What are the educational goals of WeBWorK?
is not an attempt at Computer Assisted Instruction in the usual sense.
The program does not teach, it merely gives immediate feedback as to
whether or not the student has submitted the correct answer. If the
student is unable to find and correct their mistake in a reasonable
amount of time, the student is encouraged to seek help elsewhere, from
fellow students, from the TA's or from the instructor (either in person
or via e-mail). It would be possible to provide hints based on the type
of wrong answer, but, at least at the moment, it is unclear that this
would help the learning process. It seems preferable to us that when a
student is having difficulty they be encouraged to seek help from
Some observations on the educational effects of WeBWorK.
There is no doubt, from anecdotal evidence alone, that using WeBWorK
changes the social workings of the classroom. Students frequently work
together to find answers to "tough" questions that no one seems to be
getting the computer to accept. Occasionally they can show that they
are right and the computer is wrong. The lively e-mail correspondence
between the student and instructor encouraged by WeBWorK
testifies to a new dynamic in the learning process. A new
communications and learning channel between students and instructors
has been created.
Most students (more than 80%) get all of the answers correct
eventually. Because the problems are individualized they have almost
certainly had to learn something about the problem, since they cannot
merely copy answers from another student. They can learn a general
method for solving the problem from another student, but at this stage
that is what we are trying to teach them! This is better than a common
approach of attempting a problem, but being satisfied with the attempt
whether or not it achieves the correct answer.
Another anecdotal observation from both CAPA and WeBWorK
is that students are much more focused in the questions they ask TA's
and professors. Usually there is a specific part of a problem causing
them difficulty and since they have (almost always) worked hard on the
problem, they are more likely to really understand the instructor's
Finally, by giving WeBWorK exams where students receive partial credit for successfully answering on WeBWorK
questions they missed on the regular in class exam, it is possible to
turn exams into a powerful learning experience while at the same time
giving students a "second" chance to do better on exams.