Happy Halloween from WebAssign!

Save some room for Pumpkin Pi!

Halloween Special: Haunted Labs

In place of the usual Friday joke, I wanted to share with you a few ways that science professors are spicing up their regular lab experiments to get in the holiday spirit. Here are  some ideas using simple chemistry or physics to get the desired spooky effect.

One favorite is the Pumpkin Pendulum:

Key Concept

Conservation of Energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another.

Teacher’s Instructions

A pendulum with a pumpkin as a bob is used to demonstrate the conservation of energy. The pumpkin is supported from the ceiling with a rope. A volunteer stands with back against the wall. The pumpkin is brought back to the volunteer’s nose and then released. The trick is to remain motionless with your eyes open as the pumpkin first swings away and then returns.

Student Instructions

With your back against the wall, hold the pumpkin so that it just touches the tip of your nose. Now with your eyes wide open, release the pumpkin and wait for it to return.

You can find this and more Halloween-themed labs such as the Pumpkin Pendulum and Green Slime at the following links:

Haunted Labs 1

Haunted Labs 2

Haunted Labs 3

Meet our Visioneers: Matt Kohlmyer

As part of WebAssign’s increased focus on becoming more customer-centric, we have created an outstanding team of Visioneers.  This group is comprised of experts in the field of chemistry, physics, math, and user experience and design who will work to direct the focus of our product so our customers get the best experience possible.  We are very excited to have them as part of the WebAssign team and will be introducing them over the next few weeks.

This week’s spotlight is on Matt Kohlmyer, our Physics Visioneer:

Matt Kohlmyer has had extensive experience in physics education, both in teaching introductory physics and in research on students’ learning and problem solving.  At both NC State University and Georgia Tech he was involved in implementing, teaching, and developing materials for the innovative Matter & Interactions curriculum (developed by R. Chabay and B. Sherwood).  He has also had experience with innovative pedagogy including the studio-based SCALE-UP environment and clicker usage in large lecture classes.   In his spare time, Matt enjoys trips to the beach and is an avid hockey fan.  We are thrilled to welcome Matt to our WebAssign team!

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Tips and Tricks: The Gradebook, part 1

The GradeBook is a key WebAssign feature that we hope you will find useful, especially when it comes time for monitoring and distributing end of year grades. The GradeBook has many options, and we hope the directions below will help you with the initial set up.  Additionally, stay tuned for part 2 of this series for more tips on using the GradeBook.

The best way to set up the WebAssign GradeBook is to use the GradeBook Wizard.  At the top of the page, click Grades > GradeBook.  If needed, select the class you want to set up. You will be taken to the GradeBook Wizard to help you get started.

Once the Wizard has started you have two options: Use WebAssign’s GradeBook, or upload your own GradeBook.  Although you can always go back to the GradeBook settings and change them,  read each option carefully and select the one that will work best for you.

Note on this page you can choose to automatically update your GradeBook every day at a specific time.  We recommend this option so you do not have to manually update the GradeBook; otherwise students will not see their most up-to-date grades. Even if you set this option you can go into your GradeBook and manually update it whenever you like.

The wizard will walk you through a number of choices including the weights of each grade, type of grading scale, and what you wish your students to be able to view.  Once you are pleased with everything make sure you select “save these settings” to apply the GradeBook to your course.

There is also the option to upload your own GradeBook.  Most instructors will select to do this through Excel.  If you have selected this option you can download samples of templates showing how to format the files to be uploaded.  You can then select to either copy and paste your GradeBook, upload a file (such as an Excel file), or to simply upload your GradeBook at a later time.

As always, if you need additional  help please refer to our instructor manual at http://www.webassign.net/manual/instructor_guide/c_i_using_gradebook.htm and feel free to contact our support staff at either support@webassign.net or 1-800-955-8275.

Friday Funny

Fruity math jokes for a Friday!

Q: What’s yellow and equivalent to the Axiom of Choice.
A: Zorn’s Lemon. 

Q: What’s purple and commutes?
A: An abelian grape. 

Q: What’s yellow, linear, normed and complete?
A: A Bananach space. 

