A poll on notes formats

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What format would you prefer instructor-provided notes in? (Please see below for descriptions)

Strongly prefer PDF
20
59%
Weakly prefer PDF
8
24%
Weakly prefer HTML
5
15%
Strongly prefer a semi-interactive HTML version[
1
3%
 
Total votes: 34

EvanED
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A poll on notes formats

Postby EvanED » Sat Feb 02, 2013 7:39 pm UTC

The context is a computer science course. It's hypothetical, so I don't have a specific class picked out.

The PDF version would be aimed at printing and Kindle-type e-readers. Think that this would probably look like a pretty typical text book chapter. There would probably be a mediocre HTML version as well. (The PDF would be typeset with Latex.)

The HTML version would be aimed at reading on a computer/iPad-like tablet. This would have heavier cross references via hyperlinks, "animations" that show how algorithms are carried out. (See an example of the kind of thing I mean (source), except that the reader would have to click forward and back) It might even move some subsidiary information out of the mainstream text flow onto a separate linked page.

The HTML version would not exclude printing for people who don't have tablets or want to do reading on their computer, but the result wouldn't be quite as good as the first option because my primary focus would be the HTML version. (In particular, it might go through Latex for the final typesetting, but I wouldn't make that the source format. So there would be a conversion involved, and I'm not sure how much control I'd have over the output.)

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tastelikecoke
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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby tastelikecoke » Sun Feb 03, 2013 6:45 am UTC

Practically, I prefer PDFs. They are much more simple to use, since it's stored in only one file all together with its images and fonts. I'd prefer HTML if there is a standard format for browsing it, but usually they're ugly and confusing compared to a PDFs. I want them only on the internet.

What I dream of is to have an HTML version of lectures organized like a book, so you could easily convert it to HTML and PDF, and have no trouble switching between formats.

EvanED
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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby EvanED » Sun Feb 03, 2013 8:50 am UTC

tastelikecoke wrote:What I dream of is to have an HTML version of lectures organized like a book, so you could easily convert it to HTML and PDF, and have no trouble switching between formats.

Oh, I should probably clarify; not only could you print the HTML pages of course, but there'd be a version available in PDF or something like that even for the HTML version. It just wouldn't be the primary format, and so wouldn't be put together with as much care.

Many browsers can save and read .MHT files, which could combine them. Even if not, I suppose I could put the images inline as data URIs or something like that. But even there separate pages would still be separate files, and it'd probably be easier to go with the HTML->PDF version.

beojan
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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby beojan » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:53 pm UTC

The crossreferencing can be included in a PDF document too (since PDF documents can have links). You would just need to ensure you turn off the annoying box around links that LaTeX defaults to. Animations could also be included as links to a web page with the necessary data. This would combine the print-ability and nice typesetting benefits of PDF with the basic interactivity of HTML.

Also, you might need to consider making one version of the PDF for e-readers and another for printing / on screen reading. Normal sized text on a printed page ends up very small on an e-reader screen, and forces the user to zoom in and pan around the page. On the kindle, parts of the page also sometimes get cut off due to the scaling (I think the kindle screen's is very different to ISO A-series or Letter paper)

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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby EvanED » Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:55 pm UTC

beojan wrote:The crossreferencing can be included in a PDF document too (since PDF documents can have links). You would just need to ensure you turn off the annoying box around links that LaTeX defaults to. Animations could also be included as links to a web page with the necessary data. This would combine the print-ability and nice typesetting benefits of PDF with the basic interactivity of HTML.

Well, yes and no. First, yes, PDFs can have links. But in my experience, the viewers are bad at this kind of use. I tried Evince (3.4.0), Okular (0.14.3), and an old version of Acrobat Reader (9.5). The only one that has so much as a "back" button is Okular, and it's not so much a button as a menu choice. The navigation abilities of browsers is rather better than PDF readers. (I also tried Chrome's built-in PDF reader; the back button there ignores any intra-PDF navigation and just goes back to the thing you had open before going to the PDF.)

Second, putting links in the PDF back to a separate animation is a poor substitute for what I'm thinking for the HTML version. It means that I can't really talk about the animations in the text. (Or you could even imagine having a "link" inline in the text which would flip the animation's state to the point it was dealing with whatever the text was talking about.) Linking to it separately really would be relegating it to secondary material. The alternative would be to talk about it in the PDF version as I would in the HTML one, but this would kill the benefits of having a PDF and just make people switch back and forth between readers.

Also, you might need to consider making one version of the PDF for e-readers and another for printing / on screen reading. Normal sized text on a printed page ends up very small on an e-reader screen, and forces the user to zoom in and pan around the page. On the kindle, parts of the page also sometimes get cut off due to the scaling (I think the kindle screen's is very different to ISO A-series or Letter paper)

My current plan (though there are some things I have to check out before deciding on this for sure) would be to produce a PDF much like what Latex gives you by default -- a relatively small text area which actually agrees pretty well with at least the Kindle's screen -- but size the paper to match instead of having absurdly large margins. Then, for the printed version, offer a version in 2-up format.

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aldonius
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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby aldonius » Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:53 am UTC

Pretty much all my courses have their lecture slides available as pdfs.

Sadly, PDFs and code examples do not mix well. So if you ever have code examples in the text or lecture slides, for the love of $DEITY make them available in their source format before the first class that uses each example. Expanding upon that in the lecture is fine, just be sure to post the updated versions after, and be aware of typing speeds.

I currently have a course in which most of the lecture is spent coding/running/explaining examples. Good concept, frustrating execution. The critical sections of whatever code we cover that day are made available beforehand in pdfs of the lecture slides... bits of formatting break, so if you want to follow along on your own laptop, you need to be an excellent typist (especially if you want to take explanatory notes). The completed source files from the lecture are made available afterwards. It's actually easier to watch the lecture recording!

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Adacore
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Re: A poll on notes formats

Postby Adacore » Thu Apr 11, 2013 1:17 am UTC

For any non-computing field, I would insist on PDF notes. For a computer science course, I can see the value in a format that's more useful on a computer, to allow easy copy-paste of code samples and such. In fact, if I had a dual-screen setup, I'd probably prefer it in the computer-focussed format so I can do the things described in the notes as I read them; if I don't have two screens, I'll probably want to print it and would prefer PDF. Also, if it's something I'll need to revise for an exam - just going over the theory and content, rather than actually trying to use it in practice - then I'll want it in a printed format.


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