Challenge students with online math and science homework problems with WeBWorK !

LIT interviewed Assistant Professor Steve Morrow to learn about the Applied Math Department’s expanded use of WeBWorK, an open-source online homework system for math and science courses.

So what is WeBWorK?

“WeBWorK is an open-source online homework system for math and sciences courses. WeBWorK is supported by the MAA and the NSF and comes with a National Problem Library (NPL) of over 20,000 homework problems.” (

How is WeBWorK being used in Applied Math?

The math department has recently expanded its use of WeBWorK to include all of our Engineering Calculus courses, as well as differential equations, linear algebra, and probability.  A list of all Wentworth WeBWorK courses can be seen here:  We create sections for each course, and instructors load the names and user id’s of their students, and assign homework to be done online.  The students do the homework on their computers before a specific due date for each assignment.  The software tells them immediately if they got the problem correct or not.  Some problems also display hints to the students.

What are the benefits to students?

Many more problems can be assigned to students than could be graded by hand, and the software gives instant feedback to the students regarding their score on each problem and for each set. Also, the software is completely free – no money collect, no access codes or expiration dates.  Students can get problems tailored to specific courses if the instructor takes the time to write such problems in advance.  Students can contact the instructor with questions easily within the software by selecting a link that sends an email to the instructor.  One of the best benefits of WeBWorK over commercial software (besides cost) is that WeBWorK is well-regarded for its accessibility, and the creators are responsive to the needs of institutions to make it more accessible.

Can other departments benefit by using WeBWorK?

Any department could use WeBWorK, although it is designed for math and science classes.  The types of problems include everything from true/false, to multiple choice, to specific answers mathematical or written answers.  It is adept at displaying complicated mathematical expressions, and it can check answers that are entered in a variety of mathematical ways.  I don’t know how well it would work for humanities or social sciences.  But many engineering problems could be done with WeBWorK.

What tips or advice can you give other instructors?

For any instructors using WeBWorK, there is a great deal of information available online for guidance – such as getting started guides, as well as how to create assignments, download grades, write problems, etc.  Any Wentworth instructors are welcome to ask me or one of several other Applied Math faculty for help in creating a course in WeBWorK for their students.

Thanks Steve!

Echo360 Personal Capture and Active Learning Platform

What is it?

Echo360 Personal Capture is a video recording tool that captures anything taking place on the computer screen, as well as optional audio and webcam video. Recording can be done by downloading and installing software on personal laptops or requesting scheduled recording (available only in Beatty 426 and Blunt Auditorium).

Active Learning Platform (ALP) helps organize recordings, as well as provides a channel for student interaction such as time-marked comments and questions. Other features include interactive presentations, polling and analytics. ALP is integrated with Blackboard for easy access.

Use cases

  • Echo360 can be used to record your live lectures and post in Blackboard for later review or in cases of inclement weather or travel
  • ALP interactive features, such as polling, comments and feedback may help increase student participation
  • Projected slides in a large classroom can be hard to see. With ALP, students can see live presentation on their laptops or tablets

Getting started

Most courses and faculty accounts are created automatically from the Banner generated information. To activate your ALP account, please follow the directions in the Echo360/ALP email sent to your Wentworth email account. If you need help activating your account or cannot find your courses, please contact LIT@WIT.EDU.

To download Echo360 Personal Capture, login at Echo360 website, navigate to Settings –> Downloads (located in the upper right corner) and choose a file for Windows or Mac.


Creating a link in Blackboard:

Note: Faculty at Wentworth do not have the permissions to create new courses. If you cannot find your course in the ALP dashboard, please contact LIT@WIT.EDU.

Instructor How-To:

For more questions about Echo360/ALP or to schedule one on one support please contact LIT@WIT.EDU.

Pool Size and Sampling in the Blackboard Testing system – Testing Best Practices Part II

In my last post, I mentioned that using random blocks of questions can result in repeated questions on an attempt. The reason behind this is that Blackboard does not track which questions have already been selected from the pool for any given test attempt. Questions are always selected from the full pool. The testing system is using sampling with replacement. This means there is a chance of the same question being chosen more than once for the same attempt (student). The likelihood of a student seeing duplicate questions depends on the size of the sample relative to the pool.

So, how large a pool do you need to decrease the likelihood of repeated questions with random blocks? To get a sense of the size of the pool needed I calculated the probability of no replication of questions for a random block of 5 questions drawn from question pools of various sizes.

