WeBWorK the personal online homework set has expanded to over 150 institutions since it was founded in 1995 at UR. And the online homework program is set to expand even further, due to the $1.2 million grant given to the UR last Wednesday, Nov. 4, by the National Science Foundation.

According Professor of Mathematics Michael Gage, the larger goal of the grant is to make it plausible for the widespread adoption of WeBWorK in universities, colleges and high schools all over the nation. Gage hoped that the grant could help triple the number of institutions using WebWork.

‘We think WeBWork is really quite useful,” Gage said. ‘[Other schools] have a lot of barriers facing them so the purpose of the grant is to lower these barriers.”

More specifically Gage, Professor of Mathematics Arnold Pizer and Dean of Sophomores Vicki Roth will work in collaboration with the Mathematical Association of America to provide a permanent and stable home for WeBWork and they also want to expand the base of faculty who use the system.

‘Our goal is to train consultants who in turn will be able to help anybody in their region to set up a WeBWork server,” Gage said. ‘It’s easier [to use] if you have interactive training.”

UR faculty will lead training sessions where consultants learn the skills to enable them to assist other institutions in incorporating WeBWorK into their curriculum. UR plans to continue working on the software to improve the consistency and efficiency of WeBWorK.

Lastly, more assessments, led by Roth, about the use and success of WeBWorK will be conducted. These results will be utilized to make software developments decisions and also to improve future training sessions and outreach workshops.

The feedback concerning WeBWorK from UR and other universities over the last 14 years has been encouraging.

‘In general, the feedback from the students and the faculty has been positive, and most students given the choice would prefer to use WeBWorK”, Gage said. ‘The number of sites using WeBWork is growing and the number of sites who stop using is very small.”
Students feel similarly to faculty in that they believe that WeBWorK makes a significant difference by helping them to comprehend the material more effectively.

‘WeBWork has you do practice problems that help to develop basic math skills and further in-depth thinking,” sophomore Chelsea Virgile said, who has taken four math courses for her bio-medical engineering major.

Over the years, WeBWorK has been tweaked and altered to benefit students’ experiences with the software.

One change in particular was the addition of the preview button, which was added six years ago. This addition allows students to preview their answer and see the mistakes they made before submitting it.

A future goal for WeBWork is to be able to connect WeBWork and Blackboard so that students will have one login for both sites and also so that the grades will automatically transfer from WeBWorK to Blackboard. UR wants to continue to improve WeBWorK as it becomes more widely used.

In 1995, Gage, Pizer and Roth created and implemented the WeBWork software. This was accomplished by combining Pearl open source programming software, a CGI server program and the Internet to provide students with an online problem set that would inform students if they were correct or incorrect immediately after submitting their answer.

The main motivation for this software was to improve student learning. Gage is excited that WeBWorK is still relevant.

‘Students keep working on their homework until they get it right. I’m sure they never did that when it was just paper and pencil,” he said. ‘It’s an article of faith of mine that when they are doing more homework they are learning more.”

Berkowitz is a member of
the class of 2011.

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