WebAssign: Study tool or stress monger?

Lindsay Williams, Online editor

Every year at Homecoming, underclassmen tease the seniors by chanting “NOVA.” The seniors’ response is indicative of the most dreaded part of junior year: WebAssign.

WebAssign was developed by the University of North Carolina as a study tool so that students can do their homework online. Currently, there are 1,900 educational institutions that use WebAssign, with over 500,000 students using the program. The policy for Jefferson physics classes is the students receive three tries to get full credit on each physics problem, and two more tries for partial credit. WebAssign is worth 7 percent of the final grade in physics at Jefferson, but that doesn’t include the 13 percent that is represented by homework quizzes based on WebAssign.

The problem with WebAssign is that it’s much harder than the quizzes or tests. This does make it good preparation, but because of the difficulty and length of the problems, points for accuracy, and limited tries, these homework assignments have turned into the most stressful part of the week for most juniors. All of the blood, sweat and tears that juniors put in don’t really pay off in terms of final grades because WebAssign only counts for 7 percent.

Another problem is the way students often seek out help to handle particularly stressed WebAssign. After two wrong answers, many students feel backed into the corner of Google Docs and Yahoo Answers. This doesn’t help students learn anything, unlike traditional homework.

The physics department uses WebAssign to give students a homework grade instantaneously and reduce the amount of grading teachers have to do. But the point of homework is that it allows students to practice the concepts they learn, not that it tests those concepts immediately. Having homework assignments with less difficult problems or infinite tries would allow students to initially learn the concepts without the massive stress that due to a Jefferson schedule, inevitably comes on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Another downfall of WebAssign is the fact that it is fill in the blank. On tests, it’s easy to forget how to format the answers because we only practice the numbers, not the formatting of the answers and the units that accompany them.

However, some of the problems are hilarious, adding humor to an otherwise stenous mental load. This year, physics students were kidnapped by angry political science majors and dealt with drowsy cats and startled armadillos, while many members of the class of 2014 dealt with problems adapted from the science fiction world of “Star Wars.”

But despite such little perks, there is nothing funny about those little red “X’s.”

Click HERE to see the Do’s and Don’ts of WebAssign.