Geoff Goehle


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Updated: 5 hours 59 min ago

CodeMirror and PG

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 12:51

Do you edit PG problems using the WeBWorK interface? Do you have trouble finding missing semi-colons because the error line numbers are wrong? Do you grind your teeth every time you try to tab in the editor and you lose focus on the text box? Then this post is for you!

The classic editing environment in all of the WeBWorK PG editors is nothing more than a HTML <textarea>. This leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn't have line numbers, it doesn't have any code coloring, and if you tab you leave the textarea. In an upcoming update we will replace the textarea editor with a CodeMirror based one. CodeMirror is a Javascript based editor that supports coloring, line numbers, regex based search and replace, and many other features. Rather than just posting a screen shot, I've included a functional version of the editor below.

Lets go through some of the new features. Feel free to experiment and explore with the demo above as you follow along.


First, notice that the editor supports code coloring. Most of the code coloring is perl based, however there are a couple of twists. You may notice that both the BEGIN_TEXT/END_TEXT block and the BEGIN_PGML_SOLUTION/END_PGML_SOLUTIION blocks are colored. There have been PG specific upgrades to the coloring code which highlight variables, latex, ascii math, as well as command subsitution in both the classical EV3 blocks as well as newer PGML blocks. The PGML coloring in particular is fancy since it correctly colors nested blocks.

Line Numbers

One nice addition is line numbers. However, another behind the scenes upgrade is a fix to a long standing bug which caused the line number errors in PG error messages to not match the line numbers in the original code. So now if you miss a semicolin somewhere in your code, the perl error line number should be closer to the actual error.

Search and Replace

Changing over to a Javascript editor means that the browser based find function no longer interacts with the editor. Luckily the Codemirror editor has its own search and replace functionality which is even more powerful than the browser search. For example, use Ctl-F and search for Text. You should see the words heighlighted as well as indications on the scroll bar. Next do a search replace with Shift-Ctl-F and search using the Regular Expression /\[`([^`]+)`\]/ and replace with [``$1``]. This will replace all regular PGML Latex with display style PGML Latex. These sorts of Regular Expression manipulations can be really powerful once you get used to them. You can read more here if you haven't seen them before.

Trailing Spaces

In PGML spaces matter. You leave two trailing spaces on a line to create a newline and you leave three to have a new paragraph. Since you can't usually "see" trailing spaces when in a PGML block the editor will highlight trailing whitespace with a red line.

Tabbing and Brackets

A couple of other common code editor features that are included are bracket matching and tabbing. When you type or move past brackets the matching bracket will be highlighted. When you press tab a soft tab consisting of four spaces will be generated. Finally when you are on a tabbed line and create a new line it will automatically start with the same indentation as the previous one.

There are other features that could be added, if there ends up being enough interest. The most interesting, but also the most complicated, would be a autocompletion. The main issue with this feature is it would have to be aware of what macros were loaded, and if the macros ever changed then the code completion might be wrong. Another potential edition would be true smart tabbing which would try to parse the code and only insert tabs when appropriate.

Categories: Planet WeBWorK

Release 2.12

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 17:30
Hello everyone. I'm happy to announce the release of WeBWorK version 2.12. This version marks a shift to a new release schedule. Starting now we will put out new versions of WeBWorK in May and in August. In particular we won't be doing a December release since its too difficult test and release a new version in time for people to upgrade their servers over the winter break. The big feature for this release is a completely revamped LTI interface that supports grade passback. Now you can have WeBWorK grades automatically sent back to your LMS of choice (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas). Disclaimer: Some administrative access required. Checkout the release notes and upgrade instructions after the jump or a slightly more technical version on the WeBWorK wiki at 

Major ChangesLTI Grade Passback 
This is a complete rewrite of the LTI authentication module including upgrades to allow grades to be passed back from WeBWorK to the LMS (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, etc...). The authentication feature includes the ability to automatically create students logging into WeBWorK for the first time. The grading feature has two modes. You can either have WeBWorK pass back a single "homework" grade for the entire course, or you can set it up on a set by set basis. You can read more about this module at the following links. Note: The new LTIAdvanced module not a strict upgrade from the older LTI authentication module LTIBasic. The older module still works, but should be considered legacy code.
Hardcopy Themes 
This adds support for different hardcopy themes. Instructors will set the theme that students have access to on the Course Configuration page, and can also select the different themes on the instructor download handouts page. Right now there are two themes: the traditional two column WeBWorK theme and a new "one column" theme which the full page width. The system is also set up so that universities can add their own themes for tests or with branding. Note: You will need to make sure the fullpage latex package is available on your server to use this feature.
Past Answer Refactor
This is a rewrite of the existing Past Answer's page. First, it replaces the old "wildcard/regex" feature in Past Answers with multiselect lists. Now instructors will explicitly select which sets, users and problems they would like to search for past answers. It also adds the ability to download answers from the Past Answer page as a CSV. 
OPL Statistics 
This adds problem usage statistics to the Library Browser. When enabled and configured you should see both local and 'global' statistics on how many times problems have been assigned, students average scores and, average attempt numbers. Here local statistics are generated from the data on your WeBWorK server and reflects how your courses use problems. Global statistics are generated from over a dozen different universities and includes information on 23000 problems. You can donate data from your school by running update-OPL-statistics and then upload-OPL-statistics. Translator Refactor and Advanced Problem Debugging
This is an extensive under the hood revamping of how PG tracks problem resources, aliases, answer blanks and evaluators. In general the new approach uses less "dead reckoning" and is smarter about treating answer blanks and evaluators as different components of the same "object". You should not see any changes in functionality.   The one exception is that users with admin privileges will have the ability to see detailed debugging information about problems. There are four options available. AnswerGroupInfo shows information about answer "groups". This is most helpful for multianswer style problems. Show Auxiliary Resources shows information about auxiliary files used by the problem. AnswerHashInfo shows information about the answer hash, including answers, filters and evaluators. PGInfo prints the PG environment, including all available variables. Periodic Randomization
This feature allows you to force problems to generate a new seed after a fixed number of attempts. It is sort of "max attempts lite" in that students can keep trying, but they have to start over. The feature is enabled via the Course Configuration page (in the Optional Modules section). Instructors can set the default number of attempts before re-randomization. The number of attempts before re-randomization can also be set on a per problem basis.
    Minor Changes
    • Updated the orientation and demo sets to more accurately reflect how things currently work.
    • Refactored the attempts table code out into its own module. 
    • Refactored the show me another feature out into its own module.
    • Changed how options are grouped on the config page. Now there is a "Optional Modules" tab which has all of the different module options in one place. 
    • When generating individual set scores from the Scoring Tools page just-in-time sets now provide information about sub problems as well as top level problems 
    • Fixed a bug where apache child processes had the same random seed. 
    • Polished two existing features to make them more obvious. The first is the ability to display extra grade information to students on the Grades page by using email merge and the second is to restrict which students instructors can see to a particular section or group sections. 
    • Started making changes about how reduced scoring dates are reported to make it clearer that the reduced scoring date occurs before the due/close date. 
    • Fixed a bug where students may be unable to open a problem they previously attempted. 
    • Added localization files for Russian 
    • Add differentiation to parserRoot 
    • Added video macros to pg so that you can use the video command to deliver video hints via html5 
    • Fixed bugs with correct answers
    • Changed the ? popups to click instead of hover since the hover detection was spotty 
    • Added better "more like this" messages to the library browser 
    • Refactored all of the server rendering scripts to one big script In particular this enables automated sanity checking of the OPL 
    • Fixed a bug with gateways with multiple pages and checkboxes 
    • Fixed a bug where the reduced credit date wasn't set on newly created sets
    • Polished the hide scores feature on Gateways. Now if hide scores is selected scores aren't shown in grades and you cannot check answers or see correct answers. 
    • Changed the default text in the welcome message for a course and made it so that students do not see the info box if the welcome message is the default text. 
    • Fixed a bug where on very new installations the Library Browser would fail with MySQL errors 
    • Added ability to reorder problems on tables using the Problem Set Detail 2 using touch-punch 
    • Made scaffold problems more accessible by allowing the closed tab headings to be navigated to and opened using the keyboard.
    • Added a parserWordCompletion macro.  This new macro allows authors to ask free response fill in the blank questions with interactive help. As a student types their answer into the answer blank, jQuery's autocomplete feature generates a drop-down list of allowable answers that match what has already been typed. 
    • The Grades page was overhauled with an number of small modifications. The total percentage score for homeworks is now shown and the "C" has been replaced by a 100. There is also a course homework grade at the bottom of the Grades table.  (This can be turned off on the Course Configuration page if WeBWorK's grading scheme doesn't match with what you use.) 
    Upgrade InstructionsThis is the short version of the upgrade instructions.  For the longer version, with commands, visit the release notes on the wiki page at 
    1. Go to /opt/webwork/webwork2, as well as /opt/webwork/pg and run git pull origin master on each directory (assuming that origin is your remote name for the openwebwork repo).
    2. Depending on your system there may be new perl modules added for 2.12. Run and look for missing modules. They may include:
      • Digest::SHA
    3. You should also run pdflatex /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin/check_latex.tex and look for missing latex packages. They may include
      • fullpage (If you are missing fullpage it is in the texlive-latex-extra package in apt based distributions and texlive-preprint in yum/dnf distributions.)
    4. Check localOverrides.conf.dist and look for changes to add to the existing localOverrides.conf
      • Library Statistics - This is a new feature (see below). There are variables which control whether or not global and local problem statistics are shown in the library browser.
      • Problem Re-Randomization - The problem rerandomization feature (see below) has default options which need to be set.
    5. Check your apache configuration file and look for changes to add to your existing configuration file. In particular you may need to add the following
      • Code to set the location of the pg directory as an environment variable
      • A line to set the server admin email
    6. Check your courses.dist/modelCourse/course.conf and look for changes against your course.conf file. They may include:
      • Removing a number of outdated settings.
      • Commented out settings for controlling which instructors can see which students.
    7. Restart the webserver.
    8.  Run the upgrade admin database script. You will not be able to access your admin course until this is done, and you will need to do that to upgrade the course databases.  Next, log into the admin course and upgrade the databases for all of your courses. Your server will not be functional until you perform this step.
    9. Download the latest version of the OPL. Note: If you have library statistics enabled this will also update your statistics tables.
    10. Download the latest version of MathJax.
    • I cannot access the admin course. This could be because you have not run yet.
    • I cannot generate a "one column" hardcopy. You may be missing the fullpage latex package. In apt based systems its part of the package texlive-latex-extra and in yum/dnf based systems its part of texlive-preprint
    • I see little vertical lines next to MathJax rendered formulas. This is caused by an incompatibility between older versions of MathJax and Chrome. Update MathJax with cd /opt/webwork/MathJax and git pull to fix the problem.
    • I do not see links to some of the editors in the Main Menu, including the links to Problem Set Detail 2, or I get an error about "SimplePGEditor". To fix this remove the definition of the %showeditors from localOverrides.conf. This hash should be defined in defaults.config and if you want to change things in localOverrides.conf you should set hash elements individually.
    • I can't get LTI to work. First make sure that you are using the new version of LTI. (Make a fresh copy of authen_LTI.conf from the distribution file.) Also enable the $debug_lti_parameters flag. For security reasons the default error messages from the LTI module are very vague.
    • I dont see the Library Statistics. Make sure that you have enable the appropriate flags in localOverrides.conf (see the first section of this page) and run OPL-update
    Categories: Planet WeBWorK

    Python in WeBWorK

    Wed, 04/20/2016 - 07:58

    Do you dream of using WeBWorK to teach students Python? If so then you have very specific dreams. After the jump I will talk about a new set of macros recently created for use in CS courses at WCU. Rather than creating an automated program tester, of which there are many, these macros are really aimed at filling the gap between labs and projects that we have in our introductory computer science courses.


    In our introductory computer science courses there seems to be something of a gap between lecture and labs, where students are introduced to new features and concepts in Python, and class projects, which are larger relatively involved programs meant to test and expand students knowledge of the concepts. Outside of weekly labs there isn't any opportunity for students to practice basic syntax and concepts, however. Our goal is to create weekly homework assignments which will help students improve their fundamentals. Of course we want to bring along the instantaneous grading and feedback that are a hallmark of WeBWorK. To accomplish this we have created a collection of PG macros. The macros provide access to two main types objects, the first is the PythonOutput object. The pg file will include a short Python script that will be used to create the object. The code is then run and the standard output of the script will be the correct answer for the problem. The basic idea is that you will present the code to students and ask them what the output will be. For example: This problem is testing if the student understands the formatting syntax for Python strings. The students answer will be compared exactly, using none of the smart comparisons you might usually expect from WeBWorK. (Of course students could just run the code and check the output, but that is not the absolute worst learning outcome.)

    The second type of object is a PythonCode. The pg file will include a short Python script that is used to create the object, just as before. However, in this case the student's will provide their own python script. The output of the student's Python script will be compared to the output of the "correct" Python script. The basic template for this kind of problem is that students will be provided with a description of what their code should do and will need to write a script to fulfil that description. This problem asks students to create a script which reads the first argument provided to the script, and if it is equal to 1 then print out the contents of the standard input, and print "hello" otherwise. (You can specify the arguments and contents of stdin in the pg file; more on that later.) These types of problems will probably work better if students are asked to write relatively short scripts, however there is support for running fairly complicated scripts including running multiple test cases.

    Of course, since you are running code provided by students via a web browser, security is going to be a concern. All Python code evaluated using this system is run in a code jail based on the EDX code jail. In particular the code is run as a separate user using a specially cordoned off python executable. Using AppArmor the python executable (python3 in our case) is only allowed to access the python libraries in the sand box and temporary files created by the jailing code. Because the enforcement happens at the kernel level via AppArmor, the system is reasonably secure

    Object Methods

    Lets take a closer look at the methods available to these objects and then we will do a deeper dive in actually coding problems.

