# What's involved in WeBWorK?

by Peter Alfeld.

This page is intended as an overview of ww for instructors who are considering its use for their class.

The possible types of WeBWorK answers include:
• Integers
• Fractions
• Decimal numbers. By default ww considers them correct if they agree with the specified answers within one tenth of one percent. This tolerance can be modified.
• Algebraic expressions. ww evaluates the student supplied answer and the solution given with the problem at some random values of the variables, and compares the values so obtained. Thus there is a large range of possible answers.
• Multiple Choice questions
• True/False Questions
• arbitrary strings
• Matching items (like algebraic expressions and graphs)
• ww problems can include graphics and html links.
• You can have students write text that is then mailed to you.
• Students can have different numbers in their problems.

## E-mail

You can send mass mailings to your class containing individual information, like test scores and and current grades. This feature is most useful, and quite underused.

## Tasks involved in running a ww class

The list of tasks involved below is sorted roughly by decreasing instructor involvement. Only you can decide what problems to include in your ww assignments. But you don't need to be savvy in Unix or know how to write ww problems. On the other hand, perhaps the most satisfying way to run ww is to have control over all of its aspects. We can accommodate both extremes and anything in between.
• Decide what problems to include in your ww homework. These can be from existing courses, problem banks, your textbook, or you can make them up yourself.
• Once problems are ready to be opened to the students they need to be tested. This is crucial, fixing a problem after a hundred students have been frustrated by it is vastly more aggravating and time consuming than making sure the problem works in the first place.
• Email is an integral part of ww, and email queries by students need to be answered in a timely manner.
• Class lists need to be maintained, students need to be added (and perhaps dropped).
• ww assignments need to be assembled (and perhaps written), and put on the web.
• The initial class directory has to be set up at the beginning of the semester. This usually happens right when the semester starts, so that we can use as up-to-date a class list as possible.
• At the beginning of the semester someone needs to demonstrate ww to your students and give them the relevant information about their ww account.
• Occasional problems (a student having forgotten a password, a ww question not showing up properly) need to be addressed.

## Suggestions

Here are some suggestions, based on my own experience. All of them are just my personal opinion, and some of them may be controversial.
• Make the ww assignments a significant part of your grade. I usually count them for about 40 percent of the student's grade.
• It usually does not work to fix a problem with a ww question - like it having the wrong answer - after your class has been exposed to the set. Instead, if there is a problem with a webwork question let the students know and have ww give all of them credit for that problem. Apologize profusely.
• It is possible to have different (random) numbers for parameters in each students' problem. This feature is overrated. It is often better to settle on a specific set of well thought out parameters that keep the required arithmetic at the appropriate level. This also makes it easier to communicate with the class as a whole about the problem.
• Instructors are sometimes worried about ww assignments being answered by people other than their students. Students who cheat only cheat themselves by depriving themselves of the learning affect. I ignore them.
• Assignments should be wordy, with examples and explanations, and links to relevant web pages where appropriate.
• The greatest source of frustrations and wasted energy is the fact that students new to ww don't understand arithmetic precedence. They think 1/x+y means 1/(x+y). It is well worth it to spend time, and perhaps the entire first assignment, on explaining these issues.
• Make sure your students understand that upper and lower case variables are distinct.
• Have your first assignment due at least two weeks into the semester, to allow for late comers.
• Use and update the "message of the day" that goes with your class.
• Encourage your students to work together on ww home works.
• Take care to use hw sets where problems cover a wide range of difficulty. It's OK to have a lot of routine problems and a few difficult ones.