University of Wisconsin–Madison

WriteLaTeX, Diigo, Piazza, and a CLC for Physics


What I wanted:

My goal is to use technology to better include NEA 4C learning goals (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity) to prepare 21st Century physics students for a global society, enhancing not sacrificing traditional content.

What I tried private group for social bookmarking – graded student-posted threaded links to original journal articles in contemporary physics with commentary. These threads are the basis for student term papers. provides collaborative cloud WYSIWYG fast and beautiful math and is used by students for preparation of weekly homework exercise solutions (exposition plus math) and of a research paper using an physics journal template.

D2L dropbox and rubrics for online submission and assessment facilitate dissemination of expectations and grading.

Piazza online threaded discussions support LaTeX math needed for online discussions of physics principles and problems. As a side effect of teaching LaTeX use for homework and papers, online anytime anywhere off hours become useful for physics!

A Sterling Hall Collaborative Learning classroom is used for discussion section. Media pods screens enable intrapod and interpod sharing of LaTeX group problem solutions, websites, tutorials, and other electronic materials. Mobile white boards enable brainstorms about experimental design, BIG problem resolutions, and permit training in prinicples and practice in collaborative work. CLUE and other online library research tutorials introduce secondary research and the physics librarian kindly provided an overview of methods and engines for searching and distinguishing wheat from chaff.

Next time I would…

These innovations require more work for students but also make the class more engaging and in some ways easier. The student demographic (mostly 2nd and 3rd year) is ideally suited for soft skills and e-literacy skills training. I’ve found that students can learn LaTeX in an instant and then use it. Information literacy is clearly improved. Writing throughout the curriculum is implemented via stronger standards for written homework (required exposition and pretty math equations, not just pencil scratches) and via the new requirement of a research paper. These new requirements are softened and facilitated by electronic and cloud tools enabling collaboration. All the tools make creation, review, submission, and notably for TAs/graders/instructors grading easier.

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