Keynote: The WeBWorK on-line homework system and its academic community

14 Sep 2016

Keynote: The WeBWorK on-line homework system and its academic community

On-line mathematics homework systems have been around for two decades (WeBWorK started in 1996). I’ll start with a very brief summary of what homework systems do, how they can be used and their effectiveness to date and I’ll describe how WeBWorK’s development has emphasized the ability to present a very large fraction of the types of homework that are typically posed for undergraduate classes. (“Ask the questions you should not just the ones you can.”)

One of the interesting aspects of a stable open source project is the need to create a community of users and developers who can sustain the development of the system. Programmers are needed but also writers, organizers, creative and energetic educators, translators and more. I’ll describe what we’ve done toward creating and maintaining a support community for WeBWorK and the OpenProblemLibrary (a collection of more than 30K questions) and the challenges that remain.

I’ll touch on a few of the newer features of WeBWorK with emphasis on its ability to interoperate with other systems including Moodle (quiz questions and assignments), Canvas and Blackboard (Using the LTI interface), Geogebra, Sage, Mathbook XML, and more. It can even be used to power live homework examples within a webpage.

WeBWorK has proved to be a robust platform for on-line educational experimentation and innovation. Its open architecture allows one to pull out components to plug in behind other software projects. Likewise one can add new capabilities and question types (e.g. using Sage as a symbolic calculator) without rewriting the core code. These features have allowed WeBWorK to evolve continuously over 20 years. In the academic year 2015-2016 it was used by more than 750 institutions during the academic year 2015-2016, had a half-dozen core programmers, and many, many faculty who contributed new homework questions. We’ll see what happens next.