Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Getting Students to Use WebAssign

Posted on: February 1, 2011

“I hate WebAssign” is the most repeated phrase of the year.  I care, but I don’t care.  Let’s talk about the reality of high school:

  • Many kids don’t do their homework
  • Many kids copy their homework from the kid that does his/her homework
  • The kid that does his/her homework tends to do well in the class
  • The kid that copies his/her homework tends to not do well in class

WebAssign allows me to give them an assignment they can’t copy since each student gets a different set of numbers in the problem.  Oh sure, some still don’t do their homework, but the zero in the grade book is indisputable when we can pull up the WebAssign grade for Mom and Dad.  The kids have a week to do an online assignment.  No, the dog did not eat your computer.  No, you had a week to do it.  No, I don’t take late work.

My homework template was set up to allow up to five entries on an assignment.  At first, there was no penalty for getting it wrong.  I did an experiment in my calculus class and penalized them 10% for each incorrect attempt after the first two attempts.  The kids really resented that.  I think they felt like they were willing to keep trying, they didn’t want to be penalized for not quitting.  Lesson learned, next experiment.

Recently I tried a new approach (ah, the scientific method at work).  I started giving 10%-20% extra credit for completing the assignment 48 hours before it is due.  With the assignment due Mondays at 8am (the start of school), I was getting a bunch of  “help me” emails on Sunday evening.  The extra credit was an attempt to reduce these emails.  What I found is that more of the students were completing the work and doing it ahead of time.  Yahoo!  They will do their work if they feel they can boost their grade with extra credit.  The reality is most of them don’t earn the extra credit, but they get the points for doing their work, and these online assignments are equivalent to a quiz grade every week.

But wait, this gets even better (I’m smiling as I write this).  The kids think they outsmarted me.  Ready for this … they are getting together to work on the problems.  Oh, I don’t know, call it … a study group.  AAAHHH!!


16 Responses to "Getting Students to Use WebAssign"

I love it when they get together to work on questions like that. In lieu of Webassign, though, I create my own problem sets using random numbers in Excel, and mail-merge to Word.

WebAssign is one of the most frustrating homework systems I’ve ever encountered. I’m am at the point where I’d rather just not do any of the homework and take the 10% loss to my grade than try and spend another 5 hours per assignment and only get half credit.

“I care, but I don’t care.” Just says to me you’re a teacher that really doesn’t care about your students. You’d like to think and pretend you do, but you really “don’t care”.

I understand your frustration. First, I don’t give assignments that are anywhere near that long. Most of my assignments run between 60 and 90 minutes. I can see how long the students work, so I know this is true. They have a week to do the assignments. I care very much what they think, but I also have to do what is best for them. I don’t penalize them quite so much, they get the first two at full credit, then lose 10% each attempt after that. I also let the kids bring the problems in to class and I help them if they are stuck. Almost all of last year’s students that have come to visit say they are using WebAssign in college and they are glad that they struggled through it in high school.

What I get is a clear record of who is actually trying to do the work and who isn’t. They can fake trying on daily homework, but they can’t so easily fake their effort on WebAssign. This provides me with clear documentation for parents and my administration, and I have to cover my butt if I need to fail a student. I teach physics and calculus; courses that are challenging when you do the work, nearly impossible if you don’t. This is one more tool that helps me help my students achieve in college. So yes, I care very much, ask any of them. But they don’t get to make excuses and blame a system when they are used to getting away with being lazy.

Thanks for explaining your teaching technique here Scott! We love seeing what standards teachers are using for best practices.

I think the math tutorials for college algebra on Websassign are helpful. However, the person who made some of these problems, in my opinion, did not put much thought into them (maybe had a system generating random numbers for problems). Some of the problems are RIDICULOUSLY LONG! Some problems (when submitting answers) are too technical as well. Like missing a space in my answer I get it wrong. I’ve noticed it’s not very compatible with an ipad or anything except for firefox or chrome. I think the designer was just ready to profit off of it, and didn’t fix the kinks.

Web assign is horrible! What was wrong with my math lab? It didn’t just count it wrong after failed attempts like webassign. You could use the tab key to move from answer boxes instead of point on the box every time. webassign doesn’t show me the correct answer after I can’t get it and your wait time for chat about it is bad, not to mention how un-user friendly it is to simply input your question. web assign watch it feature isn’t bad, but they skip explaining essential steps that are needed. My college professor says that the math department told them this semester that its web assign or nothing…I’d prefer nothing! I’m a 34 yr old Army vet back in school, trying hard everyday. Webassign is more of a hindrance than a help!

Army Vet, First and always, thank you for your service.

WebAssign is far from perfect. However, there are three parties involved in your assignment and believe it or not, WebAssign has the least to do with it.

