March 7, 2014

​WeBWorK at WWU Streamlines Mathematics and Computer Science

Students often take grading for granted. Professors sometimes
must sift through hundreds of assignments per week. On top of their lectures
and open office hours, they must take time to grade each assignment quickly and
fairly. Jonathan Duncan, a mathematics professor at Walla Wall University (WWU)
in College Place, Washington, is making homework easy for teachers and fair for
students through WeBWorK, a software platform for homework. For the past seven
years he has been leading parts of its software development and contributing to
the coursework library.

Jonathan Duncan, chair of the Mathematics Department. [Photo: WWU]WeBWorK is a homework platform for creating and
distributing personalized assignments on the web. In the past, students waited
weeks to receive grades, but now their results are immediate. WeBWorK keeps
students accountable by generating different homework problems for each
student; there is no temptation to cheat when students' assignments are

Professors can access gradebooks and course
statistics in Moodle, an open-source course management system. It also provides
discussion forums where students and teachers can post properly formatted math
equations. Moodle allows teachers and students to check grades and organize
classes, while WeBWorK provides the link between homework and grades. By
automating the tedium of paperwork, teachers focus more on the student learning

WWU's mathematics and computer science
departments started using WeBWorK in 2007. Today, WWU hosts WeBWorK for
institutions like La Sierra University and many high schools in the western U. S.

Duncan, a WWU alumnus and new chair of the mathematics
department, has been the primary source of development for the Moodle-WeBWorK
bridge. Though he began contributing problems during his graduate studies at
Indiana University in 2000, it wasn’t until 2007 that he began the software

Duncan now provides ongoing service to keep up with the
frequent updates to the learning platforms. For more than a decade, he has been
contributing hundreds of free math and computer science problems to WeBWorK.
These assignments are useful complements to the Mathematical Association of
America's official library of coursework. Duncan's open-source contributions are
making education faster, cheaper, and more-reliable for thousands of students.