Using LaTeX with Blackboard

Dr. Keith Jones, 
Mathematics Department, 
SUNY Oneonta, 

LaTeX is the universal standard for typesetting mathematical communications; so any subject that involves the use of equations can benefit from LaTeX. Blackboard technically has built-in LaTeX support, but it is very poor. It generates image files which it loads onto the webpage, which is frankly not acceptable for current-generation webpages. These images cannot display inline mathematics (i.e., math inside a sentence), and they render rather poorly. One can use raw HTML code to typeset some mathematics; for example, there are tags for superscripts and subscripts, but this too is unwieldy and insufficient for a variety of reasons. The modern standard is to use MathML, which web browsers can render beautifully, but which needs to be programmatically generated. There is a wonderful tool called MathJax which uses Javascript to convert LaTeX code embedded in a webpage into MathML. An author need only type LaTeX source into a webpage, enclosed by appropriate delimiters, and call the freely available MathJax script. 

It turns out that in just about any edit box in Blackboard, one can switch to HTML editing, paste in the code to call MathJax, and edit the raw HTML to include the desired LaTeX. Upon clicking submit, Blackboard will display the mathematics very nicely. Unfortunately, there is a very annoying problem. If one re-opens the editor to make any changes whatsoever to that text, Blackboard will corrupt the HTML that called the Javascript. (It may corrupt more than just that I’m not sure.). This means one cannot make quick and simple changes through the Blackboard editor. The workaround is to keep an HTML file on a local computer to make all the edits. One can save the file and view it in any browser to verify that the LaTeX and HTML are correct, and then copy and paste the HTML into the Blackboard raw HTML edit box when satisfied. (It may be that only the script code needs to be re-copied, but it seems worthwhile that any items of significant length be kept on a local computer anyway.) If a change needs to be made, edit the local HTML file and paste it back into the Blackboard edit box, overwriting the corrupted HTML. If any Blackboard text needs be edited frequently, I recommend placing that in a separate item, since it would be unnecessarily tedious to have to keep doing this. 

I would be happy to provide more detailed information on including LaTeX in Blackboard this way if anyone is interested. See Figures 1 and 2 below illustrating the difference between using MathJax and using plain HTML and/or Blackboard’s built-in LaTeX support. 

This is part of a series of posts collected by the TLTC and Faculty Center to share ideas and tools that have been helpful in the shift is teaching during the Spring 2020 semester.  If you are interested in sharing either a tool that you have found very useful or a method that you are now using in your courses, we would love to hear from you. Send your video or brief description to Chilton Reynolds and we will post it as a part of this series. 

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