    PythonCode() and PythonObject()

    For both objects these constructor methods takes the Python code as a string input and returns the object. Generally you would generally do something like:
    $python = PythonCode(<<EOP);
    for i in range(0,10):
    print("The number is {}".format(i))


    This either sets or returns the code used to run the object.


    This method takes in various options which can be used to provide the code things like standard input, command line arguments, and even files with text. The possibilities are:

    • files=>[['file_name','content'],['file_name_2','other content']] - This is a list (reference) of (references to) pairs, each pair is a filename and a bytestring of contents to write into that file. These files will be created in a jailed tmp directory and cleaned up automatically. No subdirectories are supported in the filename. The files will be available to the jailed code in its current directory.
    • argv=>['arg1','arg2'] - This is an array ref of command-line arguments which will be provided to the code.
    • stdin=>"This string \n will be \n in stdin." - This is a string and will be provided to the code through the stdin channel.

    tests() (For PythonCode objects only)

    This is used to provide the code with a (ref) list of hash references each containing one or more entries for "argv", "files", or "stdin" with the format described above. The correct code and the student code will be run once for each set of inputs and the output of the correct code and the student code will be compared. A correct answer is when the student code output matches the correct output in all of the test cases.

    error() (For PythonObject objects only)

    This will return the error type (e.g. "TypeError" or "SyntaxError") for the Python code, if there is one. This overrides the standard output as the correct answer, if there is an error.


    This runs the jailed code. It returns the status of the jailed code. The stdout and stderr of the code are stored in the stdout and stderr attributes.


    This returns the status of evaluated code.


    This returns the stdout output of evaluated code.


    This returns the stderr output of evaluated code.


    This returns a comparator for the object. For PythonOutput the students answer is compared to the stdout of the code. If there is a runtime error then the correct answer is the class of the error (i.e SyntaxError). For PythonCode the students answer is run as python code and the two outputs are compared for equality. If there is data for multiple collections of test input, then the outputs will be compared for all of the collections.


    Lets take a look at a couple of examples in greater depth. The following code is for a problem which tests if students can parse the logic of an if statement.

    # We use PGML for these problems because it provides code and
    # preformatted environments that are useful for presenting code and
    # output. We also include the WCUCSmacros file.


    $val = random(1,50);
    $val2 = random(1,50);

    while($val == $val2) { $val2 = random(1,255); }

    # There are an assortment of helper functions in WCUMacros
    # which can provide random text strings and variable names.

    $stringt = random_phrase();
    $stringf = random_phrase();

    while($stringt eq $stringf) {$stringf = random_phrase(); }

    # We define the actual python object, with the code here.
    # Notice the correct Python formatting and the Perl
    # interpolated values.

    $code = PythonOutput(<<);
    finished = True
    score = $val
    num = $val2

    if not finished and score > 20:

    # Here we actually evaluate the code. You if you skip this step
    # the stdout attribute won't be populated. It is done manually so
    # that you can set options before it is run.


    # Here we have the text of the problem. Notice the code wrapped in
    # ``` and the answer blank definition with the comparator.

    Determine the printed output of the following section of code and
    write it in the answer box below. If the code will not run because
    of a syntax error enter "SyntaxError". If the code produces a runtime
    error enter the type of the error.

    ```[@ $code->code @]```

    Output: [____]{$code->cmp}{50}

    # Here we have the solution. The ": " makes preformatted text.
    The correct output is:
    : [@ $code->stdout @]


    When the code is rendered it looks like the following. Here we have provided an incorrect answer and asked the correct answer to be displayed. It is useful to note that the numerical value for score can end up being bigger or smaller than 20. So the answer is not always the second string. What is more, because the answer is determined by the Python code itself, all of the quirks of the language will be faithfully recreated.

    Next lets look at a more complicated example where students are asked to write a program. In particular we are going to ask students to read in a file name from the first argument, open the file and print its contents to stdout. The pg code looks like this:


    # Here is our "correct" Python code. (We do not actually have to
    # evaluate the code because we are using test cases.)
    $code = PythonCode(<<EOS);
    import sys
    if (len(sys.argv) != 2):
    print('No filename provided.')
    filename = sys.argv[1]
    fh = open(filename);

    # We can use the random_word macro to come up with random words
    # for variable and file names.
    $filename = random_word().'.txt';

    # This is where we populate the input data for our tests. We have
    # two tests. One has an argument with the file name, an a file
    # with that name and a random phrase.
    $code->tests({argv => [$filename], files=>[[$filename,random_phrase()]]},
    # The second test has a file, but no argument. In this case the script will
    # exit silently.
    {files=>[[random_word().'.txt','This should not be read.']]});

    # Here is the PGML for the problem text. Notice the markdown style text
    # text formatting.
    Write a Python script which will do the following:
    * It should accept the name of a file as a command line argument.
    * If there is not exactly one command line argument it should print the string
    _No flename provided._ and exit.
    * If there is a command line argument it should open that file and print the contents.


    # We can also provide our code as a solution.
    Solution Code:
    ```[@ $code->code @]```

    Now lets take a look at what this looks like when run. In the following we have an example of a student submitting a script that opens the file and prints it, but does not check the number of arguments first. Notice that students are shown the results of each of their tests, as well as any errors that were reported during any tests. The "show correct answer" output shows the correct output, and the correct code is contained in the popover for the correct answer.

    These features represent the basic foundation of our python macros. As we actually write problems and use them in class I'm sure we will come up with new features and best practices. Check back in a couple of semesters to see how things have progressed.

    Categories: Planet WeBWorK

    WeBWorK LTI - Grading

    Sat, 03/05/2016 - 17:05
    Do you use Blackboard (or Moodle or Canvas etc...) and wish that you could have Blackboard automatically create student WeBWorK accounts, let students go from Moodle to WeBWorK without having to log in, and have students' WeBWorK grade automatically transferred back to your Canvas gradebook?   Well then the newly revamped WeBWorK LTI interface is right up your ally.  In the last post I talked about how to set up the LTI interface to allow students to log in to WeBWorK via Blackboard (or Moodle or Canvas, etc...) as well as automatic account creation.  In this post I'll talk about how to set up the grade passback feature. (This is a preview of a feature that will be available in WeBWorK 2.12.) 

    With the newly revamped LTI interface it is possible for WeBWorK to automatically pass grades back to your Learning Management System (LMS), e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, etc...  However because we are using the more widespread, but also more restrictive, version 1.2 of LTI there are some quirks.  The way LTI grade passback works is when you create the "Assignment" in your LMS that points to WeBWorK that "Assignment" gets a corresponding column  in your LMS gradebook.  WeBWorK then returns a percentage grade which is used to assign the student grade in the LMS.  In particular there is exactly one column in the LMS grade book for each link to WeBWorK in the LMS.  Given this restriction there are two modes for the WeBWorK LTI grading interface.

    • Course Grade Mode: In this mode you create a single link/assignment in the LMS which points to WeBWorK.  WeBWorK will then return the "cumulative" homework grade as a percentage to the LMS.  In other words the grade in the LMS column is the course homework grade. 
    • Homework Grade Mode:  In this mode you create a single link/assignment in the LMS for each problem set in WeBWorK.  WeBWorK will then return the total score for the problem set to the LMS.  In other words you will have multiple columns in the LMS gradebook, one for each link, and they will be filled out with the student scores on individual WeBWorK problem sets.  
    The first mode is the easiest to set up, but the second mode is more granular and ends up transferring more data to the LMS gradebook.
    First Time SetupThere are several configuration variables in authen_LTI.conf which need to be set to enable grade passback.  
    $LTIGradeMode -  If this variable is not set then the grade passback feature is turned off.  If it is set to "course" then the Course Grade Mode described above is used.  If it is set to "homework" then the Homework Grade Mode described above is used. 
    $LTIGradeOnSubmit - If this flag is enabled then WeBWorK will attempt to update student grades every time they submit an answer to a problem.  This keeps the student grades current, but can be a drain on your server.  If either the WeBWorK server or the LMS server bogs down it might be a good idea to turn this off. 
    $LTIMassUpdateInterval - Because instructor activities like adding new sets, deleting problems, or marking problems correct can change student grades we periodically update all student grades just to make sure things are current.  This interval controls how often that mass update happens.  It is set for once every 24 hours by default.  
    In addition to configuring WeBWorK you may also need to enable the grading feature on your LMS.  How this works varies among different LMS.  I will describe how to configure Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas. 
    • Blackboard - There is a global flag which controls if Tools are allowed to submit grades.  You will need administrator access to change this.
      • In the Administrator Panel go to Building Blocks > LTI Tool Providers > Global Properties
      • Enable the setting to allow any Tool Provider to post grades to the Grade Center.
    • Moodle - There is a flag which controls if Tools are allowed to submit grades.   This can be set for individual courses or site wide. 
      • Go to Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > LTI > Manage external tool types.
      • Edit the WeBWorK tool and under Privacy enable "Accept grades from the tool".
    • Canvas - Grade passback is always enabled in Canvas and requires no global configuration. 
    Adding Graded LinksYou add links to WeBWorK the same way you do if you are just using the authentication feature.  In particular you create an "Assignment/Link" and provide the url of the WeBWorK course.  The only additional thing you have to worry about is setting up the grade.  In general you need to make sure grading is enabled for the link and set the total number of points the assignment is work.  It is recommended that you use 100 points so that the grade looks like a percentage.  However, the grade given to the student will always be a percentage of the total available points so  you can use however many points you want.  I'll describe the specifics for Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas.  
    • Blackboard: You need to make sure "Enable Evaluation" is set to yes.  You can also set the number of points available and the due date of the assignment. 
    • Moodle: All you need to do is set the points possible as well as any of the other Moodle specific options. 

    • Canvas:  All you need to do is set the number of points possible. 
    Its important to remember that the only information transferred from WeBWorK to the LMS is the percentage grade of the assignment.  In particular things like visibility and due dates are not automatically synchronized.  It is recommended that you do not set due dates in the LMS and allow WeBWorK to control the availability of the problem sets.  Course Grade ModeLets look at an example of Blackboard set up with Course Grade mode.  Here we have a single link to our WeBWorK course in the Content area.  Students will use this link to access WeBWorK. 
    Once in WeBWorK they navigate and finish problem sets in exactly the same way they normally would.  WeBWorK behaves just as it would if there were no LMS at all.  The only difference is when students submit a grade they should get a message like the one below.  Note:  In many LMS instructors do not have grades.  In this case you will see the message "Your score was not successfully sent to the LMS".  This is fine, unless its not.  If you suspect that there is a problem enable $debug_lti_parameters to see more verbose error messages.  The goal is to see the following in WeBWorK (if you don't have Homework Totals in your version of WeBWorK don't worry, its not out until 2.12)and the following in Blackboard
    And that is pretty much it.  The Course Grade Mode is not particularly complex.  Some things to remember: 
    • How the WeBWorK grade is used in the "Total Grade" on the LMS is entirely up to you and how you have set the weights in the LMS.  See the documentation for the LMS for how to set weights on grades.  
    • Only make one (graded) link to WeBWorK.  If you make more than one then your gradebook will have multiple columns and WeBWorK will get confused about which one to send the grade back to.  
    • Users have to log in to WeBWorK via the LMS at least once for this to work.  The easiest way to guarantee this is to make the LMS create the users.  However, once they have logged in via the LMS once they can log in directly via WeBWorK after that (assuming your authentication system is set up that way).  
    Homework Grade ModeThis grading mode is more granular in that students get all of their homework grades, as well as any other LMS grades, all in one place.  The cost is that you need to set up a separate link to each WeBWorK problem set.  For example in this Canvas course we have links to three different WeBWorK assignmentsThe links are set up exactly the same as described in the previous post with the exception that they should point to the homework set that they correspond to.  For example a link to the Orientation set would have the url (i.e In general the link to set <set name> should have the following format:

    • Default or Just-In-Time Set: http://<server address>/webwork2/<course name>/<set name>
    • Gateway: http://<server address>/webwork2/<course name>/quiz_mode/<set name>
    • Proctored Gateway: http://<server address>/webwork2/<course name>/proctored_quiz_mode/<set name>
    If the set name is not somewhere in the url for that set on the LMS side then it is incorrect.  Once things are set up students then click on the links to access their homework and complete their assignments as normal.  If things are working then they should see their grades appear in the LMS.
    There are a couple of caveats.

    • Students have to click on the link corresponding to the set at least once for grading to work.  Once in WeBWorK they can navigate like normal.  However, if they try to navigate to sets which are open, but which they haven't visited via the LMS get get messages like

    • Homework due dates and problem totals are not synced between WeBWorK and the LMS.  The easiest thing to do is to set all of the homework sets to be open forever in the LMS and let WeBWorK manage access to the homework sets.  You can also set the number of points for each set to 100 in the LMS and the score will be a percentage.  You can also keep the due dates and number of points synchronized, but you will have to do so by hand.  
    • Also note that depending on how you weight things in the LMS the contributions of the homework to the total grade in the LMS will be different than the Homework Total in WeBWorK.  (In particular the WeBWorK grade is the total number of points earned over the points available, while, assuming you set the points to 100 for every assignment in the LMS, the LMS grade is the average of all the homework percentages.)  You can turn off displaying the Homework Total in WeBWorK using the Course Configuration menu if this bothers you or your students.  
    In general using Homework Grade mode is more work, but if you make heavy use of an LMS it is probably worth it.  You can use different grade modes in different courses by setting the $LTIGradeMode variable in the course.conf file.   So you are not locked into using one type of grading for all of your courses.  
    Categories: Planet WeBWorK

    WeBWorK LTI - Authentication

    Sat, 03/05/2016 - 11:12
    Do you use Blackboard (or Moodle or Canvas etc...) and wish that you could have Blackboard automatically create student WeBWorK accounts, let students go from Moodle to WeBWorK without having to log in, and have students' WeBWorK grade automatically transferred back to your Canvas gradebook?   Well then the newly revamped WeBWorK LTI interface is right up your ally.  In this post I'll talk about how to set up the LTI interface to allow students to log in to WeBWorK via Blackboard (or Moodle or Canvas, etc...) as well as automatic account creation.  In the next post I'll talk about how to set up the grade passback feature.  (This is a preview of a feature that will be available in WeBWorK 2.12.) 

    Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas all support a protocol called Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) which can be used to connect learning tools like WeBWorK to the LMS in a standardized fashion.  Unfortunately the LTI scene is somewhat turbulent.  The most common version, 1.2, is widespread but has limited functionality.  In particular learning tools can only pass a single grade back to the LMS in version 1.2.  This is problematic for something like WeBWorK which has many grades ranging from problem grades to set grades to course grades.   Unfortunately the  more fully featured LTI version 2.0, which does allow you to transfer full gradebooks, has not seen widespread adoption and instead some LMS are implementing their own custom solutions.  For example, there is already a great deal of integration between WeBWorK and Moodle (see here for example) that doesn't make use of LTI.  Unfortunately, instructors and  departments often don't get to choose which LMS they use.  So we have upgraded WeBWorK's existing LTI module to make the most out of the more limited version 1.2 functionality.  The result is not perfect, but it does work with a wide set of LMS including Blackboard, Canvas and Moodle.  In this post I will talk about how to set up the LTI authentication interface.  I will talk about how to enable and use the grade passback feature in the next post. 
    First Time Setup - WeBWorKBefore you can use WeBWorK's LTI features you need to do some initial setup.  This will need to be done by a system administrator and in particular often requires administrator access to both WeBWorK and your Learning Management System.  All of the configuration for WeBWorK is done in the authen_LTI.conf file.  First you should copy authen_LTI.conf.dist to authen_LTI.conf.  Then you need to uncomment the line
    #include("conf/authen_LTI.conf");in localOverrides.conf.  Now there are some things you will need to do in authen_LTI.conf.  The only thing you must set is the LTI Consumer Secret.  This acts like a global password and is used to authenticate all communication between WeBWorK and the LMS.  So pick something reasonably complicated.
    $LTIBasicConsumerSecret = ""; #This must be set There are some other options that can be set as well.  I'll go through them in order of most things you will most likely need to think about to less likely.

    $NonceLifeTime  - When the LMS sends a user to WeBWorK it makes a request identified by a "Nonce".  This variable controls how long the Nonce is valid from the time it is created by the LMS.  It should be short enough to prevent "casual" man-in-the-middle attacks.  However, you may need to set it to something longer if your servers/network are slow or if the clocks on your servers are not synced.  

    $preferred_source_of_username - When a user logs into WeBWorK from the LMS WeBWorK needs to determine the username of the person logging in.  The default is to use the email address of the student logging in as their user name.  This is because many/most LMS do not actually provide a traditional username (also called a "sourcedid").  This variable controls if the email or the sourcedid is used as the username for the student in WeBWorK.  If your LMS doesn't provide a sourcedid but you don't want to use the entire email address you can also set $strip_address_from_email and WeBWorK will strip off the server portion of the email address when creating the username. 

    $debug_lti_parameters - Getting things set up for the first time can be tricky and the error messages are kept vague by default (for security).  Set this flag to have WeBWorK split out a lot more information about the LTI authentication process.  This can be a big help with troubleshooting.

    $LMSManageUserData -   WeBWorK will try to keep your student's data up to date with the LMS if this flag is on.  Student data doesn't change much so you could turn it off with relatively few side effects.  You can also set custom "local functions" in authen_LTI.conf which customize users before they are created (and sets before they are assigned to users).  If you do that then you should definitely turn this variable off.

    $LTIAccountCreationCutoff - For security reasons users with permission levels of ta or higher are not automatically created.  In other words you will need to manually add professor users to a course before they can log in via the LMS.  If you want to allow professors to be created automatically set this variable to 'professor'. 

    %LMSrolesToWeBWorKroles - If your LMS uses roles not listed in this hash you will need to add those roles so that users get the right WeBWorK permission level. 

    There are some more variables that can be set which relate to the automatic grading features, but I'll talk about those in the next post.  
    First Time Setup - LMSNext you need to set up your LMS.  In general you will need to provide the LMS  the following things: 
    1. The address of your WeBWorK server.
    2. The "Tool Provider Key" or "Consumer Key"; this is just some made up word, like "webwork".
    3. The "Tool Provider Secret" or "Consumer Secret"; this is the password used to identify the LMS to your WeBWorK site (and vice versa) and should be the same as  $LTIBasicConsumerSecret  
    4. What kind of user information is provided to WeBWorK.  
    The specifics in setting up the LMS vary depending on what LMS you use.  I've posted links to setup instructions for Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas below.  Note, when the instructions refer to the "LTI" or "Tool", that is WeBWorK.
    • Blackboard:  The basic instructions are here.
      • In the Administrator Panel (under Building Blocks) click LTI Tool Providers and then Register Provider Domain
      • Input the address of the WeBWorK server in Provider Domain
      • Use Set Globally for Default configuration and input the Tool Provider Key (any word, e.g. webwork) and the Tool Provider Secret (e.g.$LTIBasicConsumerSecret)
      • Enable Send User Data. (Restricting to ssl is safer if you have https enabled.) Then enable all three user fields.  
    • Moodle:  The basic instructions are here
      • Go to Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > LTI > Manage external tool types and click "Add External Tool Configuration"
      • Input the Tool Name and the WeBWorK server address as the Tool Base URL
      • Input the Consumer Key (any word e.g. webwork) and the Shared Secret (e.g. $LTIBasicConsumerSecret). 
      • In Privacy set both "Share" configurations to "Always".  If you have https available its safer to also enable "Force SSL".  
      • Canvas:  The basic instructions are here
        • Go to Settings > Apps > View App Configurations > Add App
        • Choose "Manual Entry" for configuration type. 
        • The "Launch URL" is the url of the course and can be left blank.  The "Domain" is just the server address
        • Input the Consumer Key (any word e.g. webwork) and the Shared Secret (e.g. $LTIBasicConsumerSecret). 
        • You should set "Privacy" to "Public". 
      A couple of other things to think about: 
      • Its usually best to have WeBWorK open in a new window.  There are usually settings you can set which will control this.  However feel free to experiment with other settings until you find a mode you like. 
      • If you want to get fancy you can also try to have the LMS provide section or recitation information by setting a custom parameter.  In all of the configurations there is a "Custom Fields" section.  You would specify "section = #" or "recitation = #" to set the section or recitation.
      Adding Links To WeBWorKOnce you have set up your WeBWorK configuration files and added WeBWorK as an LTI Tool to your LMS you will need to make a link/assignment in the LMS that students can use to get to WeBWorK.  Again, the process for this varies depending on what LMS you are using.  I'll describe the process for Moodle, Blackboard and Canvas.
      • Blackboard:  Some basic instructions are here
        • Go to Conent > Build Content > (Create) Web Link
        • Add a Name for your link and the URL of the course you are linking to.  You can get the url using "copy link location" on the link to the course in the main WeBWorK page.  Alternatively the url structure is:

        • Check "This link is a Tool Provider"
      • Moodle: Some basic instructions are here
        • Go to a Course, Turn "Editing" on, and click "Add an activity or resource".
        • Choose "External Tool" and click "Add".
        • Pick an activity name and add the URL of the course you are linking to.  You can get the url using "copy link location" on the link to the course in the main WeBWorK page.  Alternatively the url structure is:

      • Canvas:  Some basic instructions are here
        • Go to your Course, then Assignments, then add an assignment. 
        • Select "External Tool" for Submission type. 
        • Input the URL of the course you are linking to.  You can get the url using "copy link location" on the link to the course in the main WeBWorK page.  Alternatively the url structure is:

      There are other places where you can add the link to WeBWorK.  Depending on your LMS you can add also add the link to the available "modules" or in the "navigation bar".  Consult the documentation for your LMS for more details.  
      Logging In and Creating StudentsNow you should be all set up.  You can test it out by creating a test student in your LMS and using the link to log into the LMS from WeBWorK.  The log into WeBWorK should not require a password, the WeBWorK user for the student should be automatically created, and the user should also automatically be assigned all "visible" homework sets.  (The warnings in the above image are the output created by the $debug_lti_parameters flag.)When a user logs into WeBWorK for the first time a WeBWorK user is automatically created for them.  This can save a lot of work in setting up your WeBWorK class. There are a few features/quirks of this process that should be mentioned.

      • Students created via the LMS will not have neither a student id nor an initial password.  In particular they will not be able to log into WeBWorK directly.  The $external_authentication flag is set to one by default and actually prevents them from seeing the WeBWorK login page.  They will need to log in via the LMS unless you get fancy. 
      • Accounts with a permission level of TA or higher are not automatically created by default for security reasons.  So you will have to add your TA's and other professors manually. 
      • Students created via the LMS are assigned all visible sets.  However, the due dates of these sets are not adjusted to take late registrations into account unless you get fancy. 
      • You can define the local routines which can be used to modify newly created users and newly assigned sets.  For example, you can give newly created users a random student_id/password or you can alter the due dates of a student depending on how late they register.   
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Hardcopy Themes

      Mon, 02/29/2016 - 16:35
      Are you tired of the standard "two column" hardcopy format that has been used by WeBWorK since the project was started?  Well starting in version 2.12 there is the option to choose a "hardcopy theme".  Currently there is are two themes, a one column mode and a two column mode.  However, the system is build so that you could add your very own.

      Choosing a hardcopy theme is simplicity itself.  When generating a hardcopy simply choose "One Column" or "Two Columns" for the Hardcopy Theme option.

      You will get either this:

      or this: 
      You can also set the default theme on the Course Configuration page.  In particular the theme chosen on the Course Configuration page is the only theme that students are allowed to use.

      Unless you are willing to get your hands dirty, then that is the extent of the feature.  However, there is also the possibility of adding new Hardcopy themes to the mix.  To create a new theme you need to add a folder to the webwork2/conf/snippets/hardcopyThemes folder.  This new folder should contain the following files:

      • hardcopyPreamble.tex - This tex file contains the LaTeX code that will be at the beginning of the hardcopy.  This is where all of the preamble code goes, including packages, macros, page formatting, etc...
      • hardcopyPostamble.tex -  This tex file contains the LaTeX code that will be at the end of the hardcopy.  It ends the document.  
      • hardcopyProblemDivider.tex - This tex file contains the LaTeX code that will be inserted between each problem.  
      • hardcopySetDivider.tex - This tex file contains the LaTeX code that will be inserted between each set. 
      • hardcopyUserDivider.tex - This tex file contains the LaTeX code that will be inserted between each user.  
      • - Normally this pg file would be rendered and placed at the top of each set.  However, most sets now have their own Hardcopy Header file specified on the Set Detail page which takes precedence over this one.  
      • -  This pg file is rendered and the resulting tex code is put at the bottom of each set.  
      The changes you make to these files, in particular the hardcopyPreamble.tex file, will control what the resulting hardcopy looks like.  You could put more space between problems by adding a vspace to the problem divider.  You can add university specific detailing to the footers.  You could change the font or margins.  Once you have gotten the hardcopy format you desire its time to add it to WeBWorK.  In order to do that you should add overiddes to the following variables in localOverrides.conf.
      # Available Hardcopy themes (located in snippets)
      $hardcopyThemes = [qw(oneColumn twoColumn)];
      # Hardcopy theme names (pretty names for themes)
      $hardcopyThemeNames = {oneColumn => 'One Column',
            twoColumn => 'Two Columns'};
      # Default Hardcopy them
      $hardcopyTheme = "twoColumn";The theme name (e.g. oneColumn, twoColumn) should be the name of the folder you made in hardcopyThemes.   The pretty theme name (e.g. One Column, Two Columns) is the name that is actually displayed to users.  Once you add your theme to $hardcopyThemes and $hardcopyThemeNames you are done.  The theme will automatically appear on the Hardcopy page and the Course Configuration page as an option.  If you make a particularly good theme, please consider contributing it to the main repository so other people can use it.
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Grades, External Grades, and Email

      Sun, 02/28/2016 - 16:32
      The grades page in WeBWorK has seen some changes for the next version (2.12).  In particular homework percentages are now displayed for each homework and a "Homework Totals" score is displayed as well.  This post also presents an existing feature which most people may not know about; how to display external grades in WeBWorK.

      Grade PageThere have been a number of tweaks made to the grades page, as you can see below. The two main changes are the addition of a percent score for individual homework sets and a Homework Totals score for all sets.  The Homework Totals score is the total number of points earned out of the total available points.  In particular, it matches the score you would get using the Scoring Tools page if you selected all homework sets.  If you want to change the weight of a homework set simply change the value of all of the problems in the set.  (For example if you set the value of all the problems in the set to zero then the sets grade doesn't count toward the Homework Total.)  If you do something entirely different with your homework scores and don't want students to get the wrong impression from the Homework Total, you can turn the feature off in the Course Configuration page.  Another feature, which isn't new but most people don't know about, is the ability to display external grades in WeBWorK.  The pertinent message on the grades page isThere is no additional grade information. A message about additional grades can go in in [TMPL]/email/report_grades.msg. It is merged with the file [Scoring]/report_grades_data.csv. These files can be edited using the "Email" link and the "File Manager" link in the left margin.In particular lets use the Email link to create the following message and save it as report_grades.msg 

      Hello $FN
      Your grade for midterm 2 is $COL[7]
      Your 6th week grade is $COL[-1]Recall that when you are emailing students you can choose a Merge File to include data from a csv in your email.  The exact same macros are used in the report_grades.msg.  The list of available macros is: 
      • $FN - first name
      • $LN - last name
      • $SID - student ID number
      • $SECTION - student's section
      • $RECITATION - student's recitation
      • $STATUS - C, drop, withdrawl, audit, etc.
      • $EMAIL - student's email address
      • $LOGIN - student's login name
      • $COL[3] - third column in merge file
      • $COL[-1] - last column in merge file
      As an aside, emailing students their WeBWorK grades periodically is a great way to make sure that they are paying attention to doing their homework.  