First, WebAssign has a set of programming tools that are used by anyone creating questions. It is complex and deep, allowing for almost any kind of problem. Second, the book author/publisher creates a series of questions that are implemented in WebAssign. These are not all created equal. I gave up using WebAssign for my physics courses because the questions were so poorly done. I chose my calculus textbook based on the rich set of WebAssign questions available. Third, the instructor is in charge of the grading rules. I give my students 5 tries at a problem. The first two are full credit, after that they lose 10% on each try. It is your instructor that chooses whether or not to show you the answer, allow extensions, penalize extensions, the accuracy of answers, and more.

If you are finding the system a hindrance, I would have a conversation with the instructor. He can see all of your attempts and override grades if he feels they are correct but simply entered incorrectly. On many occasions, my students will sit in my classroom and work on the assignment. If they enter the right answer incorrectly, I will give them credit.

My students complain, but WebAssign is definitely aiding my calculus students and they will be using this or another system in college. I want to give my kids any advantage I can to help them succeed.

I was not aware that my professor has that level of control, thank you. I will absolutely share this information with my classmates and professor. I do feel that it would be beneficial if the answer and explanation were available after my failed attempts, even if no credit is given, I still want to learn the material; but maybe that goes back to grading controls. Armed with this new information, I hope some positive changes occur in my class that will, ideally, elevate my frustration. Thank you for answering my comment.

Please. Don’t be a lazy teacher and actually grade your student’s homework. Having someone look over it and make comments actually HELPS the student learn. I honestly think WebAssign is a cop out for teachers that do not want to grade papers. And while I do understand that we can get a lot of students, the grading nightmare is something we already knew about before jumping into teaching. There is a reason why America’s education is at a low point. Because we lack the teachers that do not care, and we allow machines to do our work for us, which in turn disconnects us to the student in their learning.

I think that is an unfair statement, whether it is directed at me or teachers in general. I do check their homework for effort and completion, but I don’t expect my calculus students to be able to solve all the homework. I go over all of the problems they need explained in class the next day, so they get more from that than just marks on a homework page. There would be at least a day lag if I collected it and graded it. I use the online systems because it gives them things I can not; it gives them video examples, links to the page in the book, additional examples if they get it wrong, and feedback on the problems while they are doing it. More importantly, most of the colleges use WebAssign or similar systems, so I am preparing them for that. My graduates contact me when they are doing their first college WebAssign and thank me. It is a small part of the grade, but not so small that they can afford to ignore it.

As for not caring, I show up for work an hour before I am required and stay an hour past when I have to. I give up my lunch and prep periods to tutor students, and I answer emails in the evening if they have homework questions. Many of us have second jobs because our 60+ hour/week career doesn’t provide enough income. Does that sound like a teacher that doesn’t care? Don’t make blanket generalizations without the facts.

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 11:11 PM, Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Students hate webassign because it’s so hard to use. correct answers are marked wrong

My experience is not that the answers are marked wrong. The problem is they change the format of the answer and that trips them up. I always tell my students that if they think they had the right answer and the format was the problem, email me the problem and I will give them credit if they were correct. WebAssign lets you see each of the answers the student enters, not just the last one.

On Sun, Oct 6, 2013 at 3:51 PM, Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs,

As a college student taking two classes that require me to buy two separate access codes just to do homework, I’d like to say I HATE webassign. The tutorials are helpful, however; some important steps are skipped. I have had it where I’ve done a page of work on a single problem and was marked wrong in webassign. I had a tutor and my teacher look over my work and find that webassign was actually wrong. Shocking right? In the past 3 days I’ve had problems with logging into the program its not funny. Called the student support and had my account reset and ya know what … the same problem popped up the next day. “You are not currently enrolled in any courses” Thanks to this I missed homework .. that can’t be made up and now I might have to buy another access code. Thanks Webassign for all your help in making the beginning of the semester a nightmare. I would prefer Mastering Physics over webassign any day!

I respect your opinion and for just the reasons you state, I make the online homework worth only 10% of their total grade. I have the system automatically grant an extension within the first two weeks, but they are penalized 40% for late work. However, if they come to me with problems or work that was correct and had entry format problems, I adjust the grading to give them the credit they deserve. The system doesn’t work if you treat it like a black hole, the instructor has to be open to system problems and open to overriding grades on occasion.

I used Webassign in my classes for one unit this year, it ended up being a mess. Personally, I think that the worst aspect of it is that it gives students the wrong idea about what constitutes problem solving. In other words, it lends itself to be used primarily for numerical problem solving which is the lowest level of problem solving. While it does have an algebra engine, students reported having difficulties expressing their derivations in the proper form. So while it is a good mechanism for accountability measures for the average student, it really does your top students a disservice.

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