Introduction to the Homework Service
The Homework Service is a free on-line service available for physics, calculus, precalculus, chemistry, and physical science teachers through The University of Texas at Austin. The service offers FREE access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (Minimal connect time and some printing constitute the only cost). Teachers can use the Service to assign pedagogically sound and thought-provoking homework problems. The Homework Service uses the Internet to deliver unique problems (different parameter values) to students. Students submit answers on-line for the Homework Service to grade. Students receive immediate right/wrong feedback and a chance to resubmit answers for a penalty after reworking the problems. The Service also maintains student records for teachers. Teachers can choose from conceptual, multiple choice, and algorithmic (requiring numeric answers) problems. Teachers can select the mathematical difficulty level from algebra-based, trig-based, and calculus-based problems. The Service provides problems appropriate for introductory college classes and high school classes of all levels. AP Physics B and AP Physics C problems are included among the 4500 physics problems available on-line. The Homework Service can be used to create tests that can either be printed or administered on-line.
This service is similar to assigning homework from the problems at the end of a chapter in your textbook. Students work quality problems. The time consuming duties of "working solutions", "grading", and "bookkeeping" are automated. Teachers have more time to interact with students on a one-on-one basis. Students have the opportunity to learn independently and from one another.
There are two sides to the Homework Service--the student side located at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu and the faculty side located at http://hw.ph.texas.edu/fm.html. Student instructions are available at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/studentInstructions.html and faculty instructions are available at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/insInst.html.
The Homework Service hardware and software are available and have been functioning since 1992. There is adequate technical support in place. Down time due to hardware failure of the Homework Service computers is rare. Network bandwidth and browser caching have (on occasion) caused irritations.
Using the service requires Internet access and Adobe's Acrobat Reader for Portable Document Files (".pdf") or Alladin's GhostScript for PostScript Files (".ps").
Description of the Homework Service
The University of Texas at Austin provides an Internet-based Interactive Homework Service for physics and mathematics classes. This system is used 24 hours a day for homework and exams at the University of Texas at Austin, in other colleges, and in high schools. Instructions and documentation are on-line. There is no cost.
Problems in textbooks usually are single-shot questions and pedagogically oversimplified. Well-designed Homework Service problems usually have several related questions (parts). These multiple part problems can be used to lead the student through the thinking process and help implant the concepts being taught in the studentís mind. The Homework Service delivers unique, algorithm-based problems, where each student receives a version different from the versions given to other students. Since the parameters printed in each question differ, the answers differ from version to version. Problem banks undergo continuous upgrading and expansion. Teachers are provided file access to develop and edit problems in the banks. Though the problem banks are based and maintained at UT Austin, editing and developing problems is done on the Internet.
Students logon to print their homework and logoff. They work their homework and then reconnect to submit answers, obtaining immediate right/wrong feedback and a chance to resubmit answers when incorrect. This quick grading feedback promotes effective learning. Students are free to seek help (usually from other students or the teacher) before retrying the question or proceeding to the next part of the problem. This interactive method generates homework grades consistently higher than conventionally graded homework. An appreciable consequence is that higher scores on homework are correlated with higher exam grades.
After the "due time" students can again download their homework which includes explanations to their individualized problems. Instructors' versions always include explanations to problems. Connect time is minimal.
The Homework Service keeps a log and scoring record for each student, with grades and a semester summary posted on the Internet. Access is password protected. A student may access his/her scoring record at any time. Statistical plots of homework scores are updated daily.
Instructors select problems and then let the Homework Service do the delivery, grading, and bookkeeping, all under their control. Homework Service books let teachers identify problems (from the inventoried problem banks) to be used in assignments. These optional books can be downloaded and printed.
Functionality of the Homework Service
Teachers who learn to use the system are freed from tedious grading and record keeping. When they use the system, students enjoy the attributes of immediate access and feedback, which supports more effective and better learning.
In a college or high school where one or more instructors have several sections of the same class, the Homework Service enables students to be assigned common homework problems. Each class covers the same material; therefore, by making the homework common to all classes (by importing the selection of the problems for an assignment), the workload for each instructor is significantly reduced. Since the Homework Service handles each class separately, each instructor can make alterations to a common homework. A small effort in developing and selecting assignments can reduce the out-of-classroom workload for other teachers. Furthermore, teachers can compare their class performance to that in other classes.
The Homework Service is an ideal solution to the problem of grading Distance Learning assignments.
The Homework Service's method of delivering and scoring homework will help justify technology expenditures in schools, since internet access and personal computers are critical to its implementation.
There is a problem with some selection lists using Microsoft's Internet Explorer as your browser under both Windows95 and WindowsNT. This problem does not occur with using Netscape Communicator as your browser.
Output from the Homework Service is in either a pdf or ps format. These can be downloaded and installed (one or both) as a plugin or helper application to view and print the downloaded files from the Homework Service. Downloading instructions are on the appropriate Web page. Installation occurs when first opening a document of the appropriate type. Adobe's Acrobat Reader for Portable Document Files (".pdf") is the easiest to download and install as a plugin or as a helper application. The advantages of using this format are that downloaded pdf files are much smaller than ps files and download time is much faster. Several of the Aladdin's GhostScript for PostScript Files (".ps") must be downloaded and unzipped in order to install GhostScript as a plugin or helper application. When printing a ps file, you can browse anywhere on the Internet while the program sets up the print job. Also, screen output is more legible when using ps files.
The faculty side of the Homework Service is located at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/fm.html with faculty instructions located at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/instInst.html.
Create a Course
To create a course, go to http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/hw.html and fill out the form. The following information is required:
In a few days, you will receive email confirmation for the activation of the class.
Get Copies of the Problems
Both a Table of Contents and problems sorted by chapter can be downloaded from the Homework Service. The problems are available one section or one chapter at a time. They can be downloaded in either pdf or ps format via the URL http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/bur/hwBook.html. The problems are identified by filename and ordered according to the Table of Contents.
The books contain problems available for homework assignments. A printed copy is useful when choosing problems for assignments, but not necessary since you can look up problems on the Internet. Newly created problems are not available in the Homework Books, since the books are updated at irregular intervals.
If you are using or considering the use of a Saunders Publishing Company textbook or a Steck Vaughn Publishing Company textbook, you may call Harcourt Brace Publishing, 1 (800) 237-2665 select college, select desk copy, and ask for a copy of the Homework Service Book (instead of downloading and printing the files).
Create an Assignment
Login at the faculty side of the Homework Service located at http://hw.ph.utexas.edu/fm.html. Make a bookmark to the site or mark it as a favorite. Type the class password and the 5 digit unique number created for the class and select OK to login.
If this is your first login to the Homework Service you must first click the 2.7 - set up grading button. You can return to this page at any time and make modifications. Instructions are given to fill in your grading table. In the grading table specify the categories of assignments (e.g. homework, exams, final, and/or attendance). Type an abbreviation for each category in the table. Specify the sources of grades that the Service will monitor and manipulate from one of the three options listed. State the number of assignments planned for the semester. You can also instruct the Service to drop grades (e.g. drop the two lowest grades). You must also give a percentage weight for each category. The settings on this page can be changed at a later time. If you only intend to use the Service for homework problems and 20 homework assignments are sufficient, click the OK button at the top left hand corner of this page and proceed. Once the grading guidelines are devised, you may use the Back arrow button to return to the Faculty Menu.
Click button 1.1 - create an assignment
Click the Back button on your browser menu seven times to return to the Faculty Menu Page.