2013-10-25

Possible influence of the yeshiva experience on teaching

Before I resumed teaching last Sunday, I had a mixed feeling of worries and expectations. I was worried because I did not teach for a whole year because of the sabbatical I had in the last academic year. I also expected that my yeshiva experience, including Talmud lessons by rabbis and the Talmud study with a partner, would have a positive influence on my style of teaching.

When I was still waiting for my students in the classroom, I still had worries. But the moment I started speaking, all my worries disappeared. I felt as if all the positive energy I had received in the yeshiva but had not used in this specific setting burst out.

As I went to teaching with no more worries, I saw myself getting excited more easily than before. And once I got excited, I spoke both more energetically, that is, with a louder voice and with sharper expressions, and more associatively, that is, by jumping more frequently from topic to topic but without losing the main thread and by asking more spontaneous questions on the spot, than before. I short, I felt as if I were teaching in a style similar to that by one of three teachers at the yeshiva.

I have also noticed that many of the spontaneous questions I ask now in class are more or less of the same type as typical questions the Talmud itself asks and we its learners ask each other when we study it in a traditional manner, that is, in pairs.

This new teaching style of mine, influenced by my one-year yeshiva experience, also helps at least me as a teacher enjoy teaching more, though I do not know how they see the way I teach, whether in relative or absolute terms.

2013-10-04

Simplicity and power of MultiMarkdown

Since I stumbled upon MultiMarkdown last week, I am more and more impressed with its simplicity and power, two attributes that can seldom coexist in computing. In one sentence, MultiMarkdown is a way of writing text in plain text format, adding human-readable markups about its structure and for possible formatting when converted to other formats. It is simple as these markups you add are minimal in number and easily memorable and readable. It is powerful as it uses plain text, which is the surest future-proof document format, and can be converted easily to other document formats, including HTML, OpenDocument, and PDF, instead of writing the same content in different formats.

Now I am converting my existing text documents to MultiMarkdown by adding its markups. I spent a few days this weeks to establish my workflow to start using MultiMarkdown as the default input format. Anyone who appreciates the power of plain text can also appreciate the power of MultiMarkdown. I wish more people, not only programmers but also researchers in the humanities, became acquainted with plain text and started using it.

Although MultiMarkdown is not an official standard yet (I hope it will), it has a community of users and tools. Probably the best place to learn the basics of MultiMarkdown is MultiMarkdown Guide, written by its inventor himself. He also has a more detailed guide called MultiMarkdown User's Guide. MultiMarkdown Support and MultiMarkdown Discussion List are good places where beginners as well as advanced users of MultiMarkdown can ask questions.

Since MultiMarkdown is in plain text with human-readable markups, also in plain text, one can compose text in this light-weight markup language with any text editor such as EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor for Windows, and EditPad Lite, its free little brother. The inventor of MultiMarkdown made a text editor that also shows the preview of text when converted to HTML - MultiMarkdown Composer - but unfortunately, it is only for Mac. There are many other similar editors for this platform, but there do not seem to be many for Windows. The only one I have found (and purchased) is MdCharm. Although one can convert MultiMarkdown documents to other formats from command line after installing MultiMarkdown package, I find it far easier to do so with Scrivener, which has become my favorite tool for writing long and complicated text documents.

My workflow as of now is the following:

  • 1 Compose text with EditPad Pro or Scrivener, depending on its length and complexity.
  • 2 Convert the document to one of the following formats with Scrivener: HTML (.html), Flat OpenDocument (.fodt), LaTeX (.tex).
  • 3.1 If it is in HTML, fine-tune the code, if necessary, with EditPad Pro.
  • 3.2 If it is in Flat OpenDucment, fine-tune, if necessary, and convert the document to one of the following formats with LibreOffice Writer (it is necessary to install OpenDocument-Text-Flat-XML.jar): OpenDocument (.odt), Word (.doc), PDF (.pdf).
  • 3.3 If it is in LaTeX, fine-tune, if necessary, and convert the document to PDF with LyX.

This workflow may seem too complicated, but in practice it is not. Besides, the advantage of composing text documents in MultiMarkdown is too big - you write them only once and convert them to other formats without changing the text itself. Having found the power of plain text years ago, I have always preferred this format, but only when its physical layout is irrelevant. But having found MultiMarkdown, I can also use plain text now even when its physical layout matters. Now I feel even more strongly how stupid and inefficient word processors are.