Probabilities of no repeated questions in a random block of 5 questions drawn from question pools of various sizes
Question Pool Size Probability of No Repeats
10 questions 30 %
25 questions 65 %
50 questions 81 %
100 questions 90 %
200 questions 95 %

OK, these results aren’t especially surprising. As you increase the pool size the you decrease the chances of having questions duplicated. But if you are pulling questions from a single pool you are going to need a lot of questions to reduce the likelihood of duplicate questions.

Is there another way?

The point of random blocks of questions is to present each student with a different set of questions on the test. If you select a single question from any given pool you won’t repeat questions on any given test. Break a larger pool of questions into a number of small pools equal to the number of questions to be drawn and draw a single question from each pool. The pools don’t need to be large, but all the question across pools must be unique. Using this method only a few questions will be needed in each to provide variation across tests.

Using many smaller pools will require a bit more work in creating the test, however there is an additional benefit. You can better control coverage of the test. If you create the questions in each pool on the same topic, selecting a random question from each pool ensures each student receives a question in each topic area. Using a random block of multiple questions from a large pool may result in uneven topical coverage in addition to the problem of question duplication.


Blackboard Tests – What do students see after the test?

You’ve given a test in Blackboard. The test is graded.  Now students want to see their results. But how do students see the results and what do they see?

Students view test and assessment results through the My Grades tool and they only see their own grades. Students will see class averages and other class statistics only if you select the show statistics option when setting the grade column properties (by default, it is set to not show the class statistics). By clicking on the grade for the test, students can view the test results and feedback you select.

When giving tests using Blackboard what students can see after completing the test is determined by the settings you choose when you set the test options to deploy it. You can choose different settings for what appears immediately upon submission and what appears later. So for example, you can provide a score once the students submit but withhold the ability to view submitted and correct answers until after a specific date passes – the due date or last date students with testing exceptions can access the test.

See how you can set test options to restrict when and what test results students can see. Scroll down to the feedback options section to see how you can control what your students see immediately after submitting and later.

Remember, students will always be able to see their overall score unless you hide the Grade Center column from them.

Blackboard Test Best Practices

With many classes in the midst of midterms it’s worth reposting an old article on reducing problems during testing in Blackboard.

What can you do to reduce the problems your students can experience taking Blackboard tests? Lots, both from an instructor perspective and from a student perspective.


      1. Provide students with the opportunity to practice and get familiar with the Blackboard test system or to get comfortable with their knowledge of the content.
        • Have a practice test for checking settings that is set to unlimited attempts and no credit allows students to check their browsers before starting a test.
        • Create practice tests to reduce testing anxiety before an in class exam. Blackboard has a test option to allow practice tests that don’t show the results in the Grade Center. Students can take a practice test without fear that an instructor “will see their poor results.” Setting the practice test for unlimited attempts allows the students to take the test multiple times to gain confidence and identify content areas requiring additional review.
      2. When using Blackboard tests for credit, do not set the test options to be too restrictive. Rather that preventing cheating, this option can create an opportunity for gaining extra time. Do not use forced completion or auto-submit. Both options will cause headaches for you and your students! The forced completion option gives students a single attempt that they must complete in a single session. If anything happens to interrupt a test session (a browser freezing), the student can’t complete the test. The only option is for the instructor to clear the attempt, deleting any saved answers and having the student start again. Instead set a reasonable time limit. The clock starts as soon as the student opens the test and continues to run even if the student navigates away from the test. If a student has a problem, they can re-enter and resume where they left off. If you require students to notify you of any problems, you can take that into account if they go over the time limit by a small amount.
      3. Don’t get tripped up by the time of day. Blackboard considers midnight as the start of the day. When setting the start and end times for a test and you want the time to be midnight – select either 11:59 PM or 12:01 AM to be sure the exam starts or ends when you think it should. Using times on either side of midnight means you don’t have to remember how Blackboard defines it.
      4. Use pools to generate random blocks of questions to create unique tests for each student to reduce the chance of cheating.


If your instructor provides a practice tests, take it before each scheduled test to make sure your browser settings will allow you to access and complete tests in Blackboard. Browser updates and plugins can affect the performance of the testing system. Since browsers are updated regularly and users add plugins to gain functions something in your set-up may have changed between tests.

See the StudentTestBestPractice Handout for a checklist.