KB1255 - WeBWorK: Getting Started

What is WeBWorK?

WeBWorK is a free, open-source system for delivering individualized homework problems over the web. It's used by colleges and universities across the world and supported by the National Science Foundation and the Mathematical Association of America.

An overview of VCC's WeBWorK system, how to access and use it, and how to set up course content for Students.

VCC runs its own instance of WeBWorK for use by Instructors and Students in our math and science programs.

This article covers:

  • What WeBWorK is, and how it connects to VCC's Moodle LMS.

  • WeBWorK access methods for Instructors and Students.

  • How to request a new WebWorK course from eLSupport.

  • How to set up content in a WeBWorK course.

Major Features of WeBWorK

​​​WeBWorK provides a powerful training and practice environment for math and science programs:

  • Creating unique, personalized, randomized questions.

  • Providing immediate feedback to Students (and hints and solutions, per Instructor's design).

  • Allowing Instructors to import thousands of questions from the Open Problem Library (OPL) and other open problem repositories.

Access and Common Roles in WeBWorK

Students can click-through from Moodle into WeBWorK courses to complete practice activities ("Homework Sets") or to take timed quizzes.

User roles in WeBWorK:

  • Student: Students can access WeBWorK courses and complete homework or quizzes, similar to their Student role in Moodle. When a student enrolled in a Moodle course follows a link to a WeBWorK course, they're automatically enrolled in the WeBWorK course – students do not have to enroll in both courses. 

  • Prof: This is the instructor in a WeBWorK course, who usually sets up the homework sets and quizzes for their Students. This role can only be granted by a WeBWorK administrator ("Admin").

  • TA: A Teaching Assistant role which aids in grading Student work in WeBWorK.

  • Admin: The WeBWorK System Administrator can create courses and create and manage all user roles, including Profs and Students. (eLSupport and IT have Admin access.)

Accessing and Navigating WeBWorK

Navigation Details for Students

VCC Students access WebWorK courses from Moodle, using "External tool" activity links, which are embedded in their Moodle course by their Instructor.

Students only need to click on a WeBWorK activity link to be enrolled in the related WeBWorK course.

Here's a quick tour of the common features that Students will use in WeBWorK:

Navigation Details for Instructors ("Profs")

VCC Instructors will most often access WeBWorK through the same activity links that their Students use in Moodle, but Instructors can also login to WeBWorK directly if they want to manage multiple courses in one visit. Moodle Instructors in the "Teacher" role will enter WeBWorK in the "Prof" role, and will be able to manage course content, manage student accounts, review student work, and more.

Here's a quick tour of the common features that Instructors ("Profs") will use in WeBWorK:

Requesting a new WeBWorK Course

Before any content can be created in WeBWorK, the Instructor must request a WeBWorK course from eLSupport. Instructors can request a new WeBWorK course by filling out the" WeBWorK Course Request" form in the article below:

As part of the Instructor's WeBWorK course request, eLSupport will enroll them as the "Prof" in their new course. When filling out your request, you can also ask us to create a link to your WeBWorK course from an existing Moodle course.

Once your WeBWorK course is integrated into your Moodle course, you don't need to worry about granting your Moodle Students access to your WebWorK course: they become enrolled in WeBWorK automatically once they click on the WebWorK activity link in Moodle for the first time. They click that same link each time they need to access the WeBWorK course.


WeBWorK Course Content Hierarchy​​​​​

A diagram showing relationships between course, quiz, homework set, and problems in WeBWork

The elements described above depend upon each other in the following ways:

  • A  WeBWorK Course  must contain at least one Homework Set or Gateway Quiz.
    (i.e. a collection of homework sets or quizzes that are available to WeBWorK Students.)

  •  Homework Set requires at least one Problem inside it. Sets are collections of problems used for practice, which may allow unlimited time or number of attempts.

  • A  Gateway Quiz  is a test that may limit completion time or the number of Student attempts. It can be created from a copied Homework Set or by importing Problems from a library.

  • A  Problem  is the most elemental item in a WeBWorK course (i.e. an individual question the Student must answer).
    Homework Sets and Gateway Quizzes are made from collections of Problems. Problems can be created "by hand" by the course Prof, or imported from another Homework Set, or imported from a public problem library (e.g. "OPL").

Problems are questions that challenge Students

In WeBWorK, a "Problem" is a question that's created for Students to answer, either when doing online homework or as part of a quiz (i.e. a timed exam). Behind the scenes, each Problem is actually a small software program that sets up and presents a question for the Student to answer (and may provide hints or other support). Problems use random values instead of static values for mathematical expressions, which means that each Student gets a unique question that's different from any other question served to their classmates. In WeBWorK, no two Students will receive the exact same question.

Most often, you will add a Problem to your course by importing it from a free library (rather than writing it yourself). The largest online problem database connected to WeBWorK is the "Open Problem Library".

Homework Sets collect Problems

Homework Sets provide Students with collections of problems to answer and usually allow an unlimited number of Student attempts - well-suited for formative practice scenarios. A Homework Set is a collection of Problems that were created locally or imported from external libraries. A WeBWorK course might contain multiple collections of Problems for Students to answer (aka "Homework Sets").  

Each Homework Set has an Opening Date, a Closing Date, and a Grade Available Date, which define when Students may access it and when the Set will release grades to WeBWorK Students.

These articles cover how to create Homework Sets, and how to populate them with Problems from the Open Problem Library (OPL) repository:

Gateway Quizzes collect and time Problems

A Gateway Quiz takes the Problems in a Homework Set and creates a Quiz (a test). Quizzes allow additional parameters for the number of attempts, passing or failing conditions, or other customizations that can challenge Students or address their individual needs. 

Grading and Publishing Grades to Moodle

Homework and Quizzes that Students complete in WeBWorK can earn them marks. WeBWorK grades Student attempts automatically, and the overall grade for all a Student's coursework (the sum of all their homework sets and quizzes) is automatically published into the Gradebook of an associated Moodle course.

Problems and Problem Generation (.pg) files

Each Problem in WeBWorK is defined by a Problem Generation (.pg) file. If you want to edit a copy of a problem or write your own, you'll need to become familiar with the syntax of Problem Generation files. In WeBWorK, each problem is defined using a text file with a ".pg" file extension. These are plain text files that contain Perl programming and other markup code. Each PG file must load required software libraries, define variables and conditions, define mathematical expressions, and then render the completed question, along with the answer (and any hints) to the web browser. 


Related Resources: