Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist

Decoding LaTeX with EquatIO

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, at its most basic, LaTeX is a language that ensures maths content can look consistently great in documents, web pages and on digital platforms. If you studied maths or science at undergraduate or postgraduate level, you’ll likely have used LaTeX to help create and insert beautiful and accurate maths content into an assignment, dissertation or thesis. For some, you’ll have enjoyed learning it. For others, it may have been a chore. Most though will agree that without it, creating maths for use in digital documents would have been slow and painful and in some cases next to impossible. 

Image of EquatIO using LaTeX maths content

What is LaTeX?

The official definition of LaTeX is “a mark up system that uses iterative typesetting algorithms which determine the optimal layout of text and floating elements based on many typographical rules.”. It’s akin to a language and as such,  requires a significant investment of time to master, and like any language it takes even more time to become fluent. It’s challenging because visually it doesn’t represent the maths that you are familiar with or what you need to see on screen. Once mastered though, it offers many advantages - it’ll ensure that maths content is represented accurately, it’ll manage typesetting to ensure everything is perfectly aligned. It’ll provide consistency and also make it easy to change styles and formats throughout documents. From the late 1970’s, It’s become a standard to help maths content be embedded across all types of digital documents and on the web, and it has helped to support and drive accessibility. 

We’ve needed it because the tools we use to create documents like Microsoft Word or Google Docs are designed for writing text, not maths. Built-in equation editors are slow, clunky and cumbersome. They often don’t let multiple lines of maths content be input, rely on templates for common maths layouts and require multiple clicks on specialist pop-outs to create even the simplest of content. Students creating text documents can just type - those studying maths have to learn a new language - LaTeX. 

Now, think about students

This year in particular has seen a huge shift in a move to digital technologies for learning. We’re creating more digital resources for learning, and we’re expecting our students to move where possible from paper to digital. Much easier for the written word, not so for maths. 

We can’t expect to teach maths and ask students to navigate Word and figure out how to express maths easily and accurately. That’s a steep learning curve. An even steeper curve though would be to ask our students to learn LaTeX. That would be like telling them they are about to learn advanced Spanish, they just have to write it first in Portuguese - but it’ll be ok because when they finish typing it’ll appear on screen in Spanish!  LaTeX looks like a programming language to most students - intimidating and scary for many, at any age.

We need to ensure there are no barriers to learning or expressing maths, and we need to ensure we build maths fluency as naturally as we can. Technology shouldn’t be part of the problem - it has to be the solution.

Digital maths needn’t be complicated

So what’s the middle ground? It’s our very own EquatIO. Working right inside text tools like Word and Google Docs, it gives students multiple ways to create maths - typing naturally, a helping hand with prediction, dictation, writing on screen or even writing on paper and snapping a photo of their work to make it digital. It’s easy to learn, removes barriers and provides flexibility to support every student. 

At Texthelp though, we also recognise the strength and power of LaTeX which is why we’ve built in a full LaTeX editor right alongside these other input methods. For teachers and higher ed students this means EquatIO can be used as the go-to visual editor - copy LaTeX content into the toolbar and see it in real time as maths content. Create maths content with the other input methods and in one click generate LaTeX markup that can be used anywhere. Edit the code and see it visually updated live as actual maths. We’ve also built LaTeX into our ‘screenshot reader’ which means you can snap any maths content from PDF’s, images, videos or the web and capture the LaTeX code to use anywhere. Finally, we include LaTeX in the alt tags of everything we generate in EquatIO to ensure accessibility and compatibility, everywhere. EquatIO can even export LaTeX as images, HTML or MathML, all in a simple click. 

Image of EquatIO using LaTeX maths content

EquatIO delivers the very best of both worlds. So if you are studying maths and need LaTeX it's a powerful editor - just click the icon and type. If you’re a teacher and want to create resources derived from other sources, you’re covered. Want to learn LaTeX or prepare students for using it beyond school? EquatIO has that covered too. It’s intuitive and powerful and it’s the bridge that helps students transition to maths on digital devices with ease - all while ensuring anyone who needs the power of LaTeX has it at the click of a button.

There really is no need to decode LaTeX. EquatIO has it covered.

If you would like to learn more about EquatIO or try it for yourself, you can find out more over on our dedicated EquatIO page.  Or to continue the discussion around the benefits of digital maths for students and faculty, then join our roundtable discussion to get expert advice from industry leaders. Click below to find out more. 

digital tech for dynamic maths in higher ed webinar - 10th September 12pm BST


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