      The merge file we use for displaying external grades, report_grades_data.csv,  is a csv with the same format that is produced by the Scoring Tools page.  In particular all of the csv's from the scoring tools page go in the "scoring" folder, which is located one directory up fro the "templates" folder.  The easiest way to add external grades is to download one of these scoring csv files, and edit it.  Delete all but the first six columns and then add new grade columns as you see fit.  Finally re-upload it to the scoring folder with the name "report_grades_data.csv".  The import part is that the first six columns are, in order,
      1. STUDENT ID
      2. LOGIN ID
      3. LAST NAME
      4. FIRST NAME
      5. SECTION
      You can put whatever data you want in the remaining columns. For example we might have a report_grades_data.csv file in the "scoring" directory with the following data. STUDENT ID LOGIN ID LAST NAME FIRST NAME SECTION RECITATION Midterm Final admin admin Admin Prof 9 10 67 89 teststud teststud Funky Spoon 3 5 78 56 practice1 practice1 PRACTICE1 JANE 2 4 56 48 practice3 practice3 PRACTICE3 JANE 2 4 48 43 practice4 practice4 PRACTICE4 JANE 2 4 78 16 practice5 practice5 PRACTICE5 JANE 2 4 99 56 practice6 practice6 PRACTICE6 JANE 2 4 26 78 practice7 practice7 PRACTICE7 JANE 2 4 89 98 practice8 practice8 PRACTICE8 JANE 2 4 92 82 practice9 practice9 PRACTICE9 JANE 2 4 56 81
      With the report_grades.msg above and this report_grades_data.csv file if we visit the Grades page we see the following at the bottom: As a bonus, we can also send this message to all of the students using the Email page with no additional work. There is not currently a way to integrate external grades into WeBWorK so that they are included in course calculations, but this, at least, allows you to keep students up to date.

      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Release 2.11

      Thu, 02/25/2016 - 15:50
      I wrote this when version 2.11 was released (almost two months ago at this point) but never got around to actually proofing and posting it.  So here is the late version...

      WeBWorK version 2.11 has been released.  The big addition for this release is a the new adaptive homework type, just-in-time.  I wrote about just-in-time a while ago on this blog and it has finally made its way into the master version of WeBWorK.  There are also some other big new features which I've described below. (The official release notes can be found at

      Major AdditionsJust-In-Time Assignments
      This is a new adaptive homework assignment type. The basic idea is that instead of having a linear list of problems, the problem set has a "tree" of problems. Each problem has a number of "child" problems which are only shown to the student if they have trouble with the parent problem. The basic idea is that these child problems will have review content to help the student solve the original problem. There are a number of other features including restricting the progress of students through the homework and emailing the professor if the student fails to complete the assignment.

      Editing Course.conf

      The ability to edit course.conf from the web has long been a security and stability issue. (One missing semicolon can lock a professor out of their course and require command line access by a super user to recover.) Because of this users with "professor" privilege will not be able to edit either course.conf or simple.conf from the File Manager. Instead only users with "admin" privilege will be able to edit those files. This is likely to feel restrictive to users who are used to making lots of modifications via course.conf. There are really three main ways to deal with this:

      • Common configuration changes can easily be added to the Course Configuration page. If you have a configuration page that you make a lot submit it as a github issue.
      • Administrators in the admin course are always given admin privileges if they are added to a course. Any admin user can grant any other user admin privileges using the Classlist Editor. You can use this to give trusted professors permission to edit course.conf. Courses that don't have any "admin" privileged users can have one added using wwsh.
      • You can disable this feature by editing the $uneditableCourseFiles variable. Do this at your own risk.

      Def File Changes 

      Because of all the new features added to WeBWorK the way problems are defined in def files needed to be refactored. Now problems in def files are defined using the same "property = value" format as the rest of the problem set. You can read more about the new def format at (specifically the Problem List Version 2 portion). Older def files using the "version 1" problem list can still be imported, but all exports will use version 2.
      XMLRPC Rendering 
      Driven by the Mathbook XML project and the Moodle opaqueserver linkage the ability to render problems via the XMLRPC pathway has been greatly improved. In particular problems can be embedded in pages using iframes. The embedded problems can be interacted with, answers can be checked, and there is even the option to store answers and scores locally in the browser.

      Live Graph 3D 

      The java based Live Graph 3D grapher has been replaced by a drop in javascript alternative. This javascript alternative is webGL based and should work on any device which has webGL support. It should work as a replacement without any additional configuration.  This grapher has been tested with the existing problems in the OPL which used the old java grapher. If there are issues with local problems please report them.
      Minor Additions
      • wwsh: Due to recent changes in Perl wwsh no longer gives you an interactive perl interface. Instead you call wwsh with a script as follows wwsh <course name> <script name>. Several scripts have been provided to help recover courses. 
      • Set Defs Search: You can now set configuration variables which allow the Homework Sets Editor page to search for set def files in folders other than templates. In particular it can look for def files in subdirectories of templates and optionally in the OPL. 
      • No More Timezones: Timezones in date entry have been removed, as have most time zones in displayed dates. (Due dates displayed to students still have time zones.) Now all times are interpreted to be in the time zone defined in the Course Configuration page. This should eliminate the longstanding problem of entering a date with the wrong daylight savings timezone and having your time unexpectedly shifted by an hour.
      • Library Browser Icons: There are now icons in the library browser to help signify when problems use math objects and when problems don’t have any randomization. 
      • Course Renaming: In addition to renaming courses you can now give courses new Course Titles and new Institutions. This is done using the Rename function on the course admin page.
      • Numerous Bug Fixes:  Many bug fixes, most of which can be found listed in the release notes. 
      Upgrade Instructions1)  Go to /opt/webwork/webwork2, /opt/webwork/pg and rungit pull origin masteron each directory (assuming that origin is your remote name for the openwebwork repo).
      2) Depending on your system there may be new perl modules added for 2.11. Run and look for missing modules. They may include:LWP::Protocol::https (version > 6.06)Class::AccessorAn outdated LWP::Protocol::https module can keep the Library Browser from running correctly if you are using https.
      3) Check localOverrides.conf.dist and look for changes to add to the existing localOverrides.conf. There are a couple of important things here that will negatively affect your system if you don't deal with them.
      The show editors hash should be removed. If it is not removed then there will be minor annoyances (e.g. the link to the problem set detail page that appears when you are looking at a homework set will not appear). Instead of redefining this hash, overrides should be made to the hash elements individually. For example# These will enable the versions of the problem set detail page and library browser page that do not use the xmlrpc pathway#$showeditors{problemsetdetail1} = 1;#$showeditors{librarybrowsernojs} = 1;
      # This will enable the slightly fancier PG problem editor 3#$showeditors{pgproblemeditor3} = 1;
      # This will turn off ww3 (if you are on the ww3 branch)#$showeditors{ww3} = 0;
      While this does not appear by default in localOverrides.conf.dist, something you may want to modify using localOverrides.conf is the variable controlling which files users with professor privilege can access. For security reasons default only users with admin privilege will be able to access course.conf using the File Manager. The variable you would change is# For safety reasons these course specific files cannot be edited from the File Manager except by an administrator.  These are paths relative to the course directory.$uneditableCourseFiles = ['simple.conf',  'course.conf',    ];
      Options which control if the homework sets editor will look for set .def files in places other than templates. In can search in subfolders of templates or even the OPL. The options are # Searching for set.def files to import # Uncomment below so that when the homework sets editor searches for set def# files, it searches beyond templates; it can search deeper subfolders of # templates, and optionally also descend into Library#$options{setDefSearchDepth}=4; #search down 4 levels#$options{useOPLdefFiles}=1;
      4) Check site-conf.dist and look for changes to add to the existing site.conf. Things to look for include:
      The version of your server is determined automatically from your server banner. However, if you have turned off the version in your server banner you can specify it manually with$server_apache_version = ''; # e.g. '2.22.1'  
      Specifying if tls is allowed when sending email. This is enabled via$tls_allowed = 1;  
      Specifying an email address to display when apache has problems with webwork pages, assuming you don't want to use the default apache admin email. This is done via$webwork_server_admin_email ='';
      Specifying a default timeout for the checkurl command. This is done via$externalPrograms{checkurl}     = "/usr/bin/lwp-request -d -t 40 -mHEAD "; 
      5) Check your apache configuration dist file and look for changes to add to the existing apache configuration file. Things to look for include
      A line which ensures that each apache child process has a different random number seed. The main impact this has is that without the following line practice users are not shuffled randomly.PerlChildInitHandler "sub { srand }"
      The code which overrides the administrator email using the variable mentioned in the previous section. The code looks like
      my $webwork_server_admin_email = $ce->{webwork_server_admin_email};if ($webwork_server_admin_email) { $webwork_server_admin_email = $ce->{webwork_server_admin_email}; warn "set email from site.conf";} else { $webwork_server_admin_email= $ENV{SERVER_ADMIN};}
      Optional code to make use of the opaque server interface with Moodle.
      Optional code to improve performance by using mod_expires.
      6) Restart the webserver. (with apachectl graceful or similar command.)
      7) Log into the admin course and upgrade the databases for all of your courses. Your server will not be functional until you perform this step.
      8) Download the latest version of the OPL usingcd /opt/webwork/libraries/webwork-open-problem-librarygit pull originOPL-updateGotchas
      • You can get a warning when trying to log into the admin course: You will need to run You will also need to upgrade all of your other course databases using the admin course.
      • You can't edit the course.conf file: You need "admin" permissions. See item 2 of Primary Changes.
      • You can't find the "SetName" link in the sidebar that normally brings you to the Problem Set Detail page for a particular set: You need to remove the %showEditors hash from your local overrides file. See item 4 of Upgrade Instructions.
      • The library browser may stop responding: When you select a subject the chapter list may not populate and you may get error popups. The main cause of this is a missing or outdated LWP::Protocol::https (version < 6.06) package.
      • Remember to update the OPL and run OPL-update.
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      OPL Statistics

      Wed, 01/06/2016 - 17:21
      A feature recently added to the development branch of WeBWorK (to be released in 2.12) is the option to display problem statistics in the Library Browser.  You can display local statistics, which are local to your university, or "global" statistics which were generated using data contributed by a number of different institutions.  Find out more below, including how you can contribute your data to the global repository.

      If you use the Library Browser in the development version of WeBWorK you may notice that the problems have some extra data in the "header" portion.
      The three quantities displayed are:

      • Usage - The total number of students who have had the problem assigned to them. 
      • Attempts - The average number of attempts students have made on this problem. 
      • Status - The average status that students ended up with. 
      In general problems with high usage numbers don't have bugs because they have been so thoughoutly tested.  Problems with a large number of attempts are harder for students to do, and if the average status is well below 85% or 90% then it means a significant number of students are never able to do the problem correctly.  (Especially considering most people allow students an unlimited number of attempts.) All three of these quantities are useful when you are deciding to add a problem to your homework set.  Do you intend for all students to be able to do the problem?  How much effort will they need to put in to it? Etc...

      The difference between GLOBAL and LOCAL statistics is that Local statistics are generated only from the student data on your WeBWorK server, while Global statistics are generated from a central database of contributed data.  Currently the Global statistics database has data on 23000 problems with an average of 367 assigned students per problem. The data was donated by over 15 different institutions.

      How can you use this feature yourself?  It is pretty straightforward.  First you need to set the following variables in your localOverrides.conf file.
      # This flag controls if local statistics are shown in the library
      $problemLibrary{showLibraryLocalStats} = 1;
      # This flag controls whether global statistics will be displayed
      $problemLibrary{showLibraryGlobalStats} = 1;You also need to generate the statistics (or import it in the case of the global statistics table).  To do this just run 
      webwork2/bin/update-OPL-statistics It is recommended that you run this once at the beginning of each semester to keep your local data tables up to date.  And that's it!  You need to make sure the feature is enabled and that you run the data generating script on a regular basis.  If you want to go a step further you can donate your local data to the central database.  Only aggregate data (e.g. total number of times a problem was assigned, average status on a problem, average number of attempts) is transmitted.  In particular no student data ever leaves your server.  If you decide you want to donate your data just run
      webwork2/bin/upload-OPL-statisticsThe script will ask you some questions, generate a .tar.gz. file, and upload it to the central server.  It leaves behind a copy of the .tar.gz file in case you want to see what exactly is transmitted.
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      LiveGraphics and Javascript

      Thu, 05/21/2015 - 15:03
      Its been a while since I've posted, but that does not mean nothing is happening.  The just-in-type homework system is now in the pipeline to be merged into develop and should be available in the regular release in Fall 2015.  I've also been spending time rebuilding WeBWorK's default 3d grapher using javascript, webgl, and canvas.  This will eliminate the need for the current java applet and is much more portable.  Read more about it after the jump.

      The best WeBWorK problems are those which have a feature or capability that would be impossible using traditional pen and paper homework.  Some of my favorites are the multivariable calculus WeBWorK problems which include an interactive 3d graph.   Students generally have a hard time visualizing 3d objects and including a manipulable 3d view of a surface is something that would be impossible without web based homework.  WeBWorK has a number of this type of problem and they were all written using a java applet called LiveJar.  This applet takes raw Mathematica code describing a graphical object, either generated by the problem pg code, or included via a file, and renders a graph similar to what you would find in Mathematica.  Unfortunately java applets are increasingly difficult to get running and too many of my students ended up with problems which looked like:
      Even using a properly signed applet wasn't good enough and after several student complaints I had to remove problems with manipulable 3d graphs from my multivariable calculus class.

