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MICDS WebAssign Workshop -- July 8, 2009


  9:00 - 9:30 Introduction
  9:30 - 9:45 "New" features in WebAssign
  9:45 - 10:00 Various uses of WebAssign; expand your horizons -- be creative
  10:00 - 11:45 WebAssign 101: where to start before Day 1
  • post announcements
  • check student view
  • setup course communication
  • post course resources
  • write questions
  • create assignments
  • organize questions and assignments in folders
  11:45 - 12:45 Lunch break
  12:45 - 2:00 WebAssign 102: what to do after Day 1
  • use the gradebook
  • write various types of questions
  • write tutorials
  • collect and grade lab reports
  • collect files from students
  2:00 - 2:45 Work independently on WebAssign; explore other technologies
  • Continue writing questions in WebAssign; develop content for your course in the Fall
  • Get individual help on how to apply your creative ideas
  • Learn about LaTeX for typesetting course notes and solutions
  • Learn how to incorporate computational modeling in the introductory course with Excel and/or Vpython
  • Create and post videos for demonstrations and examples
  2:45 - 3:00 Wrap up and apply; present your ideas, comments, and goals to the group


Personal introductions

Answer the following questions:

1. What is your name and what classes do you teach?


2. What two goals do you want to accomplish in during this workshop?


Workshop Introduction

  • Plan to both "work" and "shop"
  • The agenda is flexible. Give feedback.
  • Please ask questions, answer questions, and provide your own perspective based on your experience. I don't know it all.
  • Be intentional about creating material TODAY that you will use THIS FALL.
  • You are free to work while I talk. Follow your own path through the workshop. You may explore.
  • You may work with others. Ask a neighbor for help.
  • The general format will be: (1) demonstration (take notes); (2) application (do); (3) summarize.
  • At the end of the day, be prepared to share with others what you learned and how you plan to use WebAssign.


We cannot discuss technology for teaching unless we address pedagogy first. Technology is a tool, it's not the goal. Here are some questions to consider:

1. How has technology changed our culture?


2. How has technology changed how students learn?


3. How has technology changed how we teach?


4. How does WebAssign fit your pedagogy? That is, how can it help you accomplish your objectives?


For most teachers, the answer to question (4) is that they want to increase students' time on task and decrease their time spent grading. That is, WebAssign increases the teacher's efficiency, yet holds students accountable to do their homework, be prepared for class, etc.

However, there is a benefit that is more transformational. WebAssign is built for collaboration among teachers at MICDS and at other schools.

A brief history...

1990 Berners Lee at CERN develops the first web server, the first web browser, and the http protocol--together called the World Wide Web--for the purpose of enabling physicists to more easily share data and collaborate. The first web server outside of Europe was installed at the Stanford particle accelerator (SLAC). Interestingly, Lee developed the WWW on a NEXT computer which was created by Steve Jobs after being fired from the company he founded, Apple Computer. The NEXT operating system and other code later became the foundation for Mac OS X. And, oh yes, Steve Jobs came back to save Apple.
1993 Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, is developed and released by NCSA (at the Univ. of Illinois).
1993 John Risley, professor at NCSU, hosts a teacher workshop for high school teachers, called PCEP. Teachers learn to use software and hardware (MBL) for teaching physics.
1994 Developers of Mosaic form a new company Netscape Communications and create the Netscape web browser.
1994 I work for the second summer PCEP workshop and learned HTML, the language of the web.
1995 In the third and last PCEP teacher workshop, high school teachers learn to write their own web pages.
1996 I develop PhysWeb, a multiple-choice homework system that uses a database backend and runs on a Mac web server. I deploy the system to various physics classes at NCSU. Larry Martin develops WWWAssign, a web-based homework system written in Perl that uses flat-files to store questions, assignments, student responses, and grades. WWWAssign uses the tag to randomize numbers in numerical questions. What an idea!
1997 Larry Martin comes to NCSU to develop WebAssign. It incorporates features of WWWAssign and PhysWeb. It's used at NCSU in physics, math, chemistry, and statistics. It is used at Georgia Tech and a high school in MA.
1998 I graduate from NCSU and never write any more code for WebAssign. It's the best thing to ever happen to WebAssign.
2004 I am invited to MICDS for a WebAssign workshop.
2004 Facebook is incorporated. (It began a couple years earlier at Harvard.)
2006 Twitter is launched.
2007 Steve Jobs announces the iPhone.
2009 I return to MICDS. A lot has happened in the world of technology since 2004.

Introduction to the WebAssign web site -- where to find help

1. The best place to find help is the HELP menu, in the top right corner after you log in.

2. Download and read the Instructor Essentials guide.

3. Go to the webassign.net and click Preview WebAssign and then Short List. You will see sample assignments.

4. Search questions for Name "template" and Author "webassign".

5. Searth questions for Name "titus.micds.workshop".

Learning by example is the best way to learn how to write questions. Also, sign up for the listserve and learn from other teachers who use WebAssign. Finally, send questions to support@webassign.net. They typically answer your questions within 24 hours or less.

"New" features in WebAssign

Check out the Announcements for a list of developments. "What's new?" in the Help documentation is also useful. Especially interesting are:

  • ChemPad
  • MarvinSketch (coming in August for chemistry textbooks)
  • MathPad
  • Resources
  • Tutorials

See the WebAssign Sample for interesting examples.

Of course, my favorite features of WebAssign are:

  • a shared database which allows teachers to collaborate
  • the ability to grade lab reports (data and calculations)
  • a very flexible and easy-to-use gradebook

Expand your horizons -- be creative

1. Write a "typical" question that you would ask for homework or on a test.


2. Write a "creative" question that can only be done on a computer. Perhaps it would involve watching a YouTube video, using an animation, or listening to an audio file.


By the end of the workshop, we will have these questions in WebAssign and on an assignment, and you will know how to create more questions just like them.

WebAssign 101: where to start before Day 1

During this part of the workshop, you should:

  • create a class
  • upload course resources
  • make an announcement
  • check the student view (notice the student notifications)
  • set up a forum and determine communication settings (such as email, messages, automatic extensions, etc.)
  • write questions
    • multiple choice
    • numerical
    • questions that use images
    • matching
    • symbolic
  • create assignments
  • organize questions and assignments into folders for a course

WebAssign 102: what to do after Day 1

During this part of the workshop, you should:

  • write creative questions; consider incorporating audio clips or video clips or links to other web sites; consider collecting and grading lab reports with WebAssign
  • write tutorials
  • collect and grade files from students
  • set up and use the WebAssign GradeBook

High Point University       Last modified:   6/8/10 5:43 PM