Archive for the ‘Online Homework’ Category

Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite


Back in May 2010 I presented a keynote at the MAA-Michigan meeting in Ypsilanti.  Even though it sounds like it’s about math, it’s really more about a philosophy of using technology to engage students.  Yes, the examples are in the context of math, but if you’re involved with educational technology in any way, I think much of the talk is applicable to all subjects.

We’re in a recession and so is your department budget.  Luckily for you, there are lots of great programs and web resources that you can use to teach math, and most of these are free.  Use the resources in this presentation to tackle the technology problems that haunt you and capture the attention of your math classes with interactive demonstrations and relevant web content.

Here is the video, audio, and slides from my keynote talk “Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite” from the MAA-Michigan meeting in May 2010.  There is also an iPad/iPod-friendly version here.

In case you’re wondering, the PIP video was recorded from a Flip Video camera that was affixed to one of the seats in the auditorium with masking tape.  It’s not elegant, but it works.

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Role of Open Source in Mathematics


The last session I attended was a panel on open-source materials in mathematics. First up was Aaron Krowne, president of PlanetMath.org. He claims to have 20,000 users, although I was not clear about whether that was active users, or just folks with open accounts. Interestingly, I have never used PlanetMath, an online mathematics encyclopedia. I can’t really see any of my students using PlanetMath either … for example, here is the page on Related Rates. Although the content is put up in Wiki-format, the feel of the site is very Web 1.0 to me … almost no graphics or video (at least I didn’t find a single one in my 10 minutes of browsing). Perhaps this is simply a site that is better suited to users in academia who are either doing mathematical research or who are teaching upper-level math courses and need resources. They do have a great logo though, and I’m curious what they will do now that they have this vast knowledge base. I love their logo:


Second on the panel was Michael Gage, from the University of Rochester, who is one of the original developers of WeBWorK. Mike emphasised what many of us said in the panel yesterday: Immediate feedback is a powerful learning tool. He also made an important, and valid, point: “Ask the questions you should, not just the questions you can!” Mike said that there are now over 20,000 questions coded for WeBWorK, but is hoping to work on a couple of question issues in the future – first, encouraging users to contribute modified questions back into the community pool, and second, working on a better system of organization or searchability for the questions. Mike also expressed concerns about bringing in new blood to the leadership of WeBWork to replace those that will be eventually leaving the work (so if you’ve got some free time … )

I didn’t actually catch the name of the third panelist (some journalist I am), but he spoke about the evolution of MathForum and all of the various project offshoots that MathForum has been involved with. The latest project offshoot is a wiki called MathImages, which was launched yesterday. They hope to collect mathematical images that can be used in teaching the whole spread of math courses. There’s not much there yet … but that’s because they need folks to begin contributing and annotating the uses and details of the images.

In the panel discussion, there was talk about how to better-coordinate the communication between all the different open-source math projects (including those not represented in the panel, like Sage and NSDL, for example). I’m not sure that anyone came up with a good solution, but I think that they are all desirous of better intercommunication.

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Online Homework: WebAssign


Here’s this afternoon’s presentation about Online Homework Systems and WebAssign for the panel discussion at MathFest 2008 in Madison, Wisonsin.


Uploaded on authorSTREAM by wyandersen

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Being a Student in WebAssign


Here are two videos I made for my students, but if you’re curious about WebAssign, and you’d like to see what it’s like to do assignments or participate on Message Forums, these should help you get a better picture.

An Orientation to WebAssign Homework

Using the WebAssign Message Boards

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Creating an Assignment in WebAssign


This feels like “WebAssign Week” here at the the technology blog, but I’m getting all my courses set up and it seems like a good way to pass along the information about the technology to anyone who might need it.

Also, I’m here in San Diego doing WebAssign demos this weekend, so it’s on my mind.

Here’s another video for instructors – how to create a new assignment. I can create an assignment in about 3 minutes, but the video runs a little longer so that I can explain the various features.

Creating an Assignment in WebAssign

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How to do Math in Message Boards and Chat Rooms


Someone at the conference asked me how to get ahold of this resource. This is my reference guide to doing math on text-based message boards. The first page is all about doing algebra on message boards. The second page includes calculus.


Certainly, I have not thought of everything and I welcome suggestions for improvement on this one. Comment or email and I will continue to modify and repost this file. I am a little bit nervous, actually, about the ones involving less-than or greater-than symbols, since those are in standard html tags. Anyone got any alternative suggestions for those?

With any luck we will only have to use it for a little while longer (I suspect that the next great innovation in message boards will be to have decent and easy-to-use math editors). However, for now, it helps if all the students (and you) use the same notations on the message boards.

Just a little ironic note… this was the first post I created for this blog, but I never got around to adding the file link, so I never posted the entry. So, somehow, the first post became the 68th post.

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WebAssign Graphing Tool (beta)


WebAssign is working on a new graphing tool where students could draw their graph and it would be automatically graded. This is available on their website on the “Coming Soon” page. There is also a version of the Pencil Pad (a drawing tool) on this page.

Although neither of these is available to use inside WebAssign right now, your students could use them right now for drawing graphs and diagrams if they just use the PrtScn button to create an image and save the image in some document. OR…they could use Jing to capture the image and then just send you the URL or use the URL on a message board.

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A Chapter’s worth of homework…


If you’re like me, you’ve had a few thoughts that go like this… students will only learn if they do their homework, students will only do their homework if it’s graded, I can’t possibly grade enough homework to make them do it on a regular basis.

If you haven’t tried it, you’ve got to try online homework. Many of the products these days have algorithmically-generated problems that directly correspond to problems in the book. This means that a) all the students get different numbers, but the same type of problem, b) they use the same verbage as your text.

In the first week of class, I estimate that my students (75 students in four classes) did approximately 2400 graded problems. No kidding. They received instant feedback on the problems, they had the opportunity to try the problem again if it was incorrect (they get 5 tries… my setting), and most worked at each problem until they did get it right. Students can post questions and answer others’ questions on the message boards, but cannot just ask for an answer (since they all have different numbers).

Even if you collect and grade every problem that you assign, you surely see homework papers where students just abandon problems that they know are unfinished or incorrect.

I call this “must get full points” characteristic of our online homework students, the “video-game mentality.” If there are points to be collected, and they can see instantly that they either have or have not collected the points, they will continue trying until a) they get the points, or b) they run out of time.

The video-game mentality is so powerful, that several students have done all the homework in the whole chapter already! I have never seen a student do that in a regular class. For those naysayers that say that today’s students don’t learn any differently than students a hundred years ago… I dare you to try online homework and then tell me that they don’t learn differently.

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