      In an effort to save those problems I've put together a javascript program based on the webgl wrapper x3dom which mostly replicates the original LiveJar applet.  The system is has only just been completed, and has some rough edges.  However it does a passable job and instead of the previous image students will see this:
      In fact, since javascript is so portable, I can even include an example of a manipulable graph in this blog.

      (Note: If you are using https you will probably need to "allow insecure content" to see the graph.) For those of you who are interested, x3dom is a webgl interpreter that uses a regular html structure to define and manipulate the graphics objects in a canvas region.  For example to render a blue sphere you just include the following html in a <x3d> html element:
      <Shape render="true">
             <Material diffuseColor="0 0 1" shininess="0.2"/>
             <Sphere solid="true" radius="1"/>
      </Shape>Then the x3dom javascript does the rest using canvas, html5 and webgl.  (For those devices not webgl compatible it has a flash based fallback.)  The javascript replacement for LiveJar basically just parses the provided mathematica code and generates the correct x3dom html using jquery.  Some things to keep in mind about this js replacement.
      • It is specifically a replacement for LiveJar and built to correctly render the ~50 problems in the OPL which use it.  New problems could certainly be made with this script, but there are other more fully featured javascript 3d graphers out there which allow you to skip the Mathematica entirely. 
      • There is a hidden configuration option in defaults.config which can be used to turn the java applet back on. 
      • These graphs will render in most phones and tablets, and can even be manipulated using a touch screen, but the performance can vary. 
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Release 2.10

      Sun, 01/04/2015 - 19:20
      We are happy to announce the release of WeBWorK version 2.10, now available from your friendly neighborhood github repository.  This new version features many additions.  For example the Show Me Another feature allows students to request different versions of existing problems.   There are also a number of additions which help bring WeBWorK meet web accessibility standards.  For site administrators we have a new "update notification" system so your server will never be out of date again.  Read more about it in the release notes or after the jump. 

      This version contains a couple of major new features and a collection of smaller features.  Lets go through the larger changes. 
      AccessibilityWe made a number of changes to the math4 interface to make it much friendlier to screen readers and other accessibility tools.  Rather than one large change this is a huge number of small tweaks and improvements.   We brought all color contrasts up to AA level and added an easy to see focus box and a skip to main content link.  Tables and fields should mostly meet accessibility standards now. The big exception is that fields in problems do not have proper labels.  To fix this we added aria labels to fields generated by PG. These labels identify each answer field as "Answer 1", or "Answer 1 Part 1", etc...  These are not technical replacements for input labels, but are functional replacements for most screen readers. We also made tweaks to make the student interface of WeBWorK easy to navigate using the tab key, reordered the problem results table to make more sense when read left to right, and added links which change focus from the "correct/incorrect" text to the corresponding field.  The VPAT  for release version 2.10 can be found here.
      Update Notifier:
      When properly set up and enabled using the configuration files this feature will notify you when there are updates, or new versions, available for WeBWorK or PG.  It will also notify you when there are updates to the OPL and if you need to run OPL-update.  The notification appears on the Course Administration page of the admin course.  Caution: This uses git ls-remote to check in with the github repositories.  If the wait is too long the system can be disabled.  You can read more about how to set up and configure this feature here
      Theme Overrides:  
      Using the files math4-overrides.css and math4-overrides.js administrators can include their own js and css in a way which will be compatible with future updates.  Using this administrators can change coloring, the header images, or even basic functionality.  As an example of how this can be applied we added a red and green variant of the math4 theme.   You can read more about it here.
      Show Me Another: When enabled this feature will give students the option of viewing a different version of their current problem. Depending on the configuration this version may or may not come with a solution, hints, the ability to check answers, or the ability to view correct answers.  The problem is guaranteed to be different so the feature will fail on problems with no randomization.  To enable the feature and adjust its settings go to the  PG - Problem Display/Answer Checking portion of the Course Configuration page.  Note that in order to use the feature you will need to enable it for each individual problem.   You can read more here.  
      Reduced Scoring: Changed how reduced scoring works so that instead of a fixed reduced scoring period, each set has an individual "reduced scoring date".  After this reduced scoring date students will receive reduced credit for their answers.  This reduced scoring date can be set differently for individual sets or even individual students.  This can, for example, allow you to extend a due date for a student with reduced credit without changing the due date of the set for the class.  You can read more about it here.
      PG Additions:  
      There were a number of new PG macros added which provide some nice functionality and are listed below.  
      •  This allows problem authors to create tables with a large degree of control, including accessibility support. 
      • This is a context for Percentages.
      •  This context allows ',' instead of '.' as decimal places.
      •  This context allows ']2,3[' as an alternate notation for open intervals.
      •  This allows for inequality based set notation.
      •  This allows for partitions of integers.
      •  This allows for permutation notation.
      •  This allows for more generalized roots.
      •  This new Scaffolding structure is an upgrade to the existing compoundProblem series of macros.
      Smaller Changes:There are also a bunch of smaller changes and improvements.  You can find the full(ish) list at the release notes page here.  The most important ones are listed below.  

      • Changed password hashing to use SHA512. This allows passwords to be functionally longer than 6 characters and is much safer. 
      • Added option to use a custom file in place of "site-info.txt".  This will keep git from overwriting your site-info.txt changes. 
      • Changed how display options work so that they are persistent.  Now there will be no "Display Options" sidebar menu.  Instead these are set in the "User Settings" page (formerly the "Password/Email" page) and persist across page calls and logins.
      • Removed the configuration option for Drag Math.  The feature can still be enabled in course.conf
      • Removed the configuration option for pgMatrixMacros since those have been replaced by MathObjects.  The flag can still be modified in course.conf.
      • Fixed a bug where fileFromPath and read_whole_problem didn't work on newer systems.

      UpgradingBecause of the number of additions and upgrades since version 2.9, the upgrade process for version 2.10 is more involved.  In particular a number of new modules have been added since version 2.9, as well as significant database upgrades. There are also changes to the configuration files which will need to be integrated into your existing configurations. The process for upgrading to 2.10 is described below.:1) Go to /opt/webwork/webwork2, /opt/webwork/pg and rungit pull origin masteron each directory (assuming that origin is your remote name for the openwebwork repository).  2) There were a number of new perl modules added for 2.10. Run and look for missing modules. They may include
      • Array::Utils
      • Dancer
      • Dancer::Plugin::Database
      • Iterator
      • Iterator::Util
      • Path::Class
      • XML::Parser::EasyTree 
      Install using your distribution's package manager or via cpancpan Array::Utils Dancer::Plugin::Database Iterator::Util Path::Class XML::Parser::EasyTree3) There were a couple of new LaTeX packages added for 2.10.  Change to a writeable directory outside the webwork2 directory (like ~)  Run pdflatex /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin/check_latex.tex and look for missing packages. Added packages include booktabs, tabularx, colortbl, caption, xcolor, path.  In apt based systems you may have to install texlive-latex-recommended and yum based systems may have to install texlive-path. Warning: There currently is no package on CentOS 7 which provides the path package. You can manually download and install the Fedora package and it will work.4) Check localOverrides.conf.dist and look for changes to add to the existing localOverrides.conf. They may include
      • Information for the Upgrade Notifier.
      • Information for a local "site_info.txt" file.
      • Default values for the showMeAnother feature.
      5) Check site-conf.dist and look for changes to add to the existing site.conf. They may include paths for the external programs git and curl.  6) Run the command from webwork2/bin to upgrade your admin course database. Warning: You will not be able to access the admin course until you perform this step.7) Restart the webserver (with apachectl graceful or a similar command).8) Log into the admin course and upgrade the databases for all of your courses.9) Download the latest version of the OPL usingcd /opt/webwork/libraries/webwork-open-problem-library
      git pull origin
      OPL-updateHopefully you dont run into too much trouble or accidentally set your server on fire.  If you do have questions or need help, though, feel free to stop by our friendly neighborhood forums or checkout our irc channel.  Bugs can be reported at bugzilla or github.  Happy upgrading. 
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Upgrade Notifier

      Mon, 12/22/2014 - 13:08
      Tired of not knowing if your WeBWorK server is up to date?  Do you wake up at night worrying that an important security fix was released and you didn't hear about it?  Your wishes have been granted by the new Upgrade Notifier feature.  This feature will let know you if there are new updates for your chosen WeBWorK, PG, or OPL branch and can even remind you to update your library index.  Available now in the develop branch (and coming up in version 2.10) and described in more detail below.

      The Upgrade Notifier appears on the Course Administration page of the admin course.  When you log in you will see something like this:
      As you can see this installation has fallen behind!  There are upgrades available from branch develop in remote origin for WeBWorK and PG.  This means that there are commits in the develop branch of the origin remote (usually the openwebwork github repository) which are not in the currently selected git branch on our server.  In addition, the OPL is also out of date.

      Note:  The Upgrade Notifier is very much git based in terms of its setup and configuration. In particular you should know about remotes and branches and be running your WeBWorK server from a git based installation.  You can read more about github and WeBWorK in this article, or learn git here.

      Why origin and develop?  Well that comes from our configuration file.  The upgrade notifier block of localOverrides.conf.dist looks like this:

      # Repository Information
      # This is where you put your remote and branch for your WeBWorK, PG and OPL
      # github repositories.
      # To disable checking for a particular repository, set the remote and branch
      # variables to be empty strings.
      $enableGitUpgradeNotifier = 1;
      $gitWeBWorKRemoteName = "origin";
      $gitWeBWorKBranchName = "master";
      $gitPGRemoteName = "origin";
      $gitPGBranchName = "master";
      $gitLibraryRemoteName = "origin";
      $gitLibraryBranchName = "master";
      As we can see there is an option to turn the Upgrade Notifier on and off, as well as options to set the remote and branch for WeBWorK, PG, and the OPL.  Most people will use this default setup.  For the above server we have changed the branch for PG and WeBWorK to develop but left the remote as origin (because that currently points to openwebwork).  If we wanted to we could even have the update notifier point at our own personal repository or at some feature branch we care about.  We haven't changed the library branch or remote, and usually you won't.  Of course if you want to use this feature you will need to copy these lines over to localOverrides.conf

      Note:  If you are working with a fresh installation or upgrade, you should also make sure that the external program git is defined in the site.conf file by the line $externalPrograms{git} = "/usr/bin/git";

      Once your repository information is configured, whenever you visit the Course Administration page your server will use git and ls-remote to check and see if the configured remote and branch has commits which are not in your currently selected local branch.  If you are using the default setup of pointing to origin and master then you will only see an upgrade message for PG or WeBWorK when there are important bugfixes or a new version.  If you point to a different branch, like develop, you will see upgrade messages more often.  (Usually you will want to select a local branch which tracks the configured remote and branch.  However, you can have additional commits and customization in your local branch without affecting the upgrade notifier.)   The OPL gets updated frequently so you are likely to see upgrade messages for that component frequently, even on the master branch.  If you would like to disable notifications for any portion of the system, just set the remote name and branch name for that component's variables to be empty strings.

      Note: The upgrade notifier will also let you know when there is a new version of WeBWorK available.  This is mostly important for people using the default setup.  Upgrades to the master branch of WeBWorK or PG will always be pretty safe.  However if you see the new version message then the upgrade process will likely be a lot more involved.  However, it will be worth it because you will also get all of the new features that come with a new release.  Our releases are biannual so you should only see this message twice a year.

      When there are upgrades available you can download them by using the following command as necessary in /opt/webwork/webwork2 or /opt/webwork/pg or /opt/webwork/libraries/webwork-open-problem-library 
      git pull <remote name> <branch name>If you are using  the default setup then this command should be pretty safe, unless there is a new WeBWorK version.  Since the above server is tracking develop there could be any number of changes waiting upstream and we may have additional configuration or conflict fixing to do.  In any case, after updating all three components on our server we get a message which looks like this
      Everything is up to date, but we forgot to run OPL-update.  After doing so we refresh the page and get the message.

      Finally even system administrators get to experience the thrill of seeing the green bar.
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Customizing Colors

      Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:56
      This post will address a relatively superficial, but often requested, feature which has been recently added to the develop version of WeBWorK - customizing theme colors and logos.  This latest change adds a couple of color variations for math4 right out of the box, as well as a built in way for system administrators to customize math4 themselves.

      The first thing you will notice if you download the latest version of develop is that there are a couple of new themes available in the Course Config page - math4-green and math4-red.  Selecting either of these new themes will give you this:

      You should notice that these variants are basically the same as math4 with different colors.  This is because they are implemented in such a way that they are just additional color css layered on top of math4.  So in theory they will always be up to date with the latest math4.  Of course, if you give a man three colors he is going to want 256.  That is why this update also allows sysadmins to customize math4.

      The key to this customization are the files
      webwork2/htdocs/themes/math4/math4-overrides.jsThese files are not shipped by default (although they have .dist versions) and are not tracked by git, so they won't be overwritten when you update.  However, if you put either of these files into the math4 theme folder they will be included into all WeBWorK pages after the normal math4 css and javascript.  This means that you can use them to make changes to math4 without potentially breaking your upgrade process. 

