Interactive mathematics on the Internet

5. Virtual classes

Wims is designed to support intensive classroom applications. To this end, it incorporates a structure of virtual classes. A virtual class under Wims can be created and managed entirely online by the teacher (supervisor) of the class. Students can then register into the virtual class, either by the teacher or by themselves (with the register mode definable by the teacher).

There are three modes with which users can connect to Wims: as anonymous visitor, as the teacher or as a student of a virtual class. The first is open access, while the other two are protected by passwords.

The content of a virtual class is a number of work sheets. Work sheets are created and maintained online by the teacher. Each work sheet contains a number of items. Each item is the address of a Wims module, which may be an exercise (for which the teacher has determined the difficulty level), an online tool, an online lesson text, or other.

The design of the system requires that the teacher of the virtual class takes the responsibility of choosing the exercises for his students, as well as determining the difficulty level of the chosen exercises. For this purpose, pages sent to virtual class teachers contain special links. The teacher has only to click on these links, in order to add a chosen exercise into a work sheet. The difficulty level and configuration of the exercise added to the work sheet will automatically be set to that of the exercise containing the link.

When adding an exercise to a work sheet, the teacher can also set up the number of points each student is required to make on this exercise, as well as the weight of these points in the computation of averages. For example, by assigning more than 10 points to an exercise, the teacher can ask his students to work more than once on this exercise.

Example work sheet will also be created, which can be directly inserted to virtual classes, helping teachers to make their choices.

When a student logs in to the virtual class, he is presented the list of active work sheets. By working on the exercises contained in a work sheet, the score he obtains is automatically gathered by the server. However, points exceeding the assigned number are discarded by the system, preventing the student from gathering extra points by repeatedly working on one (easier) exercise.

Each time a student answers an exercise, the score he gets as well as resulting change to his averages are shown on the page. Experiments show that this instantaneous result is very efficient in inciting the student to work hard.

In the current version of Wims, complete list of scores of a virtual class can only be consulted by the teacher. For each student and each work sheet, the system computes two numbers, the percentage of assigned work which is done and the average of individual scores (between 0 and 10).

In principle, the system allows students to log in to the virtual class any time and from anywhere, and work on the assignments. In our experience, we have seen people issuing objections to this possibility, due to the fact that some students may ask others to login, work and get points for them, especially when the points are used in student evaluation.

For this reason, teacher's pages include menus allowing him to change the score registration status of a given work sheet: open, close, or open for a selected number of sites. With this, we have been able to let students to score only during monitored classroom sessions.

The structure of the system allows much more sophisticated analysis of student performance and progress. Usable data includes time delay between presentation of exercise and answer, number of failures, number of consultations of hints, duration of connections, etc. However, how to efficiently exploit these data is still (serious) subject of discussion.

Ultimately, it is possible to generate intelligent personalized guides to students according to their performance.

It is also possible for the structure to host electronic discussions between teacher and students, or among students. This is not implemented for the time being, only because there is no demand (yet).