How do students use WeBWorK?
Students log onto WeBWorK using a login name and password which has been assigned to them. Since WeBWorK
documents are HTML World Wide Web documents, they can use any terminal
or computer which has access to the internet and can run one of the
freely available internet web browsers such as Netscape, Microsoft
Internet Explorer or Lynx.
For the benefit of students who want to do extra practice problems (and for anybody else curious about WeBWorK
, but not registered in any mathematics class) the special login name
"practice1" with a password of "practice1" is available. A similar
login name "practice4" with a password of "practice4" gives a different
version of many assignments each time a user logs in.
Try logging into a calculus course. Use "practice1" as your login and password.
Because mathematical symbols are not yet easily displayed on HTML
pages, and because it is probably better to work most mathematics
problems away from the computer screen, each WeBWorK
assignment can be downloaded as a postscript file and printed out.
Students frequently use this typeset printout to solve their homework
problems and then return to the computer to have their answers checked.
On the University of Rochester campus students have web access from
public computer labs until 2AM and with "ResNet" many have web access
from their dorm rooms 24 hours a day.
On the computer screen the problems, with spaces for the
answers, are displayed in close-to-typeset format as a web fill-in
form. Since WeBWorK
uses standard HTML syntax it is possible to display graphs using
standard "GIF" formats. Even typeset mathematics can be displayed on
the screen using GIFs, although displaying it in this manner is
currently rather slow unless the professor chooses to pre-create the
Upon receiving the student's answer (or answers) the
computer checks it against the answer provided by the professor and
tells the student whether the answer(s) are correct or not. The correct
answer is not given, but the student can try as many times as he or she
wishes to supply the correct answer. While all of the student's
attempts are recorded, currently only obtaining the correct answer
counts towards a student's homework score and the number of attempts is
not used in this calculation.
A professor might choose to ask many matching or multiple choice type questions, but since WeBWorK
does not indicate which matches or selections are wrong, it would be
very time consuming, and perhaps impossible, to obtain the correct
answer to such questions merely by guessing.
The WeBWorK system is quite flexible. For example,
if a problem has several parts the professor has the choice of
informing students whether answers for the separate parts are correct
or not. Typically, if a problem involves parts with numerical answers,
the professor will have WeBWorK inform the student which
parts he or she have done correctly but would not do this for a
multiple choice question or a question with multiple True/False parts.
Similarly, the professor has flexibility in how he or she grades an
An important aspect of WeBWorK is that every problem has a Feedback
button which sends an e-mail message directly to the instructor.
Students use this to communicate with the instructor in many ways; from
reporting spelling errors on the homework pages, to asking for help
when they think they have the right answer, but WeBWorK won't
accept it (sometimes the instructor has programmed in the wrong answer
for some versions of the problem), to setting up a meeting time with
the instructor or TA to get additional help because now they realize
that they didn't understand a concept which they thought they had
In general, WeBWorK promotes "mastery" of
the material, since the students cannot mislead themselves into
thinking they understand a problem until the computer accepts their
answer. Without WeBWorK most students will make a
calculation, get an answer, and forget about the problem until, under
the best circumstances, their homework is graded and returned a week
later. To paraphrase the words of Tom Lehrer, with WeBWorK "it is important to understand what you are doing AND to get the right answer."
Because of the e-mail Feedback
button, and at the price of spending an hour at 11PM the evening the
problems are due, an instructor, working from home, can answer a good
many simple questions which, unanswered, would have prevented the
students from completing their homework. In this way WeBWorK
and web technology allows one to reach students at "teachable" moments,
with only moderate inconvenience to the instructor. After the due date,
students can review the homework, including the answers expected by the