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Updating WebWork and/or Switching from the NPL to the OPL mid-semester

Updating WebWork and/or Switching from the NPL to the OPL mid-semester

by James Mc Laughlin -
Number of replies: 3
I am a mathematics professor who uses WebWork a lot in my lower level mathematics courses.

I just found out that Webwork here at my University has not been updated since 2011 (I am assuming this from the copyright notice on WebWork pages: WeBWorK © 1996-2011) .
Since WebWork has not been updated in 6 years, we have access to only ~16,900 problems on the old National Problem Library (NPL), whereas I read that the new Open Problem Library (OPL) has around 35000 problems.
The person who set Webwork up, who is in another department (I am in the mathematics department here), has pretty much lost all interest in updating and maintaining Webwork, so we are going to have to involve the University IT people to upgrade WebWork and install the OPL to replace the NPL.
One major concern that has been raised is that upgrading WebWork and/or installing the OPL might destroy individual course shells that belong to particular instructors.
Another is that if the NPL is upgraded to the OPL, then existing homework sets would no longer function?
Can anyone who knows the answers, or has dealt with a similar situation please advise about these two issues?

Are these (updating WebWork and replacing the NPL with the OPL) dangerous/difficult things to attempt mid-semester, and should they be left off until between semesters when no one is actively running WebWork for a course, or is it fine to make these changes mid-semester?

Unfortunately I myself do not understand the code for installing the open library so what I was intending was to direct our IT people to this page for instructions on installing the OPL:

Are there additional things a person carrying out the work should do/extra precautions they should take (asking this partly since it has been so long since any updates were done)?

Similarly for upgrading WebWork. My intention was to just direct the IT people to this page:

Here are also, are there any extra steps/additional precautions that need to be taken (againpartly since the last update was so long ago)?

Thanks for any advice/help.

Jimmy Mc Laughlin
In reply to James Mc Laughlin

Re: Updating WebWork and/or Switching from the NPL to the OPL mid-semester

by Andras Balogh -
From my experience I would definitely leave it off updating even just the problem library until after the semester. Library problems change, especially over 6 years. (Maybe the operating system was not updated either?!)

Depending on how many course you have, it might be easier install a new system; recreate the course shells, and import the previously exported homework sets.

I am very happy with our IT people handling our server, but heard some other places where IT is struggling with it. If you contact IT for their help they might get interested in making sure the system is secure, FERPA compliant, etc.

In reply to James Mc Laughlin

Re: Updating WebWork and/or Switching from the NPL to the OPL mid-semester

by Danny Glin -
I agree with Andras that upgrading mid-semester is asking for trouble, especially since you would be jumping several versions.

If your WeBWorK server has been running since 2011, you probably are running on an older version of linux, which is likely no longer supported or receiving updates. If possible, it would be better to upgrade to something current before worrying about WeBWorK.

Regarding updating to the OPL, theoretically this should not break any of your existing assignments. Efforts have been made to keep the paths the same. If you want to re-use existing courses, you may have to change the link that points to the problem library, but this is only one link for the whole library.

Something else to be aware of is that many of the OPL problems have been updated to use new features of pg (particularly MathObjects), so if you update the OPL without updating webwork and pg, you may find that many of the problems do not work.

I think Andras's suggestion is the best approach: if you can, build a brand new WeBWorK server with the latest version, and then work on migrating your courses. There are two approaches:
  1. If all of the problems in your courses are taken from the NPL, then you should be able to export the homework sets from these courses, and import them into newly created courses on your new version.
  2. If you have locally authored/edited problems within a course, or you want to migrate student data, you can use the "Archive Course" feature in Course Administration. You would then have to copy the archives to the new system, and unarchive them there. Theoretically this will move the entire course as-is, although there have been reports of this not working smoothly when passing archives between different versions of WeBWorK.
All this being said, it should be possible to upgrade the server in-place using the upgrade instructions, though it's hard to predict how much trouble you will encounter. A couple things that you could see are difficulties upgrading the database to the new version, and problems with out-of-date perl packages.
In reply to James Mc Laughlin

Re: Updating WebWork and/or Switching from the NPL to the OPL mid-semester

by James Mc Laughlin -
Thanks for the responses.

We will hold off until the end of the semester.

The situation got urgent as we got a message during the week that the WebWork server "had died", but somehow it is back up.

We are going to get a new server, so that will be the time to start with the newest of everything.

I will bring to the attention of our IT people the points you raise.

Jimmy Mc Laughlin

West Chester University