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Why should I use WeBWorK?
WeBWorK allows you to maintain a classroom environment that is focused on consistent effort and accuracy – without requiring all the usual time it takes to evaluate student work by hand.
My students are complaining about WeBWorK, what should I do?
WeBWorK is, in many ways, just like any other homework assignment – students will try to get away with avoiding it. Student complaints are to be expected, but a majority of your students will ultimately come to respect the fact that you maintain high expectations for them.
But does WeBWorK work?
WeBWorK works just like any other approach to student training methods, it’s not a magic bullet that makes all your students pass. It just happens to be that WeBWorK is automated – so that you can assign problem sets to your students and let WeBWorK handle the rest. Instead of grading student work, you can use your time to focus on monitoring student progress and intervening when you see the warning signs of failure.
What are these “warning signs” that I should look out for?
The most obvious sign is when students simply don’t attempt their homework. At the start of each semester, it is important to closely monitor student progress on the first several problem sets. My personal approach is to allow students who completed over 50% of the first assignment to leave 5 minutes early, while keeping the remaining students behind. I give them a stern lecture regarding my expectations and the amount of work that will be necessary if they want to succeed in my course. (Follow the link for more details.)
Another common sign, one that is harder to detect, is students who get too much help completing their homework. Working with a tutor is not a bad thing, in and of itself — but some students use a tutor to complete their homework while they themselves fail to comprehend the lessons that the homework is trying to convey. On the surface, students who engage in this pattern of behavior will seem to be keeping up with their work; but in reality, they will be conceptually falling farther and farther behind.
What about students’ ability to write math? WeBWorK doesn’t check for that…
This is an important point; and, if addressed, will also help you identify students who may be struggling even though their WeBWorK scores are good.
In addition to WeBWorK, daily (or weekly) quizzes should be used in order to keep an eye on student progress. Quizzes do not need to be strenuous or comprehensive, rather they should focus on a baseline level of difficulty that is not intended to stump or mislead or trick students. I often ask quiz questions that are taken directly from the assigned WeBWorK sets. With this strategy, I am essentially testing whether or not each student completed the homework and understood it. Regular quizzes also assess each student’s ability to write their mathematical processes on paper. A consistent back-and-forth with students serves to emphasize the importance of their writing and organizational skills.