Monday, June 17 • 2:50pm - 3:40pm
WeBWorK: A Perl success story 23 years as the mathematical engine powering online homework systems for math departments in the US

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Hi. I'm Mike Gage and I'm the lead on one of the largest, "23 year old Perl projects that you've never heard of" WeBWorK.

WeBWorK is an open source online homework system which serves algorithmically generated mathematics homework problems to students and gives immediate feedback on their answers. This greatly enhances the effectiveness of homework. WeBWorK has been developed by mathematicians for mathematicians. It's well known to them (and to calculus students!!!) but to the open source, Perl and computer science communities, not so much. I'd like to change that.

WeBWorK has been used by over 1000 institutions for mathematics instruction at high schools, community colleges, and research universities. Mathematics topics range from all levels of pre-calculus/calculus, through linear algebra, differential equations, complex analysis, graph theory and more. The core code contains 37,000+ lines of Perl code and the 35K homework problems in the OpenProblemLibrary comprise another 3.2 million lines of Perl, all contributed by math professors.

WeBWorK's motto: "Ask the questions you should, not just the questions you can." Computer assisted homework should not limit the kinds of mathematics and STEM we teach nor the questions we ask, rather it should enhance and expand the students' experience.

WeBWorK remains a research experiment. Presenting advanced mathematics seamlessly in a way that encourages students to learn and which checks any correct answers automatically and reliably requires a lot of hard, intricate coding.

Chris Sangwin, himself the author of a similar homework system STACK used in the UK, described WeBWorK in his book Computer Aided Assessment of Mathematics:

"WeBWorK was built on freely available web technology, and the software is claimed to be used by more than 240 colleges and universities. Combining technologies in this way, rather than writing dedicated desktop software, was rather innovative at the time. The module construction and extensibility, both of the underlying mathematical software and front end, have enabled WeBWorK to evolve more or less continuously for the last fifteen years." - Chris Sangwin, 2012

WeBWorK has been developed by academic mathematicians for mathematicians and their students and while the contributors have varying degrees of computer skills there has been little direct contact with the computer science and FLOSS communities. WeBWorK has been unnecessarily isolated within its academic discipline silo. My hope is that a presentation to the Perl conference will help change that. We need the voices of those working intensely with code and and those experienced in working with FLOSS communities to propel WeBWorK and its support community to the next level and to avoid pitfalls and reinvention.

I'll present an overview of WeBWorK and of the PG language, a DSL in Perl, which allows one to render advanced mathematics questions and check the answers.

WeBWorK is a Perl success story and a major player in undergraduate mathematics education throughout North America. There is more work to be done. Come join the WW community.

avatar for Michael Gage

Michael Gage

Professor of Mathematics, University of Rochester
Mike Gage  is a professor of differential geometry in the mathematics department at the University of Rochester.  Beginning in 1996,  Gage and Prof. Arnold Pizer began development of a web-based system for checking homework and providing immediate feedback for students using  the... Read More →

Monday June 17, 2019 2:50pm - 3:40pm
e) Erie Room

Attendees (20)