      Lets go through an example where we will change math4 to use the Western Carolina University colors and logo.  First we copy over the distribution versions of the override files to give us something to start with
      cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/htdocs/themes/math4/
      cp math4-overrides.css.dist math4-overrides.css
      cp math4-overrides.js.dist math4-overrides.jsWe start with the coloring.  The math4-overrides.css file automatically simplifies the coloring of math4 so that there are only a handful of colors that are used over and over.   They are:
      • Dark Blue: #003388
      • Light Blue: #0088CC
      • Dark Green: #519951
      • Light Green: #88FF88
      • Dark Red: #FF9494
      • Light Red: #CC7676
      • Dark Yellow: #BDB45E
      • Light Yellow: #EDE275
      Because we are using css (and not less) we have to change these by using a global find replace on the hex value, but that isn't so difficult.  The Dark Blue and Light Blue are the primary theme colors and are used almost everywhere.  The Green, Red, and Yellow colors are mostly used for alerts, such as marking things correct or incorrect.  We will be conservative and just change the main colors.  We would like to use WCU's school colors
      • Purple: #492C88
      • Gold: #CD7F32
      I'm going to replace the Dark Blue by Purple and the Light Blue by Gold.  We could do this using any text editor and a global find/replace but lets get fancy
      sed -i 's/003388/492C88/g' math4-overrides.css
      sed -i 's/0088CC/CD7F32/g' math4-overrides.cssThis by itself gets us much of the way there
      We could spend a lot more time tweaking the colors.  For example, something that is missing by default (for ease of initial configuration) are hover colors for the buttons.  Adding a slightly different hover color will make the buttons seem much more dynamic. 

      However, we will leave the colors as they are and address another often requested feature: changing the logos.  This is not done via css, rather it is done by javascript.  If we open math4-overrides.js we see the line
      /* This changes the MAA Logo on the top to a new image */
      //    $('.maa_logo a img').attr('src','new-path-here');There is a similar line for the WeBWorK logo.  So if we want to put our school logo in place of the MAA logo we could put the appropriate image file (wcu.jpg) into webwork2/htdocs/images and change our js line to
      $('.maa_logo a img').attr('src','/webwork2_files/images/wcu.jpg').css('height','40px'); Remember that things in htdocs will be available on the web under the webwork2_files directory.  This gives us the following
      And that is it.  If we wanted to we could also replace the WeBWorK logo in much the same way.

      So after only a few commands we have been able to give WeBWorK a whole new look.  We could go farther, too; much farther.  The thing to remember is that the override files allow system administrators to execute arbitrary css and (jQuery) javascript code that will be run after the usual math4 code.  The javascript/css combination is extremely powerful and allows you to change pretty much anything,  including html content.  So for example if I wanted to change "Hmwk Sets Editor2"  to "HW Sets Editor" in the Instructor Tools navigation menu I could just add the following to math4-overrides.js
      $('#site-links a:contains("Hmwk Sets Editor2")').html('HW Sets Editor');Of course, you have to come up with the javascript yourself, but the sky really is the limit here.  You can add whole features this way, all without touching core WeBWorK code.  (Although if you do that you might as well just write it into the core code and submit it as a pull request!)  There are a few gotchas to keep in mind, but in general this should provide power administrators with a great deal of flexibility.

      • Remember that unless you delete math4-red and math4-green your instructors will still be able to manually change to those themes.  Any overrides that you put into htdocs/themes/math4/math4-overrides.js or the corresponding css file will not automatically make it into math4-red or math4-green.  You will need to link to the math4-override files in the math4-red/math4-green subdirectories in order for your changes to carry over.  Of course if you copy over math4-overrides.css then math4-red and math4-green won't be red/green anymore. 
      • While your modifications in the override files will not be overwritten by an upgrade, and should generally just work, it is possible for WeBWorK updates to change math4 in such a way as to be incompatible with your override files.  If this happens you will have to merge your changes with the new math4-overrides distribution files.  
      • By default using this file removes some of the "dynamic" elements of bootstrap, like grading on the buttons, or a slightly different highlight color on the buttons. This is done for ease of configuration.  If you look at  htdocs/js/vendor/bootstrap/css/bootstrap.css you can copy/modify the relevant css code to get fancier buttons working again.  However this all has to be done "manually" and can't be automated with a global find/replace.
      • Some of the red/green coloring is done using inline styling via pg.  This means that it can't be overridden using the math4-overrides.css file.  If you really want to alter all of the correct/incorrect coloring you will need to use javascript and math4-overrides.js to do it. 
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      Release 2.9 Changes

      Fri, 06/20/2014 - 12:33
      We are happy to announce that the latest version of WeBWorK, 2.9, has been released.  This is a smaller release than 2.8, as evidenced by the fact that there are no database or module additions. The primary changes to WeBWorK for this release are: support for Apache version 2.4 (and hence the latest versions of Ubuntu and Fedora), polishing the math4 interface, adding a couple of new PG modules, and general bug fixing.  A full list of changes is below.

      Supported Distributions and Depreciation The following are the distributions that are officially supported. You still can use WeBWorK on whatever you like, of course. In particular if you install WeBWorK on a very recent version of Ubuntu or Fedora and have problems let us know.
      • Ubuntu LTS 14.04
      • Debian 7
      • Centos 6
      • Fedora 20
      We also want to support RedHat 6 but can't reliably test on it because the distribution is not freely available. If you install on RedHat 6 and run into trouble let us know as well. We are also removing or depreciating support for some things that have been replaced by newer components.
      • RedHat 5 is no longer supported because its version of Perl is not new enough.
      • The old version of the Homework Sets Editor and the Classlist Editor are no longer shown by default and are no longer maintained. If they are enabled via a configuration file they will still (mostly) work, but are not kept up to date.
      • With the increased use of JavaScript, more of our functionality has become dependent on to what were once mostly cosmetic themes. Right now the only two supported themes are math3 and math4, and math3 is only partially supported for the newest of features. Older themes can be found in the unsupported-themes directory.
      Fresh Install If you want to use version 2.9 with a fresh installation you should take a look at the WeBWorK installer, ww_install.  The installer has been upgraded to support Apache 2.4 and, consequently, newer distros. You can use it by following the instructions on the previous link or here. Note: ww_install also installs the components necessary to switch your installation to the develop branch or even the WeBWorK 3 branch (ww3) without installing new software. (You will need to upgrade your course tables, and run OPL update though.)
      Upgrade If you want to upgrade an existing installation to version 2.9 you can do so very easily assuming you are using git.  For this to work we are assuming that you are using a git based WeBWorK installation with the standard installation locations.  If you aren't using git it might be best to move to a new installation.   To upgrade to the latest version of WeBWorK do the following:
      cd /opt/webwork/webwork2

      cp htdocs/site_info.txt htdocs/site_info.txt.bak
      git pull
      cp htdocs/site_info.txt.bak htdocs/site_info.txt
      cd /opt/webwork/pg
      git pull
      sudo apachectl restart
      cd /opt/webwork/libraries/webwork-open-problem-library
      git pull
      /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin/OPL-update Some things to watch out for when running these commands
      • If you don't have standard locations, then alter the paths above.
      • If you are not using the master branch you may need to alter the git commands.  More information on using git to upgrade can be found here.
      • Depending on your distribution, restarting apache may require a different command
      • This works if you are upgrading from 2.8.  If you are upgrading from 2.7 or earlier you may also need to use check_modules and CPAN to install new modules, as well as upgrade your course databases.
      What's new?
      • System Updates
        • Added support for Apache 2.4
          • This includes internal changes to WeBWorK to support Apache 2.4 as well as a new configuration file, webwork-apache2.4-config, which should be used for Apache 2.4
          • Remember that you also need to use the new Apache 2.4 directives when setting up your server: MaxConnectionsPerChild in place of MaxRequestsPerChild, and MaxRequestWorkers in place of MaxClients.
        • Removed jsMath. This display method has been entirely superseded by MathJax
        • Added maketext calls to places where they are missing. This is the first step for localizing these strings. They now need to be translated.
        • Fixed depreciation warnings for Perl >5.16
      • General Interface Updates
        • Added an unsupported-themes folder and moved everything but math3 and math4 into that folder.
          • Newer pages assume things like the presence of jQuery or certain bootstrap elements. These are missing from old themes that haven't been kept up to date. Using these themes will cause unexpected results. You can re-enable them, at your own risk, by moving them from unsupported-themes back to themes.
        • Added LaTeX editing support for MathView. This has two uses.
          • If you enable MathView and use essay questions then MathView can be used to typeset LaTeX equations in an essay box.
          • If you set $options{PGMathView} = 1; in a config file (not available in the main course config page) it will make the MathView editor available for inserting LaTeX equations into the PG Editors
        • Cleaned up how MathView looks on small screens.
        • Cleaned up support for long set names. They still don't look great but they are better. (This includes allowing a lot of long set names to wrap. This is better than them overlapping other elements, but they can look weird if they are long names in a narrow area.)
        • Added a button which can collapse or expand the navigation bar on the left hand side of the page. The bar starts collapsed on phones and expanded otherwise.
        • Improved how the Problem Sets and Problem Set page are formatted. They have links instead of buttons for set names and problem numbers. The set names wont drop below the checkmark/radioboxs anymore.
        • Cleaned up the tables for the Homework Sets Editor and Classlist Editor. The select box in each is its own column, the select all feature has been moved to the table header. The select all, unselect all and clear buttons have been removed since they are not needed.
        • Cleaned up some other math4 display things, including removing extraneous buttons and removing extraneous button coloring.
      • Library Browser Updates
        • Fixed a bug where the Hide Problem button froze browsers when used on a problem with "More Like This". Also improved how Hide Problems and More Like This work together.
        • Added support to the OPL for cross-listing taxonomy in the library. Now things like "Vector Geometry" can appear in more than one subject.
      • Achievement Updates
        • Fixed Achievement Editor bugs, including errors on exporting and selections disappearing.
        • Changed achievement scoring so that dropped and audit students aren't scored. When you score achievements the success message contains a link to the scoring file.
      • Under the Hood Updates
        • Changed how Essay Answers works to speed things up. It no longer reports if you have problems that need grading on the Problem Grader links, but the pages load faster.
      • Homework Sets Editor Updates
        • Fixed a bug with the Datepicker and set names with a "." in them. Also improved how Datepicker works with the import date shift functionality.
          • Fun fact some of our strings get parsed so often that "." needs to be replaced with "\\\\\."
      • Classlist Editor Updates
        • Cleaned up the classlist table so that abbreviations for statuses aren't shown and the email address isn't shown. The actual status and a link to send an email are shown instead.
        • In ClassListEditor2 filtering on Permissions or Status now filters on the actual Permission or Status, not the code used to store those in the database.
      • Problem Editor Updates
        • Fixed a bug where "open in new window" sometimes didn’t open in a new window in PGProblemEditor2. Also made it so the "open in new window" checkbox is responsive to what you are selecting.
        • Upgraded PGProblemEditor2 so append works with gateway sets.
        • Added support for "Append" back to PGProblemEditor3.
        • Changed the behaviour of PGProblemEditor3 so that if you "Save As" or "Append" it will open the new file for editing instead of remaining on the old file.
      • PG Updates
        • Fixed a bug where applet based questions weren't working properly.
        • Fixed a bug with images in problems not having the right size in tables in IE.
        • Added a statistics macro and pcctables macro for pg to defaults.config.
        • Added some statistics functionality to PG, including more flexibility for Bernoulli variables and the ability to use arbitrary discrete probability distributions.
        • Added smarter fraction support to PG. Now toFraction now turns things like .33333 into 1/3 and not 33333/100000.
        • Added support to override arithmetic operators to distinguish between different forms of answers (
        • Added support for more accessible tables in PG using
        • Changed how MathJax is loaded by PG. It should be a little faster on pages loading a number of problems at the same time.
        • Upgraded PG to support the newest versions of Perl.
        • Improving how tables work in PG. Among the little improvements are how table headers work, how images work in tables, and accessibility concerns.
        • Fixed a bug with contextTypeset that was causing bugs when students used asciiMath formulas in Essay questions.
      What could possibly go wrong?
      • You can get a red warning error about using a theme which does not exist. You should go to Course Configuration and select either math3 or math4.
      • If you are upgrading from an older version you may need to update your course tables and install new modules.
      • If you don't also upgrade PG to the latest version you might not be able to have problems load correctly on the latest versions of Perl.
      Categories: Planet WeBWorK

      The Life of Code

      Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:53
      Yet another thing to come out of the recent WeBWorK::Asheville code camp was a crystallization of our development protocols.  We now have a more formal process for how code gets reviewed and integrated into the openwebwork repository.  In this blog post I will go through the process of creating, submitting, and eventually merging a feature into WeBWorK.  This is just an overview and will likely be out of date.  You can read up on the most current iteration here.

      Suppose we want to make a feature which adds a chat client to WeBWorK so students who are logged in at the same time can chat with each other.  You might think the first thing you need to do to create a new feature for WeBWorK would be to write some code.  In truth the process starts much earlier.  Before you can write code you need to have a good coding environment.  Of course, it all begins with a WeBWorK installation.  Your development installation should not be the same machine that you use for students as it will be unstable.  I recommend a virtual machine setup as described here.  Your setup can be whatever you would like it to be, however, as long as it is based off of git.

      Git is our source code management system with a central repository hosted by at this address.  If you don't already have one, you should sign up for an github account.  Next you need your own personal copy, or fork, of the openwebwork repository.  Go here and click the fork icon in the upper right hand side, and follow the instructions.  Now do the same thing for the pg repository here.  Now you need to link your github repository to your development machine.  If you used the installation script, the openwebwork repository is a remote on your development machine called origin.  The following code will add your personal repository as a remote called personal
      cd /opt/webwork/webwork2
      git remote add personal
      cd /opt/webwork/pg
      git remote add personal we have git setup and linked to our repository.  You can pull code from a repository using git pull remote-name branch-name and you can push code to a repository using git push remote-name branch-name.  You can check out what remote repositories you have setup using git remote -v and you can see what branches you have by using git branch -v.

