Opportunities for In-situ study of WeBWorK as a Tool for Student Learning and Faculty Development

MAA President David Bressoud, in a recent Launchings column on the MAA website, pointed out that
Even though WeBWorK and other comparable online homework systems have been around for about ten years, there has been relatively little careful study of student attitudes and the effectiveness of using such systems. In the remainder of this article, I will summarize the findings that I have found in the literature. Virtually all of this literature relates specifically to WeBWorK. Because it was one of the first such systems, because it is very widely used, and because it is freely available, it is the system that has attracted the attention of most of the researchers in this area (Bressoud, 2009).
The full text of his column, as well as the references cited and additional comments on the findings of the studies, is available on the MAA website at http://www.maa.org/columns/launchings/launchings_04_09.html.
We believe that the kinds of research efforts needed to develop the potential of on-line homework systems, as well as their limitations can only be accomplished by partnerships between faculty who use such systems, and researchers who study that use in partnerships that are extend over multiple semesters. Ideally, this means that such collaborations can be established where both partners are on the same campus. (Such partnerships might involve multiple instructional personnel teaching many sections of a particular course, and engage graduate students as active participants.)
Basic questions include identification of the factors that define successful implementation i.e., faculty members’ use, campus server support, etc. (as well as potential barriers to successful implementation). But there is of course much to learn about how faculty/instructor use effects student learning:
·        How do faculty members and instructors use WeBWorK?
·        How has use of WeBWorK changed faculty members’ and instructors’ teaching

In addition to how faculty adapt to the use of on-line homework, a more substantive question regarding faculty behavior concerns identification of effective strategies for the use of the data generated by such systems to self-assess one’s teaching, and to respond to the data in a way that improves the overall classroom dynamic.
Sub-questions for the over-arching question, Does WeBWorK promote student learning in mathematics, include:
A.  How does WeBWorK promote the learning of mathematics with different types of learners such as, students from different types of institutions, different types of students (majors vs. non-majors), student demographics (ethnicity, gender) or learning style.

B.  What modifications in the use of WeBWorK are important to meet the needs of students in different courses (e.g. college algebra vs. calculus) or at different levels of mathematical maturity?


C.  How do students use WeBWorK?

D.  How has use of WeBWorK impacted retention of students, if at all?
We invite members of the RUME community to join us to discuss ideas for study, potential partnerships, and opportunities for funding research on effective strategies for using on-line homework systems.



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