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Using A Web Based Homework System To Improve Accountability And Mastery In Calculus

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

The Use of Computers in Teaching Mathematics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1327.1 - 13.1327.11

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Paper Authors


Jenna Carpenter Louisiana Tech University

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Dr. Jenna Carpenter is Director of Chemical and Industrial Engineering at Louisiana Tech University and Wayne and Juanita Spinks Professor of Mathematics. She is interested in the use of educational technology to enhance instruction and learning, the development of integrated STEM curricula, and issues related to improving the success of women in engineering. Dr. Carpenter received her Ph.D. in Mathematics from Louisiana State University in 1989.

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Brian Camp Louisiana Tech University

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Dr. Brian Camp is a Lecturer of Mathematics and Statistics at Louisiana Tech University. His interests include numerical methods, differential equations and exploring new ways of teaching common mathematics topics. Dr. Camp is currently the WeBWorK Administrator at Louisiana Tech, a position he finds both challenging and rewarding. He received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Virginia Tech in 2003.

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Homework is a standard part of most calculus courses. Designing out-of-class assignments that foster individual accountability, contribute to mastery of course content, and provide feedback to students in a timely fashion is a more challenging task. Utilizing web-based software to manage the homework experience in the calculus course provides the instructor with the ability to address each of these objectives in a fresh way. In this paper, we will examine the use of a web- based homework system, WeBWorK, in the calculus sequence at Louisiana Tech University, together with an analysis of the opportunities and challenges of using this type of system, and look at some initial assessment of student use.


In the Fall of 2006, two faculty in the Mathematics and Statistics Program at Louisiana Tech University became interested in piloting a web-based homework system in an effort to provide more effective out-of-class assignments for their students. Based on previous experience, the system they were interested in using was WeBWorK. WeBWorK was developed in the mid-

used by larger institutions, such as Louisiana State University and University of Michigan, which teach large lecture courses in mathematics with a number of smaller recitation sections. While Louisiana Tech University is mid-sized institution with a commitment to small (around 40) students per mathematics classes, these faculty were intrigued by the possibilities that an individualized online homework system could afford. Moreover, the Mathematics and Statistics Program at Louisiana Tech University has historically spent approximately $20,000 each year on student paper graders to grade homework assignments. The use of WeBWorK would, therefore free up most of these funds to be used in other, hopefully more effective, ways to improve student retention and success in mathematics. For the 2007-2008 academic year, for example, these funds are being used to support Supplemental Instruction for the calculus courses. Thus, the goals of this effort were to 1) increase student mastery of course content, 2) increase individual student accountability on out-of-class assignments, and 3) more effectively utilize the program budget to enhance student retention and success in mathematics.

WeBWorK1 is a web-based (versus software-based) system that can be accessed from any computer with internet access and a web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox). It is installed on a server running Linux, along with the Apache web server. Since WeBWorK is open-source software, there is no cost to use the software for either the department or the students. The only cost associated with using WeBWorK involves the cost of the server on which WeBWorK is to be installed and the cost of any support staff needed to administer the server. Many WeBWorK problems have already been written for use in a variety of mathematics classes. These problems are made available in a national problem library that can be accessed from within WeBWorK. Students generally are required to give an answer to a question and are graded as they enter answers to their homework problems. Their scores are stored on the server itself and not on their own computers. Typically problems can be attempted multiple times until

Carpenter, J., & Camp, B. (2008, June), Using A Web Based Homework System To Improve Accountability And Mastery In Calculus Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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