Webwork assignments

The web-based assignments used in some of my courses will be made available on the Web and will be answered on the Web. We will be using the WeBWorK system developed by Prof. Arnie Pizer and Prof. Mike Gage at the University of Rochester. WeBWorK is an internet based method for delivering homework problems to students over the internet.

What do I need to use WeBWorK?

The ideal is to have your own computer. Typically it is desirable to have:

  • An internet connection.
  • An internet browser: Netscape, Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.
  • Adobe's Acrobat Reader.
  • A printer.

How do I use WeBWorK?

Here are the basic steps on how to get started.

NOTE: Most pages of WeBWorK also contain directions. Therefore, if you are ever unsure of what you should do, try reading the directions and descriptions on the page at which you are looking.

  1. Find a computer with access to Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer etc.
  2. Open the browser and go to the WeBWorK page for your course. A link will be found in the navigation bar on the left of your course webpage.
  3. This will get you to the entry page of your course. This page includes necessary information about logging in.
    To log in, click on the 'Login' button.
  4. This will take you to a login page. Enter your login name and password, and click on the 'Continue' button. Please note that you will not be able to login until shortly after classes start.
    Usually, your login name is your 9 digit McGill student ID number.
    Your initial password is also your 9 digit McGill student ID number.
  5. If your login is incorrect, you will be told so, and you can return to the login page and try again. If you are persistently unable to log in, see your professor.
    If your login is correct you will see a page where you can do following:
    • Change your password. Please do this the first time that you log in. This is important since your initial password may be available to others. For your own protection you should change your password at least by the time that the first problem set available for credit opens. Keep a record of your password. Once changed, your instructor does not have access to it.
    • Change your e-mail address if necessary. Please do this the first time that you log in. Your e-mail address is initially set to your McGill student account that you were given on registration. If you do not use this account on a regular basis, change the e-mail address to the account that you prefer. This will enable us to send you course related information electronically.
    • Look at and do the problems in a set via your browser.
      To do Set 1, for example, click on the line in the box that starts with 'Set 1...'. Then click on the 'Do problem set' button.
      On each line in the box, where all the sets are listed, after the set number, you can see whether the set is open or closed. If the set is open, that means that when you solve a problem, the result will be recorded in the course database. If the set is closed, you can still solve problems, but your results will not be recorded.
      After the indication of whether the set is open or closed, there is additional information about the due date (if the set is open), or whether the answers are available (if the set is closed). When the answers are available, you have the option of looking at correct answers when viewing a problem.
    • Get a printout of the problem set.
      To print out Set 1, for example, first choose the download type - PostScript or PDF. If you have Adobe's Acrobat Reader (version 5.0 or better), it is probably best to use the PDF format because it is universal. Acrobat Reader is available (free of charge from Adobe) for virtually every computer platform and will print to virtually every type of printer. However, PostScript format may give better results. To print a PostScript file, you will need a PostScript capable printer (or else a PostScript interpreter such as GSview). Most laser printers such as those found in computer labs are PostScript capable and most inkjet printers are not PostScript capable. If you have your own computer, but don't have a printer, you might want to go to a university computer lab and print out the current homework set there. You only need to print out a problem set once. From then on, you can enter the answers over the web on your own computer.

      After choosing one of the download types, click on the line in the box that starts with 'Set 1...'. Then click on the 'Get hard copy' button. At this point, either the problem set will appear in the browser window (if a suitable plug-in is installed) or you will be prompted to save the file to disk. You can use the preferences command of your web browser to configure your browser to automatically transfer PDF files and/or postscript files to the appropriate application for viewing and printing.

    • Look at a summary of your WeBWorK homework scores.
      This is the second section of the page. If you click on the button 'Get Summary', you will see your current scores for all available problem sets.
  6. If you are printing out a problem set or looking at a summary of your homework scores, you are done. If you are viewing a problem set via a browser, you will see a page with the problems in the set you chose. To view and/or answer a problem, click on the number of the problem and click on the 'Get Problem' button. Notice that there are three modes of viewing the problem: 'plain text', 'images' and 'jsMath'. Text output can be hard to read if a problem contains complicated mathematical formulas, so it is better to view the problem using the 'images' or 'jsMath' mode. The 'jsMath' mode may not work appropriately on older browsers.  Once you choose a problem and click on the 'Get Problem' button, you will see the text of the problem with boxes for your answers. If you wish to submit a solution at this time, enter your answer(s) and click on the 'Submit Answer' button. If you are working on a problem set that is already closed, you will have the option to see the correct answer. To see the correct answer, just check the box(es) and click on the 'Submit Answer' button (you do not have to enter an answer to see the correct answer). Once you have submitted an answer, you will be told whether your answer is correct or not. If not, you may be able to try again. The instructor sets the maximum number of available tries for each problem. This may be a finite number of tries or it may be unlimited. After you've tried a problem, you can either go to the next problem, the previous problem, or see the list of the problems again.
  7. If you want to check the status of your problems (e.g. to double check that your answers have been recorded), use the "Prob. List" button at the top of the page to see the problem list page.
  8. When you are finished, log out using the "Logout" button at the bottom of the page. This may be very important if you are working close to the deadline for completing the assignment. If you close your browser without logging off, it will be at least half an hour before you will be able to log on again.

Things to know

  • If you have a problem logging in, contact your instructor.
  • If you have questions on specific homework problems or if you have comments about WeBWorK that you think can help us make WeBWorK better, click on the 'Feedback' button on any of the pages of WeBWorK.
  • If you are logged on to WeBWorK for longer that 30 minutes without any activity, you will be asked to log in again. This is a security measure. You can resume your work after you logged back in. All your results from the last log in will be saved.
  • Each WeBWorK problem set is individualized (each student has a different version of each problem, for example the numerical values in the formulas may be slightly different).
  • Working close to the submission deadline may be risky, the server will be heavily used at that time and probably rather slow. Much better to submit your solutions a day or two in advance of the deadline.
  • There is a problem set on the server designated 'Set gentle'. This set is not for credit and is designed to teach you ther basics of using WeBWorK.
  • 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 assignment.
  • Be aware of the number of available tries for each question you attempt. If the number of tries is limited, be sure to answer all parts of a multipart question before clicking the 'Submit Answer' button. Every time you click this button counts as an attempt at answering the question even if all the fields are not filled in. On the other hand, if the number of tries is unlimited and the question is set up to show partially correct answers, it may make sense to answer each part of the question separately and check your answers as you go.
  • If you are unsure of how WeBWorK will interpret a complicated expression that you have entered in the answer box, you can click 'Preview Answer" which will show you how WeBWorK will parse your answer, and, if you are using typeset mode, it will typeset your answer. You are then free to either submit the answer as entered or to go back and make appropriate changes.
  • When printing assignments, it may be wise to check that all mathematical signs are correctly rendered. For example, we have seen the not equals sign rendered as the equals sign on a low resolution printer. If you are using Acrobat Reader, you can view the document at very high resolution to check that you have everything as it should be.
  • When viewing an assignment using Acrobat Reader, it is probably best to select 'View > Zoom > Fit Visible'. This fits the document margin to margin to your computer window.

What are the advantages of WeBWorK?

  • A key educational benefit of this system is that if a student gets a wrong answer, the student gets immediate feedback while the problem is still fresh in their mind. The student can then correct a careless mistake, review the relevant material before attacking the problem again, or seek help from friends, the TA or the instructor.
  • Our teaching assistants do not have to spend unnecessary time correcting assignments. Instead they will spend more of their time where it counts, in contact with students.