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Subject-specific VTE Labs : Innovative Practices in Mathematics

Labo : Subject-specific VTE Labs : Innovative Practices in Mathematics - January, 15, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Subject-Specific Vté Labs: Innovative Practices in Mathematics

By Simon Côté-Massicotte, The 20 May 2021


On January 20, 2021, the Vté presented a webinar aimed at mathematics teachers. The 1-hour presentation showcased the project of Jean-Sébastien Turcotte and Philémon Turcotte, two mathematics teachers at Cégep Gérald-Godin, who created an online, open mathematics textbook in French hosted on Profweb. Their textbook, ALIR (Algèbre Linéaire: Intuition et Rigueur) was written entirely in PreTeXt, “An uncomplicated XML vocabulary for authors of research articles, textbooks, and monographs”. 

During the lab, the pair presented an overview of the textbook, demonstrated PreTeXt’s potential for teachers of all disciplines, and gave some helpful tips on how to get started creating your own online textbook.

Missed it? Watch the lab below or read my report to learn more about this innovative project and the amazing pedagogical potential of PreTeXt.


Move over, paper

Jean-Sébastien and Philemon have used ALIR to teach matrix algebra and vector geometry since the Fall 2020 semester. As their students were already going to use their computers for complex calculations, they sought to build a one-stop-shop that would include theory, exercises, games, and labs. 

ALIR’s advantages over traditional paper textbook are obvious:

  • Open and free

  • Accessible anywhere from any electronic device

  • Interactive exercises that include hints, solutions, and full justifications

  • Easy navigation and cross-referencing with hyperlinks and knowls

ALIR makes use of PreTeXt’s support of a variety of math-specific open software to present a professional-looking, comprehensive, and interactive textbook:

  • GeoGebra (interactive figures),

  • SageMath (complex matrices),

  • MathJax (beautiful-looking equations),

  • WeBWorK (randomly-generated self-correcting exercises),

  • Runestone (allow students to submit their notes and assignments).

An accessible language

As far as languages go, PreTeXt is about as simple as it gets. UTMOST, the organization behind PreTeXt, explains that they wanted it to be “human-readable and human-writeable”; all the tags are simple and straightforward, with no confusing contractions or acronyms.

Before they began working on ALIR, the two teachers had very limited coding experience. The wealth of information available on PreTeXt’s official website as well as on GitHub made the realization of the project relatively painless.

According to the pair, the time investment is well worth it. PreTeXt’s focus on accessibility guarantees that no student is left behind, whether they be colourblind or visually-impaired; it does not use colour for emphasis and allows for easy zooming. Moreover, anything you create can easily be exported into almost any format: raw text, PDF, ePub, or even braille!

Author: Simon Côté-Massicotte

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