Friday, October 19, 2012

 WeBWorK::Fitchburg code camp:  

October 12 through October 14, 2012

The WeBWorK::Fitchburg code camp took place at Fitchburg State University in Fitchburg, MA.  This was a short code camp held last weekend from noon Friday, October 12 through Sunday, October 14, 2012.  In just two days we were able to make substantial progress on several fronts.  In particular there was progress on a new homework sets editor3 and some front page changes is stored for the time being in Mike Gage's github repo.

The CSS for some of the pages, particularly the front page,  needs some work to make it presentable before we can move it to the github repo at openwebwork and create a demonstration version at  Anyone with some spare time and CSS skills is welcome to help out. Having a calendar view of assignments is particularly exciting.

Attending the code camp were Michael Gage, Arnie Pizer, Christina Kayastha and David Gage who drove in from Rochester, NYand Waterloo, Ontario.  Peter Staab and Bruce Romano attended from Fitchburg; Quanquan Ma, Lindsey Yang and Niel Heffernan came from nearby Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Laura Judge, while Terri Ward and Sam Hathaway represented WHFreeman publishers, driving in from New Jersey and from Boston.  Davide Cervone came from Union College in Schenectady, NY.   

Peter, David and Christina worked on the design of the homeworkset editor (3) building on previous work on the classlist editor and the library browser.  A lot of this involves building “model components” in javaScript -- such as the calendar display -- which will also be used on other pages.  As we add to the collection of model components the design of successive instructor pages becomes easier.  At the very end they produced a quick version of the course homepage in which the calendar is used to display the student’s assignment due dates.  It’s not yet ready for prime time but it has exciting possibilities.

Mike and Davide worked on another iteration of ways to present sequential or compound problem questions.  They are now significantly easier to write and display more nicely.  This is another page that could use some CSS styling. Bruce, Quanquan and Lindsey worked on designing a simplified inputs for problem editing.  One approach is based on the work that Quanquan and Lindsey did for a project at WPI last year.  Davide has also contributed some ideas, there is a mockup of a very simple system using javaScript posted to the forums and  a team in Canada is also working on simplifying the authoring of simple questions. This has been an often requested feature for WeBWorK and there seems to be real progress in the works. We hope to soon see demos of several alternative approaches to easy authoring of webwork problems.

In addition to QuanQuan’s presentation on his project, Mike brought Laura, Terri and Sam up to speed on the current status of WeBWorK and the OPL.  Laura and Terri are editors with the publisher WHFreeman.  Sam is a senior analyst at WHFreeman and as a Rochester undergraduate helped design the current version of WeBWorK.  It’s great to have him back working on the project.  

Sam is interested in cleanly separating the PG renderer “back end” from the rest of WeBWorK so that it can serve as the rendering engine for mathematics questions in other course management systems.  This is very much in-line with the Question-type (bridge 2) connection between WeBWorK and Moodle.   We hope that we can continue the collaboration that started when WHFreeman released many of the Rogawski calculus problems to the OPL.

Neil Heffernan dropped in on Saturday evening to tell us about his ASSISTments program which does provides math homework questions at the middle - through - high school level.  The questions are less technical but Neil has developed extensive presentation pages for teachers so that they can keep track of the progress of each student.  He has also done extensive math education research to determine which questions and techniques are most effective.  You can read about Neil’s work in the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago.   

Thanks to all of the participants for their hard work.  Thanks to the WHFreeman contingent for treating us to dinner!  I would particularly like to thank Peter Staab for making all of the local arrangements -- everything went off exteremely well.  

The next WeBWorkK code camp is planned for some time in the spring and will be held in Raleigh, NC.  Those interested in participating should email Mike Gage ( or Jason Aubrey ( 

-- Mike

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