      Be warned, git is an extremely flexible code management system, but it has a very steep learning curve.  Its quite easy to get yourself in a situation where you have to start over because you messed up your commits or your branches.  If you haven't used git before I recommend trying out the interactive tutorial here.   You should also feel free to ask questions, either on the forum or the freenode #webwork channel. 

      You might think we could start coding, but we have another decision to make first.  All new WeBWorK features should go in their own "feature branch".  You (almost) never make commits directly to one of the openwebwork branches.  Furethermore, different features should go into different branches so they can be kept separate until they are merged into the main code.  So my chat feature will go into a branch which I will call studentchat.  However, before I can create that branch I need to choose where I want the feature to end up.  There are generally three choices.
      • master:  The master branch always represents the current release.  You should only target a feature for this branch if you are making a small fix for an important bug.
      • release/x.y: This branch contains the beta version of the next WeBWorK release.  It is primarily used for testing and bugfixing purposes. In particular feature branches should only target this branch if they are fixing bugs for an upcoming release, or if they add a feature which is either superficial or has little chance of breaking anything.
      • develop:  The develop branch is where we generally collect new features. Features are only merged into this branch when they are more or less done, which means that develop should be relatively stable.  Anything that is merged into develop represents something that will be included in the next release branch.  In development terms this means your feature has to be out of "alpha" and well into "beta". Most developers should base their feature branches off of develop.
      My chat feature is a reasonably substantial addition so I will be aiming to get it included into develop.  If you are unsure about what you should target either go with develop or ask someone.  Now that I have decided where my branch is going I can create it as follows
        git checkout -b studentchat origin/developIf I wanted to target release/x.y I would change origin/develop to origin/release/x.y  Because we make this choice at the time we create the feature branch, we have to have a good idea of where our feature will end up before we even start writing it.

        Note:  With rare exception, branches created or "branched" from a certain branch have to be merged back into that same branch.   So this studentchat feature branch could only be merged into develop.  Sometimes you decide that you targeted the wrong branch after you have already started on your feature.  In this case you can use the following command to move your changes from, say, develop, to release/x.y
        git rebase --onto release/x.y develop studentchatWhew! And all of that before we even wrote our first line of code.  We are at the good part now, though.  We can start implementing our chat client.  In addition to practicing good code techniques, like integrating and using existing code, striving for consistency, and being security conscious, we should do the following:
        1. Commit often with git commit -a, but only commit changes that are relevant to the feature you are implementing.  
          • If you end up finding a bug, don't just fix it as part of the feature branch.  Use git stash to stash your current changes, switch to a new branch (maybe one based off of release/x.y) and fix the bug there.  Commit the changes to that branch, then switch back to your feature branch and pick up where you left off with git stash pop.  
        2. Pull often with git pull origin develop, fixing conflicts if necessary.  Only pull from the branch you are targeting.  
          • If you based a branch off of develop then the safest thing to do is to only ever pull develop into your feature branch.  There are situations where its OK to pull other branches, even other feature branches, into your feature branch, but its almost always more trouble than its worth. 
        A well disciplined work flow might look something like this:
        code for chat feature
        git commit -a
        git pull origin develop
        fix conflicts
        git commit -a
        write more code, but find a bug
        git stash
        git checkout -b bugfix origin/release/x.y
        fix bug
        git commit -a
        git push personal bugfix
        git checkout studentchat
        git stash pop
        write more code for chat client
        git commit -a
        and so on ... Note:  If your feature requires you to change code in pg then you will need to create a separate branch in pg for your changes there.  This is because pg and webwork2 are two different git repositories.  As a result, if you are writing code for both the you will need to have two branches and, eventually, two separate pull requests.  On the other hand, if you are only changing pg code then you don't have to make a branch for webwork2.

        Eventually you will be done with your feature.  Of course, by done I mean you have finished writing your feature and you have tested it.  Remember, even code that is submitted to develop should be out of alpha and well into beta.  There are four types of testing which you should be aware of:
        • Ad Hoc Testing: This is the most common type of testing and just involves using your code for a while and seeing if anything breaks. This is a good first step but is not sufficient.
        • Black Box Testing: This is where you systematically go through and test the functionality of your feature. Click on everything that can be clicked and make sure it does what it is supposed to do. For very small features or bug fixes this can be sufficient. 
        • White Box Testing: This is where you test the code itself. First, click the green "Compare, Review, and Create a Pull Request" button on your personal github repository. Use the edit button to select your feature branch and its target branch. This will show you a list of changes between your feature branch and its target. Go through change by change and for each perform an action in WeBWorK which causes the code changes to be run. Check that the results are what you expect them to be. This level of testing is needed for any sizable feature, or any code which impacts core WeBWorK functionality. 
        • Regression Testing: This is the longest and most thorough type of testing. It involves checking to see that the code you wrote didn't introduce bugs into previously working code. Some of this is done at the same time as you are doing the Black Box or White Box testing, and for many things full scale regression testing is impractical. However if you need to do this level of testing then go to the Testing Checklist and start going through the list, one item at a time, adding new items as necessary, and fixing any bugs you come across. 
        So lets suppose we have written and tested (white box and black box) our chat feature.  Now we let the little bird out of its nest into the open world.  Its time to create a pull request.
        1. Make sure your feature branch can be merged cleanly. In other words, pull it's target branch, fix any conflicts, commit the results, and push to your git repository.
        2. Go to the webwork2 repository page in your personal github account, select your feature branch from the branch dropdown and click the green button.
        3. Click "Edit" on the pull request bar and change the base of openwebwork/webwork2 to the target branch for your feature.   In our case we would use develop.   
        4. Review your pull request. In particular take a close look at the file changes.
          • Are all of the changes relevant to your feature? Did anything unexpected sneak in?
          • Do you have any "configuration" changes or changes with hard-coded path? Any site specific code?
          • Are there a reasonable number of changes? 
          • Will it be easy for a reviewer to look over your submission?
        5. Pick a title for your pull request and write a description. You should describe the major changes included in the pull request as well as fairly detailed instructions on how to test to see if the changes are working. The better your description is and the clearer your instructions are the more likely someone will be able to test and merge your pull request in a timely manner.
        6. Double check that the pull request is for the correct branch and submit. 
        One your pull request is submitted all you can do is wait.  In general it can take days for someone to get back to you about it, and it can be even longer during finals or midterms.  Eventually someone will get back to you, though, and the review process begins.  This is a little like the review process for publishing a paper, with faster turnaround (hopefully!).  The person reviewing your pull request will start by posting a message with any questions or issues or bugs that they have come across.  Don't be disheartened if they have a lot of concerns.  Testing code is like proofreading; other people are always going to find things you missed.  Next you address the reviewers questions, fix any bugs and consider making any other changes you need to make.  When you make changes, commit the result, and then push the branch to your personal github repository the pull request will automatically update with the latest changes.  There is no need to submit a new pull request.  The reviewer can then take a look at the latest version and the cycle will repeat itself over and over.... (sometimes for months).  Eventually, after hard work and patience, the feature will be polished enough that the reviewer will merge the pull request into its target branch.  Once this happens you can delete your feature branch
        git branch -D studentchatCongratulations!  Your code is part of WeBWorK now.   If you end up having to make any changes to it (and you almost certainly will) you will need to do so on a new feature branch, starting the whole process over again.  (This is not strictly speaking true, but it is the safest practice.)

        Categories: Planet WeBWorK

        Just-In-Time: Adaptive Homework

        Fri, 06/06/2014 - 19:10
        Another project that I have been working on for the past couple months is a brand new type of assignment which will eventually join traditional Homework Sets and Gateway Quizzes in WeBWorK.  This new set type is called Just-In-Time and is a kind of adaptive homework; different students will experience the set differently depending on their performance.  However, the usual idea behind adaptive homework is that the homework system will analyze a student's performance and generate or select problems based off of how well they are doing.  Just-In-Time sets work a little differently. For Just-In-Time sets all students will have the same basic set of problems, but if they have trouble they will be given additional problems which will provide "just in time" review of the important concepts.  Below I'll present an example of what a Just-In-Time set might look like and will also talk about how these sets can be built in WeBWorK.  Note:  This feature is currently experimental.  Get in touch with me via email if you are interested in trying it out. 

        Lets suppose we are a student starting a Just-In-Time type homework set that is intended to bring us up to speed on some common integration techniques.  When a student starts the set they will see something like this.
        One of the options for Just-In-Time sets is to restrict problem progression so that students are forced to do their problems in the order presented.  Here Problem 1 is a u-substitution problem for which the student has 4 attempts.  If they are able to solve the problem within the given number of attempts then Problem 2 will open up and they will move on.  If they do not get the right answer after 4 attempts they will need to do some review. 
        In this case the student has not successfully solved the problem.  They are then notified about the fact that this problem has open sub-problems and that they may be able to salvage their grade by getting Problem 1.4 correct.  Of course, they will have work to do before they get to 1.4!  In particular if the student hits "Next" or goes to the main problem set page they will see that there are now four new problems, 1.1 through 1.4, which they did not previously have access to.  These problems will provide review and practice, and then allow the student to retry a problem similar to the original.

        This review is not automatically generated or anything like that, it must be created by the course instructor.  However it can be done using the standard PG techniques already in place.  For example Problem 1.1 is a video review of u-stubstitution delivered via YouTube.
        Notice we ask a simple question at the end to make sure the student watched the video since we are preventing them from proceeding until they get this problem right.  Once they watch the video, Problem 1.2 presents them with an easy substitution problem, which has unlimited attempts.  For this problem the ShowMeAnother feature has been enabled.  So if a student gets the problem wrong often enough they will have the option to see a different version of the same problem, but with the solution available for study.
        The next problem, number 1.3, presents a practice trig u-sub problem for the student to work on.  While a student does have unlimited attempts on this problem, after they get it wrong 3 times they will be given access to 1.3.1.  Problem 1.3.1 has some basic trig derivatives and is further review for those who need it.  However, even if they solve 1.3.1 and practice their trig, the student will still need to go back and do Problem 1.3.  If they are able to solve 1.3 without any trouble then Problem 1.3.1 will never appear.

        After finally solving 1.3 the student will then get 4 attempts to solve Problem 1.4 which is similar to, but not the same as, Problem 1.  If they get Problem 1.4 correct then their grade for Problem 1 will be recorded as 100% in the gradebook.  If they get it wrong, and if this feature is enabled, then the instructor will be sent an email letting them know that this student was unable to successfully complete Problem 1, even after going through the review sequence.

        Whew!  And this is all for Problem 1.  Problems 2 through 4 would contain similar review structures for other integration techniques which would be unlocked only when students are unable to finish the problem, or after a certain number of attempts.  Their final grade for the assignment will be their adjusted status on Problems 1 through 4.  That is, for each problem their score will be the larger of their score for that problem and their average score from the child problems which count for that problem.  The set score is created from that.

        Where do all of these problems come from, you might wonder.  As you might guess, setting up a Just-In-Time set is significantly more work than setting up a regular homework set.  Even an assignment with only 5 top level problems might be expected to have 20 or more child problems to serve as review.  What's more these problems have to work together well and many, like the video tutorial, are unlikely to be found in the OPL.  That being said, problems in Just-In-Time sets are written using PG, just like any problem, so anyone familiar with (or interested in) problem authoring can jump right in.   In general adding problems to Just-In-Time sets is done the same as it is for regular or gateway sets. You add problems using the library browser, or the problem editors, or the "add blank problems" field as you normally would. New problems are always added to the end of the set as a new top level problem, so you will most likely have to reorder them after you add them.  Furthermore importing, exporting and assigning homework sets can all be done using the Homework Sets Editor 2 page, just like any other assignment.

        One new tool which has been created for Just-In-Time sets is the Problem Set Detail 2 page.  This can be found by visiting a homework set and then clicking the link on the left hand navigation bar that looks like --Set Name.  You should end up at a page which looks like this.

        (Notice the link on the left.)  This portion of the page should look pretty familiar. You set parameters here as you normally would.  Just like any set remember that you have to Save your changes for them to take affect.  The main differences are how you order problems. The problem section of the page looks like this.
        Notice the nesting in the problem list. This, together with the problem numbers, should indicate the child-parent relationship between the problems. Because just-in-time type sets can have so many problems you can simplify things by clicking the - icon to hide the children of a particular problem and you can click the + icon to show the children of a particular problem. This is very similar to how viewing a directory structure in list mode works.  You can expand or collapse all of the child problems by using the buttons at the top.

        To reorder, you drag a problem by clicking on the arrow icon.  When you move a problem you will be shown a little preview box indicating where the problem will go.  You can change whether a problem is a child or not by dragging the problem slightly to the right or left.  (When you do so the preview box should become indented.)  If you delete a problem there may be gaps in your numbers. This is good if you delete something while a set is active (not recommended) but otherwise you can renumber the problems consecutively using the Renumber button.

