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Thomas Hagedorn - Graphical User Interface

Thomas Hagedorn - Graphical User Interface

by Arnold Pizer -
Number of replies: 0
inactiveTopicGraphical User Interface topic started 5/6/2003; 11:35:55 AM
last post 5/7/2003; 5:27:25 PM
userThomas Hagedorn - Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 11:35:55 AM (reads: 2542, responses: 8)
Is there a graphical user interface for WebWork so that problem sets can be creatd, edited, and/or published by professors who do not want to edit set definition files or use command line instructions.

I was looking at Moogle, but I'm not sure if understand how it fits into the bit picture and if does what I'm looking for.

Thanks in advance,

Tom Hagedorn

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userZbigniew Fiedorowicz - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 1:37:46 PM (reads: 2844, responses: 1)
I presume you mean Moodle, rather than Moogle. My interface scripts between Moodle and WeBWorK are meant to provide a nice GUI frontend to WeBWorK for students. For instance WeBWorK can be combined with other instructional material, e.g. lecture notes, discussion forums, etc.

My scripts are not meant to provide a GUI for professors writing WeBWorK problems. While I am not an expert, my feeling is that class management systems, like Moodle, WebCT, Blackboard, etc., are not really good platforms to use for such a purpose.

It is possible, but not very convenient, to write WeBWorK problems using the WeBWorK web interface. One would have to click on the "Edit" button for some existing problem, rewrite it, then click on the "Save As" button.

Mike Gage has adapted Manila/Frontier, the software which runs this web site here, for this purpose. Manila/Frontier is a more general purpose web site creation software. I believe it costs in the neighborhood of $1K-$2K. I am sure that there are also open source/free software platforms of this nature which could be adapted for such use.

My 2 cents worth, Zig Fiedorowicz

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userMichael Gage - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 8:08:20 PM (reads: 2849, responses: 2)
Most of the interface work to date has been on the student side of using WeBWorK, since that is really vital. I have written a tool that uses Userland Frontier or Radio and which allows you to write and check problems quickly without entering them into a problem set first. Frontier is $300 for educational institutions. It is a subscription so the $300 entitles you to updates for a year, after that it stays as is. The smaller program Radio costs $40 for a year's subscription and will also run the webwork tool. The main downside is that they run in Windows or on Macs. (or, with some difficulty, on Linux using WINE to emulate Windows).

Both Radio and Frontier do MANY other things besides communicate with WeBWorK, but they are a convenient environment to hack out a client for interfacing with the WeBWorK XMLRPC server. With a bit more time similar tools could be written in TCL, Ruby, Perl or even Java.

I also seem to remember that someone created a webform that can be used to enter routine problems without doing any programming. I've asked in another post whether anyone else remembers this tool.

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userThomas Hagedorn - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 10:12:41 PM (reads: 3121, responses: 0)
I guessing I was thinking that Noodle was some type of play on Google and came up with Noogle.

Thanks for the information on Noodle. It confirms what I had been guessing about being intended for the benefit of the students.


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userThomas Hagedorn - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 10:27:56 PM (reads: 3215, responses: 0)

Thanks for the info. I just looked at Frontier and Radio. Let me state what I think I understand.

Our concern is that we want to have faculty with very little computer skills outside of web-surfing and email to be able to construct problem sets. My hope was that there was an interface whereby they could just search through the Webwork files and pick out the problems they liked.

From what I understand right now, it sounds like Frontier (with your tool) will let someone move these files around much more easily. They'll probably be using a PC so the fact that Frontier runs on Windows/Mac environment would be fine.

Is this right?

Thanks, Tom

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userMichael Gage - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/6/2003; 11:01:46 PM (reads: 2830, responses: 0)

First I would suggest using Radio as it smaller, cheaper and somewhat more automatic. Second, at the moment, the tool is really designed for writing and testing new problems, not creating sets from existing problems. Adding features that make it possible to create problem sets entirely from Radio is something I would like to do, but it is not currently my highest priority. I'm willing to bump up the priority if it would be useful to you (and if you or someone else would be willing to help test it -- it's nearly impossible to find all the bugs on one machine with one user).

If your main concern is making creating problem sets easier, then my webwork tool for radio can't do that yet. (It might in a few weeks.) John Jones (at Arizona State U) has a mock up of a problem picking form for finding problems in a database. It could be the basis for a graphical tool which picks problems. I think that is how John intends to develop it.

You can also use the problem library at

Here is the simplest method I can think of that is currently available for creating a set definion file entirely from the web:

We'll assume that the templates file for the course contains a complete copy of the rochester problem library. (The templates files to all courses could be linked to a single copy of the library as long as the problem files do not need to be changed for individual courses.)

Open the problem library at the link above in one window and open a set definition file from the "Build and Edit problem sets" page of the "professor tools" of webwork in a second window.

Browse through the problem library (you can view and test the problems) when you see one you like copy the address, e.g.


into the textarea section of the second window (That window would then contain something that looks like this:)

openDate = 8/22/02 at 6:00am
dueDate = 2/15/03 at 6:00am
answerDate = 2/15/03 at 6:00am
paperHeaderFile =
screenHeaderFile =
problemList =
set0/, 1
set0/, 1
set0/, 1
set0/, 1
set0/, 1
set0/prob4/, 1
set0/, 1

You should also add a comma and a 1 at the end of the last line to indicate that the problem is worth 1 point.

When you are done you return to the "build problem sets page" and rebuild the set (in this case set 0)

This is not perfect -- it involves two windows open and some cut and paste. There is not much checking to make sure the format is correct.

I'm sure that some javascript code would allow you to simplify this somewhat, a button on the problem library page would automatically transfer the address from one window to another. This involves some security issues that I haven't researched, however, so it might take some time to code this correctly. JavaScript code is also notoriously browser dependent, so it might take some time to get it tested in all environments.

Another modification of the library, which might not be too difficult, would be to e-mail the list of addresses of the selected problems to a professor in a format suitable for cutting and pasting into a set definition file. Currently you can e-mail yourself the source to any problem that interests you.

Creating a graphical tool that allows the construction of problem sets is well within the "technologically feasible" limits at this time, it will however take some time and manpower to get it to work correctly and easily.

Take care,


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userBill Ziemer - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/7/2003; 11:05:28 AM (reads: 3137, responses: 0)
The webform was presented at a MAA meeting:

Detroit Country Day School --- Mark Schmitt (

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userZbigniew Fiedorowicz - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/7/2003; 5:14:52 PM (reads: 2821, responses: 0)
At Ohio State, the less computer savvy WeBWorK instructors just circle their desired problems on a hard copy printout and indicate the desired due dates. My student assistant then creates appropriate set definition files (by modifying existing files) and builds the problem sets. Generally this is done in batch at the beginning of the quarter, together with uploading class rosters into WeBWorK. This doesn't take more than a few hours per quarter. Moreover, in subsequent quarters, when the instructor teaches the same course, the only modifications needed are changing the due dates.


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userZbigniew Fiedorowicz - Re: Graphical User Interface  blueArrow
5/7/2003; 5:27:25 PM (reads: 2812, responses: 0)
Here's a thought about improving the convenience for the process of building problem sets. It would be nice if the syntax for set definition files were extended to allow something like:

set screenHeaderComment="These problems are related to section xxx of the text"
set printHeaderComment="ditto"

so that the indicated text could be imbedded in the Header files by


In most cases this would save the effort of needing to edit Header files.


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