WeBWorK Problems

DEF files for large collection; a potential use

DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Dick Lane -
Number of replies: 5
My question has two parts:

a)  Is there an easy way to obtain a DEF file for each section of a multi-section sub-library of the NPL?

b)  Has anybody generated increased interest in using Webwork by creating a course, using such an omnibus collection of assignments for a text-specific sub-library, for colleagues to explore (without their becoming an instructor in order to use the Library Browser)?

Item (a) became interesting to me after an hour in the Library Browser creating 14 DEF files by selecting a section (of the Michigan collection for Hughes-Hallett calculus), creating an assignment name, marking all problems for inclusion, updating the set, then exporting the set.  [Export can be quasi-batched, but previous steps in the Library Browser could not.]  Facing about 90 more sections, I will welcome suggestions to simplify my task.

My original objective in creating a private course with all problems for a particular text was strictly personal: understand what was already available, identify what I might want to revise, and identify what new problems I think need to be written.  After an exhausting half-semester with a profoundly incompetent commercial system (which I agreed to use this semester in order to conform in a multi-section set of 3 courses [not using HH-Harvard calculus]), I think proselytizing for Webwork has become more important to me.

I see several reasons to exclude guest access to a "course" giving potential instructors an overview of what is available (e.g., keeping Hints and algorithmic Solutions quasi-obscure).  On the other hand, I think potential instructors would find it helpful if I used some variant of a "Show New Version" feature discussed in (second part of)  http://webwork.maa.org/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2278
In reply to Dick Lane

Re: DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Jason Aubrey -
Hi Dick,

I'm excited to say that there will be an MAA PREP workshop this summer directed exactly at created model webwork courses for specific topics and at investigating ways to enhance the usability of the NPL.

We are now finalizing the plans with the MAA and details should be available soon.

In reply to Dick Lane

Re: DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Michael Gage -
There is one example of a standard first semester "engineering" calculus class taught from Stewart's Calculus book at


(login as guest and click on the modle_Calculus_1 course).

The problems in this course have been rewritten to conform to the current "best practices", including using MathObjects where ever possible. It is a good collection to start from when writing your own problems.

The collection of set definitions (in a compressed file) is posted at the top of the moodle page.

We do not currently have a method for creating set definition files from subcollections of the library or even creating a set definition file directly from the problems being currently viewed in the Library Browser. The latter might be a good feature to add, however creating set definition files from a directory can probably be done most efficiently by writing a command line script that iterates over subdirectories of the National Problem Library and creates set definition files that way. For this you would need to download the collection of files in the NPL.

The question of how to make these "model courses" available without making them TOO available is a tricky one to answer. The example above makes nearly everything visible. See what you think. I invite comments on the best way to approach this.
The answer will help guide the work of the PREP courses this summer.

In reply to Michael Gage

Re: DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Hal Sadofsky -

Count me in the "make everything visible" camp.

I suppose an enterprising student can download the NPL onto his or her own computer, and then read the source code in order to answer the questions in a WeBWorK based course he or she is taking.

All I can say to that is that I've got a job to offer to any student who can do that successfully enough to "cheat the system." (And it is a lot more work than getting your hands on a solution manual for the problems in a typical math textbook.)

I think as teachers we fall too easily into the habit of restricting information as an attempt to keep students honest. Tests, of course, are a way of genuine evaluation away from reference materials, and we do and should use them that way. Homework is a way for students to learn techniques and ideas. Some students will always find a way around this, but the cost to the community of fighting this by isn't worth the fight.

I also think that I, and most of my colleagues don't actually do as good a job as we should in telling our students what we want them to learn, what the main points are, and repeating what the main ideas and techniques are. Really well-structured homework assignments can help with this (some). And if the price of sharing these with each other is that students may get to look at them too, that's probably a _good_ thing.

In reply to Dick Lane

Re: DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Dick Lane -
Thanks for link to model_Calculus_1, info about PREP proposal, and comments about openness.

I wrote header files and a course_info.txt file for the model_calculus_1 set and have attached .TGZ file with them; also included is a slightly revised set6.5.def ("headers_old" replaced with "headers").

My screenHeaderFile1.pg omits the htmlLink to hosted.rochester because it is broken.  My screenHeaderFile2.pg links to https://test.webwork.maa.org/moodle/course/view.php?id=8 but all others link merely to https://test.webwork.maa.org/moodle/

After asking for a PDF with everything, I got a pink screen reporting errors with problems 9, 10 in set 12 and problems 7, 8, 11 in set14.  I then saw that none of the problems in this model course had either a Hint or a Solution.

During my first two semesters using WeBWorK, most of my editing involved the addition of Hints and Solutions to existing problems.  Most problems I write now include both a Hint and a Solution.  I hope model courses developed by a PREP workshop would at least reflect an extended discussion of student-benefits vs instructor-effort to include hints or solutions.  (Note: giving TA status to an observer will allow viewing of any Solution before closing date.)
In reply to Dick Lane

Re: DEF files for large collection; a potential use

by Gavin LaRose -
Hi Dick,

One of the goals of the PREP workshop is to develop problems and sets that are pedagogically sound. Accordingly, I would definitely expect that the materials produced there would use solutions and hints in an effort to reach that goal.

I should add that I think there are many very good problems in the NPL that do not include hints and solutions, but that as a rule I expect that inclusion of these may improve the effectiveness of the problems at encouraging student learning. I believe that one of the shortcomings of some sections of the current NPL is that problems do not uniformly have full solutions (etc.), but I do hope that we'll be able to help address that.