        Another big difference between this and the original Problem Set Detail page is how problems are rendered.   In this editor you click the picture icon near the problem number to render a problem. If you click it again it will hide the problem. The method used to render the problem is determined by the drop down box near the top.  If you want to render all of the problems at the same time you can use the button at the top of the list. Be warned this will take up a lot of vertical space.  Put together, on the fly rendering and the expand collapse feature should make it so that you can focus on one review sequence at a time.  You can read more about how to set up Just-In-Time sets here.  Below I will present some of the parameters associated to Just-In-Time sets.  
        Set OptionsThese are the set wide options specific to this type of homework. Many of the other set wide options, such as due date, open date and answer date, will be present. If conditional release and/or reduced credit is enabled then these configuration options will also be present.
        Restrict Problem Progression 
        This option controls whether students are allowed to proceed to the next parent problem before finishing the current problem, including the current problem’s children if necessary. Note: A student "finishes" a problem if they either get 100% or runs out of attempts.
        Email Notification 
        When this option is enabled all instructors set to receive feedback emails will be sent a notification when a student finishes a problem, e.g. runs out of attempts on a problem, and all child problems which count for that problem's score, and do not have an adjusted status of 100%. This is to let the instructor know that the review for that problem was unsuccessful.
        Problem OptionsThese are options for individual problems. The usual problem variables, such as weight and max attempts, will be present as well.
        Att. to Open Children 
        This controls how many incorrect attempts are needed before the child problems for this problem become visible to a student. If this is set to 0 then child problems are always visible. If this is set to -1 or a number higher than max attempts then the child problems will become visible after a student runs out of attempts. If this is set to -1 and max attempts is set to unlimited then the child problems will never be open.
        Counts For Parent 
        This controls whether this problem's score counts towards the score of its parent. In general the adjusted status of a problem is the larger of its status and the weighted average of the status of its child problems with this flag enabled.
        While it may not be as fancy as an adaptive system which chooses new problems based on a computer algorithm, this just-in-time assignment type is extremely flexible.  Instructors should be able to make use of the tree structure, as well as the fact that they can control when and how students have access to the homework problems, to do some interesting things.  I know my students would appreciate a short tutorial on the log rules next time we do logarithmic differentiation!
        Categories: Planet WeBWorK

        Automated Install

        Fri, 05/30/2014 - 07:57
        Its been a while since my last post.  However the semester ended a couple of weeks ago and summer is here, which means that I can get more WeBWorK stuff done.  I'm going to put up a number of posts over the next several months.  A lot of what I will talk about was spurred by the recent code camp at Asheville, hosted by Western Carolina University.  You can read more about that here.

        In this post I will be discussing recent strides that were made with the automated WeBWorK install script, ww_install, recently developed by Jason Aubrey.  I'll talk about what improvements we made and walk you through the installation process.

        First off, ww_install is an automated installation script that is meant to get a vanilla WeBWorK server running on a fresh linux installation with as little fuss as possible.  It is ideal for those interested in trying WeBWorK out using a virtual machine, or doing development on multiple machines.  It is also good for initially setting up production machines.  Be aware, however, that most production machines will require manual configuration to set up things like SSL, or alternative authentication methods, or an email server, and so on.

        This script was actually developed a little while ago by Jason Aubrey can be found at this github repository.  The current master branch on that repository supports the current WeBWorK master branch.  Neither it, nor the WeBWorK master branch, support Apache version 2.4, however.  (The 2.4 version comes standard with the newest editions of Ubuntu and Fedora.)  One of the main improvements we made to the install script during the code camp was to upgrade the installer to handle WeBWorK branches release/2.9 and develop, both of which do offer Apache 2.4 support.  (Another big improvement is a surprise!  Scroll to the end to see what it is...)

        As of now the most recent branch of the installer, named ww3, supports the following distributions:
        • Debian 7 - Wheezy
        • Ubuntu 14.04 - Trusty Tahr
        • CentOS 6 - <No Cute Name>
        • Fedora 20 - Heisenburg
        This reflects the general policy of WeBWorK moving forward.  We will concentrate on supporting the stable Debian version, the current CentOS version (and the equivalent RedHat), Ubuntu Long Term Support Versions, and (recent-ish) Fedora versions.    While we will not promise that things should work on the most recent Ubuntu or Fedora versions all the time, we do want people to let us know when something goes wrong.  Problems with those distributions will become problems for the officially supported distributions sooner rather than later. 
        So lets get to the good stuff.  I'm going to walk you through the process of installing a WeBWorK server on a virtual machine.  Start by installing your favorite (supported) linux distribution...In this example we will be installing Debian onto a VirtualBox virtual machine.   While you can install the full version of Debian, for virtual machines I recommend working with a smaller set of features.Here I am only installing an SSH server and the standard system utilities.  I am not setting up a desktop environment.  You can run a desktop environment through the virtual machine but it slows things down.  I prefer to set up port forwarding so that I can use the host machine's terminal and browser, which are generally more responsive.  Next set up your initial user.  I recommend using wwadmin but you can use whatever user you like, even root.  Now I set up port forwarding.  Here I am forwarding port 2222 to 22 on the guest machine, and 8888 to 80 on the guest machine so that I can access ssh and apache.  (Using this setup you can even access your WeBWorK installation remotely from another machine via ssh tunnelling.)  Once the installation is finished (it should be pretty quick with this few packages) start your virtual machine (you can even do so in headless mode using VBoxHeadless) and log into it using a terminal on the host machine withssh -p 2222 wwadmin@localhost Now you will want to get the installation script and run it.  Notice that we get the script from the ww3 branch, since that contains the latest changes.  (Eventually ww3 will be merged into master and you will just get that branch.)  
        wget --no-check-config \
        sudo bash Of course, there is a corresponding curl command which you can use to get the file.  Now you wait while the script installs all of the necessary prerequisites.
        • You will be asked to configure your mysqul server
        • It may look like the script has stalled while installing perl modules.  This may be because the script is asking you a question but you can't see the prompt.  When in doubt ... just press Enter.
        Eventually you will get through the installation process and the real fun begins.

        The installation script will ask you a bunch of questions.  Things like:  "Where do you want to install WeBWorK?", "What is the URL of this site?", "Do you want to create a WeBWorK administrator account, or does one already exist?"  You should always read the prompts, but its also usually safe to just press enter.  There will always be a confirmation prompt and the default settings are usually pretty good.  The only time you will absolutely have to provide input is when you are creating the database.  Here you will be asked for the mysql root user password, and to set the WeBWorK database password.  Note:  On some terminals the prompts can be cut off.  Again, just press Enter if you are in doubt.  After this is done, the script will ask where you want to fetch the WeBWorK code from (you should choose the defaults), and will get to work.  Some parts of this can take a long time....
        Once you are done with the installation, hopefully it finished without errors, you can find the installation log in your root WeBWorK directory.  Usually this is /opt/webwork/webwork_install.log.  This log is a pretty extensive list of everything that the installer script did.  Its useful to keep around so that you can troubleshoot a broken installation, or just modify it so that it suits your needs better.  If the install fails for any reason feel free to post your issue here or ask your question on the forums or the irc channel.  

        If the installation succeeded you should be able to access your server by visiting http://localhost:8888/webwork2 on your host machine's browser. 
        And now for the surprise (you didn't peek did you...).  By default this version of the installation script installs the new prototype interface WeBWorK3.  You can try it out by visiting the WeBWorK3 link on the left hand side of the page.  You should end up at something which looks like this: 
        While its still in the early stages, one of the main features of this new interface is that it is responsive.  No more form based "submit my changes" editor pages.  This interface records your changes as you make them, making it feel much more interactive.  Its not feature complete yet, but a lot of the big things are there.  You can read about the technical side of things here and if you run into problems you can visit the WeBWorK irc channel or email Peter Staab, the main developer.  If you want to back out of the (maybe slightly unstable) ww3 branch you can do so very easily using git.  Just use the command
        git checkout release/2.9in your main webwork2 directory, probably /opt/webwork/webwork2.  Note: release/2.9 will be merged into develop sometime over the summer, as will the ww3 branch of ww_install, so these instructions may get slightly out of date.  

        Categories: Planet WeBWorK

        Past Answers

        Wed, 10/30/2013 - 12:05
        Its been a while since I've written something here, so I thought I would make a short post about a WeBWorK page which has always surprised me because of how much it is used.  I am talking about the Answer Log page.  After the jump I'll show off some improvements we have made to the Answer Log which will be arriving in the upcoming 2.8 release.

        Instructors have always been able to get to the answer log page by following the "Show Past Answers" link at the bottom of any problem page.  Something which is less well known is that instructors can make it so that students can also see past answers.  This is done by setting "Allowed to view past answers" to "student" on the Permissions section of the Course Configuration page.    When instructors view the past answers page it will now look something like this:
        The form at the top is to allow instructors to view answers for any student and any homework set.  The problems are colored according to correctness and now they are also formatted using the AsciiMath functionality of MathJax.  This should improve the readability of the past answers page.  It's important to note that when students look at the page they will not have the ability to view other students answers, and the answers will not be colored by correctness.  Another couple of readability features (in math4 at least) are the striped table rows (since the past answer rows can get very wide) and the extra bold bars which separate answers whose difference in submission times is greater than the WeBWorK timeout time.  The page also looks reasonably good when mixed with essay answers:
        The one caveat is that if students are "creative" in how they typeset their mathematics in essay answers, MathJax may not render things correctly.

        The final new feature, which will only be helpful to instructors, is that the answer log form now supports a variety of regular expressions:
        For the User and Set field you may use the following:

        • * - this wildcard can stand for any number of characters.
        • ? - this wildcard can stand for one character. 
        • | - this is an or statement.  Its mostly useful for comparing the answers of two students. 
        For the problem field you can use comma separated lists of numbers or number ranges.  Be warned, doing a very broad search (like User: * and Set: * and Problem: 1-1000) can return a great many past answer entries.

        Categories: Planet WeBWorK


        Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:26
        Its been a while since my last post, so I wanted to fill the space by writing something about a side project I've been working on.  Its an upgrade to the existing mathview equation editor.  The main features are bootstrap integration, real time equation rendering, and autocompletion of common functions.  Hit the jump to see more.

        The main change from the existing mathview program is the integration with bootstrap and with mathjax.  The mathview feature will only work with bootstrap enabled themes (math3 and math4) and mathjax has to be installed on the server.  Under these conditions you will be presented with a Use Mathview? option in the Display Options sidebar.  When enabled, inputs for problems will have an button attached to them as shown below.
        If you click on the icon the Equation Editor (i.e. mathview) will pop up.  At this point you have several options.

        • You can type your answer directly into the answer box.  The result will be rendered in real time in the Equation Editor preview area. (See image below)..  
        • You can click one of the functions and have it inserted into the answer box.  You can also browse the available function categories using the Operations drop down.  
        • You can drag the equation editor out of the way to a more suitable location.

        Put together, all of this basically replicates the older mathview functionality.  There are a couple of new features, however.  The most obvious is the autocompletion of functions.  Now when you are typing an answer and you write, say, "co", you will be presented with a list of standard functions which start with "co", as shown below.
        You can then select which function you want with the arrow keys and hit enter to complete the function in the input bar.  This is nice because it helps remind people what functions are available and also keeps the browser from populating the list with previous answers like it usually does.

        The second new feature is behind the scenes.  Since there are a lot of different standards for mathematical notation ( e.g. arcsin vs sin^(-1) ), the new mathview is locale ready.  By setting the option ${pg}{options}{mathViewLocale} you can use a different locale js file.  I won't describe the contents of this file here, but it allows the administrator to change which functions are displayed, what the categories are, what the names are, what functions can be autocompleted, what the notation is, and so on.  This can be set on a per class basis using the course config files, although the system administrator will have to make sure the appropriate locale js files actually exist.

        Categories: Planet WeBWorK


        Fri, 06/07/2013 - 19:58
        Hello everyone.  Another code camp has come and gone and I wanted to write a bit about what I helped out with at Ann Arbor.  My time was, to a large extent, split between three things:  continuing to polish and upgrade the math4 theme, designing the basic objects that will form the core of the next WeBWorK (or WeBWorK::Brewery as it is currently called), and finally prototyping a brand new addition to the achievement system. 

        With math4, the biggest issue was getting the most frequently used pages of WeBWorK to validate as html5 when in the math4 theme.  This includes all of the pages that students can see, including the login/logout page, grades, achievements, Problem Sets, Problems, the Problem page and the Gateway Quiz page.   These pages should render more consistently across a wider array of devices and if you plug their html into the w3c validator you get a green bar which is not dissimilar to our own green bar.

          In addition to working on validation, I also put more twitter bootstrap scaffolding into the system.template file.  This will also help the pages render more consistently and allows us to use the bootstrap "responsive" functionality to make WeBWorK look better on phones.  For example, you can see below that when you use a phone to view WeBWorK the page layout is much more vertical and the side navigation bar is hidden.

        One additional tweak worth mentioning is the new "Description" field for sets.  This can be edited on the Set Detail page (the page where you can define the set headers).  If you add a description to the text box and save, then it will appear as a tooltip whenever you hover over the set name on either the main Set List page or the HomeworkSetsEditor2 page.  This means that you can now use shorter set names, which look much better, while also having the ability to present a lengthier description of the set in a way that doesn't take up screen space. 

        Moving on to the second project, I won't say much here about the results of our database discussion.  That is covered much more thoroughly in David Gage's blog post here and here.  I will mention that the notions of problem pools (a collection of problems from which each student will be assigned a random problem with a random seed) and teams/groups of students are core structures in the new database.  Also the system is intended to be modular enough that (eventually) administrators will be able to choose between several different types of database back-ends when they install WeBWorK.  The general vision is that the database back-end, the WeBWorK code, the PG code, and the web front-end will all be able to function relatively independently of each other and could at some point all be swapped out for alternatives.  The last thing I did was throw together a rough prototype of a new MathPets feature (too rough to show here).  The basic idea is that each student will have a little animated "MathPet" that lives at the bottom of the Problem page (and may eventually travel to other pages).  When they get a problem right or earn an achievement it "feeds" their MathPet and it will grow a little.  On the other hand, if they miss a homework set their pet becomes sad and may get sick.  Every time they earn a level (or at certain levels) their math pet will evolve into a different type of pet (and maybe even into one of several different options).  I think this idea is a lot of fun, but unfortunately it is one of those things which is really sold on the graphics.  While the code for this feature isn't too terrible, my artistic ability is minimal at best.  I will need help if I'm going to realize the full potential of this idea.  So if this feature sounds interesting to you, and you are or know of a good graphics designer that's willing to work on the cheap (i.e. free) be sure to let me know!
        Categories: Planet WeBWorK