Thursday, June 6, 2013

WeBWorK::AnnArbor, June 1-3, 2013

Hello everyone.

We've completed another successful three days of concentrated development at the WeBWorK::AnnArbor code camp hosted at the University of Michigan.

As a result  we have a new translation of WeBWorK into Chinese, a new data/database model that will support new and oft requested WeBWorK features, continued work on our collection of turnkey modelCourses and a new version (2.7) of WeBWorK that will become WeBWorK's stable release in a few days.  We also have documentation of the upgrade path for existing WeBWork installations using the SVN repository to the Github repository so that existing installations can take advantage of the new features and bug fixes and more.

Gavin LaRose in the mathematics department at UofM handled the local arrangements including working space in the UofM mathematics department, housing at a local hotel and the incredible variety of restaurants available next to the UofM campus.

This was the largest group of participants (22) that we've had so far:  Mahesh Agarwal, University of Michigan Dearborn; Jason Aubrey, University of Missouri; David Cervone, Union College; Brian Chase, Indiana University; Liping Chen, Michigan State University; Alina Duca; North Carolina State University; Mark Holliday, Western Carolina University; David Gage, University of Waterloo; Mike Gage, University of Rochester; Danny Glin, University of Calgary; Geoff Goehle, Western Carolina University; Dick Lane, University of Montana; Gavin LaRose, University of Michigan; Barbara Margolius, Cleveland State University; Felipe Martins, Cleveland State University; Eric Parsons, University of Calgary; Paul Pearson, Hope College; Paul Seeburger, Monroe Community College; Mary Shepherd, Northwestern Missouri University; John  Travis, Mississippi College; Aaron Wangberg, Winona State University; Bill Wheeler, Indiana University.

We focused on these projects:

(1) One project group hashed out the details of an acceptable datamodel/database redesign for WeBWorK, a goal that has long been discussed in rather vague terms. Having Mark, Eric, David and Brian whose main expertise is in software engineering and design, together with Bill, Geoff, Danny and Aaron who teach math courses and manage WeBWorK systems in the same room together turned out to be a winning combination.  David has posted a summary of the outcome of the data model groups deliberations.  A snapshot of the data model is available on the wiki. This will likely be refined as implementation takes place. The data model addresses this collection of user stories gathered from the participants.

One of the most ambitious changes is to introduce the concepts a "set of problems" and "a team of students" which will be configurable by rules. In addition to bringing Homework sets and Gateway sets together under one concept, the new data model will also allow building sets in which the problems in the set are related to each other (share a common seed for example) and the sets are also aware of each other so that a set might not be available to a student until they have completed a previous set.  Teams of students allows a group of students to "act as one" on a single assignment and be graded as one -- something which is often desired for group work.  The extensive tagging mechanism allows students to be collected into groups for receiving targeted assignments. Recitation groups and sections fall in this category but tags allow even more criteria for grouping students.

(2) Linping Chen from Michigan State U. and attending a code camp for the first time was able to single handedly create a Chinese dictionary for WeBWorK so that you can now use WeBWorK with Chinese characters for most links and buttons.  Thanks Linping.

More work needs to be done to mark up recent code in WeBWorK so that it can be translated. ("ClasslistEditor3" for example is a string that has not yet been marked for translation).  We're looking for help on this so that we can have this done for release 2.8. (Contact me, Mike Gage :-) ).   Here is the turkish version.

(3) A lot of activity at the camp and immediately afterward involved adding the final touches to the release/2.7 branch to make it "perfect" before we merge it into the master branch.   (You can visit our github account to see what I'm talking about. )  Release/2.7 has lots of new features and bug fixes. It's been in use now at Rochester and on MAA's testcourses server for several semesters. It's ready for general use.

I'll post complete release notes on the wiki and in the WeBWorK bulletin board when the release day arrives.

(4) We created detailed instructions for safely switching from an older  version of WeBWorK downloaded from SVN to versions downloaded from  The method allows you to back out cleanly  just in case something isn't working.  The page describes a method for getting release/2.7 now and then painlessly updating with the last few days of tweaks when we fold 2.7 into the stable "master" release and start developing the next version.

(5) The develop branch of WeBWorK where new features are added, tested and modified before being included in a release branch was not neglected.  Some of the new features, many due to Geoff Goehle, are:

  • More math4 theme teaks and improvements
  • The addition of "perks" to MathAchievements. Now there can be tangible awards for those points you are winning.  With enough points you can delay the due date of one homework assignment, or make the homework assignment of your choice count double or earn a free trip to Hawaii?-- just kidding.  :-)    This is just a sample,  see Geoff's post.
(6) Aaron Wangberg from Winona State University showed us the technology he has developed for teaching pre-calculus and early calculus classes while recording the methods used by students to solve problems.  Using iPad's he has placed a transparent whiteboard (SketchMobile, developed by Michael Deal) over the WeBWorK window where the student can work while solving the problem. Their work is recorded and coordinated with WeBWorK and can be played back so that the instructor can watch the intermediate work of the student as they solve the problem.

(7) On Monday the first online component of the PREP course  "Authoring effective homework problems with WeBWorK" was delivered from the "studios" (i.e. Gavin LaRose's office) on the UofM campus.  Davide, Paul P., John and Gavin took turns leading the online session while Paul S. and Mary were among those enrolled in the course. (See Paul's post.)

(8) A parallel PREP course "Building Model Courses for Online Homework with WeBWorK" brings educators together to build collections of problems suitable for a "turn-key" course for PreCalculus, Calculus 1, Multivariable Calculus, etc.  This is an on-going effort  and many of the participants at the Ann Arbor code camp continued work on developing and improving the current collection of model courses.  You can view their work in progress using the guest logins at

Information on these model courses developed during the code camps since June 2012 is collected on the wiki pages:
(9) Felipe Martin and Barbara Margolius demonstrated their most recent mathematics applets including some in HTML5 and continued development of their flash applets for ODE's.

Next up: WeBWorK:: Vancouver.  (Upcoming Summer 2013 WeBWorK development meetings)

-- Mike

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