Meet our Visioneers: Erik Epp

As part of WebAssign’s increased focus on becoming more customer-centric, we have created an outstanding team of Visioneers.  This group is comprised of experts in the field of chemistry, physics, math, and user experience and design who will work to direct the focus of our product so our customers get the best experience possible.  We are very excited to have them as part of the WebAssign team and will be introducing them over the next few weeks.

First up, Erik Epp our Chemistry Visioneer:

Erik finds writing in the third person somewhat strange; then again, other people find someone who dresses predominantly in red shirts as strange, so it might be a good fit. He was involved in the implementation of the CASPiE program at Purdue, which is a research-based general chemistry laboratory for students. His research has included student-instructor interactions in online classrooms, student use and navigation of hypermedia, and educational impacts of green chemistry. He prefers active lecture environments, involving clickers and group work to engage students.


  • B.S. Chemistry, 2002 (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) focus on Nuclear Chemistry
  • M.S. Chemistry, 2003 (University of Chicago) focus on Computational Astrochemistry
  • Ph.D. Chemistry, 2010 (Purdue University) focus on Physical Chemistry Education Research
  • Post-doc, 2011 (St. Olaf College) focus on Green Chemistry  and Education

Teaching Experience:

  • Instructor, Research Website Design (UMich), 2 semesters – 70students/semester
  • TA, Honors General Chemistry (UChicago), 3 quarters – 30/quarter
  • Paper grader, Chemistry Writing (Purdue), 1 semester – 10/semester
  • TA, General Chemistry for Engineers and Scientists (Purdue), 3 semesters – 48/semester
  • TA, General Chemistry for Elementary Education Majors (Purdue), 2 semesters  –  48/semester
  • Assistant Course Supervisor, General Chemistry for Engineers and Scientists (Purdue), 5 semesters – 800-2200/semester
  • Instructor, General Chemistry (St. Olaf), 1 semester  –  50/semester
  • Visiting Professor, General Chemistry (St. Olaf), 2 semesters – 80/semester

Teaching Awards:

  • Graduate Student Award for Outstanding Teaching (department nominated), Purdue University
  • William F. Epple Teaching Award (student nominated), Department of Chemistry, Purdue University
  • Nathan Sugarman Teaching Award (student nominated), Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago

For fun, Erik  is a fan of outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, canoeing/kayaking, nature photography, archery, camping and target shooting.  His other hobbies include origami, and puzzles such as the Rubik’s cube and metal links.  He also likes reading, primarily science fiction, fantasy, and science nonfiction.

Tips and Tricks: Extensions

Since WebAssign debuted in 1997, we’ve been collecting best practices and tips from instructors. Please share your ideas and suggestions with us so we can continue to expand this tradition.   Using the extensions feature can help manage a variety of cases where a student may need a little extra time to complete an assignment.  We know most professors have their own rules about what types of extensions are allowed and under what circumstances, and WebAssign is fully customizable to encompass all of these teaching practices. Below are a few of the best practice ideas regarding the use of extensions in WebAssign.

  • When setting up your class course make sure that the Ask Your Teacher and Extension Requests are enabled and available for student access.
  • Turn on email notifications so that  Ask Your Teacher and Extension Requests are automatically delivered to your inbox.
  • Setting up an extension:

  • Encourage students to finish assignments on time by enabling automatic extensions with a penalty (20% or 25%).  This means that if they do request an automatic extension they will lose full credit for the assignment.

  • Make your policy on extensions very clear to all students from the beginning of your class so there is no confusion or complaints when they don’t receive full credit on an assignment after choosing to use an automatic extension.
  • Offer manual extensions for students who need more time due to illness or other legitimate reasons. Decide on the penalty, if any, on a case-by-case basis.
  • Exception: Remember that when offering an extension on a timed assignment, you must give the student extra time as part of the extension!

  • Also keep in mind that your students will not be able to get an automatic extension on a timed assignment until after the actual set due date, regardless of when they end up completing the assignment. If they have already clicked on the assignment and it is past due they will get the penalty, but not be able to open the assignment because they are out of time.