private life (for we all love our family, our partner, our friends, and we want to spent time with them, right?), enough sleep, healthy eating, some sports, some Me-time? The ways

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Riding higher waves

At the risk of boring you all with my frequent thoughts on better teaching, I wanted to give you another metaphor on good teaching, inspired by a surfing class I took. To sum it all up, surfing was great fun. But this year, I was a bit unfortunate to get teachers who were a lot worse than the ones I’d had previously. The high waves and the shallow water make for good metaphors for the basics and the advanced topcis I frequently drone on about in my philosophy of teaching well. So, there you go. The shallows and the high waves The teachers were over-protective of us in the shallow waters. They helped more than we would have needed help and thereby, didn’t teach us to act independently. I wanted to do so, but it was not encouraged and we weren’t given any instructions on how to catch a wave on our own. They wouldn’t even let us paddle onto

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Should I start doing DH?

My non-DH colleagues and friends ask me more and more often if I think they should start doing Digital Humanities and if yes, where to start? Since this seems to be an interesting topic for many, I thought I’d quickly elaborate on it. Disclaimer: Even though I’ll  put on my “career advisor” hat right now, I want to remind you that I am in no way qualified to advise you on your career. So if it all goes downwards from now, I am not the one to blame. All opinions are my own and should be treated as such. So, now we got the legal part over with (essentially: don’t sue me), let’s get to my opinion on the topic. I think it is out of the question whether you should start doing DH. In my prognosis, almost all Humanities research is going to be at least part DH in the near future. If you ask me. And you did.

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Improve Your Teaching – 10 Simple Tricks

As you might know, good teaching is important to me, so I wanted to share ten simple tricks which I think can improve your teaching. Most of them are about making sure people get the basics which, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes people make in teaching. Let’s get straight at it. 1) Make sure the preliminaries are clear before starting an explanation. If they are not, don’t even bother starting on the explanation, it will be a complete waste of time. Even if this means that you will spend the whole lesson bringing them up-to-date with the preliminaries and you won’t be able to start on the actual topic at all. Make time for this prep work or risk that all of your subsequent explanations will not get through. To find out if the preliminaries and basics are not clear, you might have to plan testing your students regularly (at the start of each block), like

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How do I get to do task XY for the first time at the job

Today I want to talk about how you convince others to let you do XY for the first time as an official job responsibility, even though you might not have experience or any formal training doing so. And also, why you have probably come across a situation where one of your colleagues has been chosen to do task XY and not you. Even though you are both equally qualification-less. Now you feel left out. New tasks are opportunities for growth you probably really need if you want to stay in academia. It is all the more detrimental that bosses often don’t take the personal/CV growth of their young colleagues into account and hardly ever give out those tasks strategically. You can end up the lucky one – or you end up left out.   Disclaimer: Again, as always, these are my personal opinions and they might not apply to your situation. Use your brain.   New skills are always needed

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“Student journals” – The good, the bad and the ugly

In this post, I want to share some experiences regarding “student” or “young researcher” journals. By “student journal” I mean journals which specialize in supporting young researchers, mostly only accepting publications from authors who don’t yet have their PhD. While this is a great idea in general which should absolutely be supported, I find that it can often be misleading and less-than-great in reality. In these journals, often even undergraduate students (before finishing their Bachelor’s) would be qualified to submit. But I find that they tend to be too much of a hassle, especially as they are not perceived as ‘high quality’ journals. Also, like the title suggests, my own experiences were mostly not so good. So, the gist of what I am going to say is: I wouldn’t recommend them. “Student journals” are “worth less” in your CV and, confusingly, I have found them to be more trouble than normal journals are. So, mostly a total waste of time

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Floating minipages and other wizardry

Inspired by a current issue from my friend the LaTeX Noob, I wanted to give a short explanation on how you can combine floats (i.e. figures) and minipages. Why should you care? Well, if you need tikzpicture or images placed besides eachother or beside text. So most people will probably need this at some point 😉 A great resource is the WikiBook, as always. If you want the lengthy account – that’s the way to go. For everybody else, an explanation of my own. Floats and non-floating boxes What are floats? Some fundamental explanations first: A figure is a float. A minipage is not a float but a box which sits at its fixed place. These are two fundamentally different things. When you combine them in a bad way, LaTeX might get fed up at this. So when planning your minipaging or floating situation, ask yourself which effects are really important to you and which aren’t. Do I even need

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Regarding comments and contact info

Dear all, apparently the LaTeX Noob is not alone to be a noob 😉 I just realized I had to approve your comments before they are published. Oops 😉 Will see to that more quickly in the future. Also, I heard that some of you were not able to find contact information which maybe I might have messed up too 😉 I guess I just hadn’t really thought about having actual readers who want to contact me so far. And I am very happy that you exist and do wish to contact me! I will therefore add my contact info in the about section. Sorry, I am such a complete idiot not to have thought about this before 😉 Best and thanks again for all your positive feedback!

