Campus: CSU, Long Beach -- April 27, 2001
NSF Awards $163,813 Grant to Math Professor to
Develop Internet-Based Homework System
State Long Beach President Robert C. Maxson has announced the awarding
of a $163,813 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to a CSULB
mathematics professor for a project that will implement an Internet-based
system for generating and delivering math homework to students.
Professor of Mathematics William Ziemer (left) will
take charge of enhancing, implementing and disseminating an
innovative software application called WeBWorK at CSULB. The
new Internet-based homework system is expected to complement
and strengthen the Math Department's ongoing efforts to
improve the teaching and learning of math.
"Advances in technology, especially through the Internet,
have created opportunities for teaching and learning that no
one would have thought of 20 years ago," said CSULB
President Robert C. Maxson. "It is important for our faculty
to explore these opportunities, and that is what this grant
does. Ultimately, it will not only benefit our faculty but
out students as well."
The WeBWorK at CSULB project is based on a software
application initially developed through a NSF grant by the
University of Rochester and adapted by Indiana University at
Bloomington, Johns Hopkins University and SUNY at Stony
Brook. Others that have adopted WeBWorK include Dartmouth
College, Ohio State University and the University of
Viginia. Harvard and Yale are going to adopt it next
WeBWorK increases the effectiveness of traditional homework
as a learning tool by providing students with immediate
feedback on whether the answers are correct, giving students
the opportunity to correct mistakes while still focusing on
the problem. WebWorK also can provide individualized
versions of problems, allowing group work but requiring each
student to answer his or her own version of the problem.
"For about 10 years, I have been looking for some type of
technology-based application to help students do their
homework, and nothing I found was any good. This was the
first system I didn't have any problems with," Ziemer
explained. "This is definitely on the cutting edge. So,
we're really getting on the ground floor with this
The math professor got the chance to work with WeBWorK at
Indiana University at Bloomington as it was being moved from
a prototype version (100 students, two professors) to a
full-scale version with 2,000 students and 15 professors. He
was so excited about the system that he used his sabbatical
in fall 1999 to work on the development team and implement
A questionnaire was the students' last homework assignment,
the compliance rate for which turned out to be 98 percent.
The response was overwhelmingly in favor of the
Internet-based system with some 80 percent preferring this
method of doing homework over regular homework.
"Research indicates that homework is often an ineffective
teaching tool," Ziemer said.
Theoretically, the purpose of homework is to allow students
to practice new skills, prepare to learn new information in
class and to apply new learning. Homework assignments,
however, lose their potential effectiveness when the
material is more busywork than challenge and when students
do not get timely feedback on their work.
"I think this system will be a really good fit with Cal
State Long Beach, especially because this is a commuter
campus," he continued. "It gives students maximum
flexibility for doing their homework and gives them the
feedback they need."
The primary goals of the CSULB project are to improve math
literacy for undergraduate math students and to enhance the
educational effectiveness of homework in a wide variety of
lower-division classes within the Math Department. The
project will also improve the content and capabilities of
the national WeBWorK database program, and it will pioneer
the extension of the WeBWorK approach throughout the Long
Beach campus, within the 23-campus California State
University (CSU) system, and to community high schools.
Through the project, Ziemer and his colleagues will provide
key enhancements to the WeBWorK system, including
development of additional software tools to enable
instructors to create math problems for WeBWorK without
writing code. They will also broaden the base of faculty who
can effectively use WeBWorK by developing an instructor's
guide and web-based teaching guides.
In addition to math, Ziemer also point out that WeBWorK can
be used for physics, chemistry and possibly engineering