[Guest Post] Confessions of a LaTeX Noob

I am happy to introduce my first guest post on this blog. It’s from my archaeologist friend whom we decided to call “the LaTeX Noob” here. She will give her perspective on how using LaTeX in the Humanities feels for her and the problems she has encountered. Like how getting help can be tricky, you don’t want to look like an idiot and how you constantly have to defend your choice to use LaTeX (to users and non-users alike). “Why would a Humanities person want to use LaTeX anyway? You don’t need it and you’re not up for it” are the most common insults a Humanities person might have to endure after choosing LaTeX.   Here come the confessions of a LaTeX Noob: Confessions of a LaTeX Noob Okay, here I am, the LaTeX noob. Well, not that noob-noob, but noob nonetheless. I am an archaeologist and I am trying to write my thesis in LaTeX. Well, my catalogue, to

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Simple XML to LaTeX Transformation Tutorial

Today, I wanted to share this super simple XML to LaTeX tutorial. Using XSLT, you are going to transform XML data to LaTeX output which you can then go on to compile into your desired output PDF. There will be no fancy stuff whatsoever in this post, just the basics and what to keep in mind with these transformations. It is the quick intro to XML to LaTeX I did with my students a while ago which was done one day after they had their first contact with XSLT, so it should really be beginner-friendly. I labeled it “Advanced LaTeX” anyway because I think starting to automate things is always a step in the right direction 😉 Configuring the transformation scenario in Oxygen I am going to assume you use Oxygen now because that’s what a lot of people in the DH do and this post is directed towards my friends in the DH. Especially those who think print editions

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Planning your project for “service providers”

When writing my last post on how to earn money with LaTeX I realized I actually had a lot of advice on planning and scheduling your project as well. So I will sum up my experiences with all sorts of “customers” (be it project partners or whatever you have). Motivation This is not to complain how horrible things are but just to sum up a few things you should take into account that an unexperienced person might not find self-evident. Seeing as my days of being unexperienced myself are not very far away, the learning process is still pretty fresh and I still remember the problems a beginner can face, so I hope to be able to provide valuable advice. Some of the advice is copied out of the earning money post, so don’t be confused if you feel like you might have already read some of this. Initially I had wanted to extend the old article but since it already

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Fast typing LaTeX

I recently became aware of this post where somebody asked how you can become faster at typing LaTeX. Just a little post with a few recommendations. Experience from constantly using LaTeX for everything I have to say, I think it really gets better with experience. And experience from doing your everyday stuff in LaTeX (like to do lists, taking notes, etc.). Else you probably just won’t get enough experience to become really fast. Raise awareness But then again, slowing down might not be a bad thing if you’re supposed to produce high quality work. Using LaTeX, then, will force you to take the subconscious back into your conscious mind. Maybe not what you want when just quickly taking notes, but maybe something to reflect upon in the long term. I also found that, since I don’t constantly use MS Word’s auto-correct anymore, I’m actually better at spelling and grammar (even though, as someone holding a degree in Latin, I probably

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The power of simplicity, or: How to use tutorials

This is just a quick post, telling you to use tutorials selectively. If you don’t have time, don’t burden yourself with the not-so-short intro to LaTeX or 30 min introductions. Jumpstart in 3 minutes and go. This morning, I realized one thing: depending on what you want to do with LaTeX, you only need a very limited amount of commands. Even I use a very limited amout of commands for everyday tasks. Going through a whole tutorial might actually be a waste of time for you.   You only need 3-5 go-to commands What you always need (and, for example, an Overleaf blank document already supplies): You will typically need the general document setup (minimal example), \newpage, \maketitle, \tableofcontents, and \sections and \emph{}. For teaching documents, I will additionally need \textbf{boldface}, enumerate and itemize environments. Then maybe \href{http://latex-ninja.com}{links} (\usepackage{hyperref}), \texttt{typeface} for code or the verbatim environment. And, of course, I often use my cheatsheet template. For writing scientific articles, I

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Didactical Reduction, Part II

In my first post on didactical reduction, I argued that reduction of learning materials to meaningslessness can be detrimental, that teachers should trust in their students’ ability to learn and rise to a challenge. In this post I want to discuss ways of reducing complexity which actually makes sense. The gist is: reduce unneccessary detail, not difficulty. Build complexity in a carefully chosen progression. Telling the difference between unnecessary detail and challenging complexity In my post on why programming classes fail and learning ‘algorithmic thinking’, a main example was that students starting out programmig don’t need to know about data types. I will stick with this example here because I just think it illustrates my point so well. The skill to learn I discussed in the post really wasn’t the ‘vocabulary’ of your first programming language, but ‘learning programming’ means successfully communicating with a computer and in order to do that, you need to develop the skill of algorithmic thinking. This

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