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Take Calculus Online at the U Courses Are Open to All, but They’re Tough Work

April 1, 2003 — Most people view calculus as a tough course – the math department’s answer to organic chemistry. But the University of Utah’s online calculus courses drew 80 students during spring semester, and registration is now open for summer semester Calculus I, (Math 1210), Calculus II (Math 1220) and Calculus III (Math 2210).

“If you are ambitious, have a lot of things to do, are good in algebra and can work independently, this is a good way to learn the subject,” says Hugo Rossi, the mathematics professor who teaches the online calculus courses. “At the same time, there is caution to people who don’t fall in that category: They shouldn’t do it.”

About one-fourth of students who registered for spring semester online calculus dropped it within a week, leaving 50 in Calculus I and 30 in Calculus II, Rossi said.

Who takes calculus online? About half of the spring semester enrollees are full-time University of Utah students. Of the others, two are in the military: one in Moscow, the other at an Air Force base in another state. Most of the others are nontraditional students who also work full-time, live in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and take their exams at testing centers in Sandy, Bountiful or Park City, Rossi said.

One summer enrollee for Calculus III is a high school senior who took Calculus I and II in high school and wants to finish the sequence before starting college out of state.

Rossi said about half to two-thirds of his online students “had exposure to calculus before and are retaking it,” either as a refresher, to earn a better grade or because they now need college credit for calculus. Some were students who have returned after serving church missions, others have returned to college after working for several years, and still others are students who switched to a major that requires calculus, including engineering, science, mathematics, pre-medical or pre-dental.

The four-credit courses are open to anyone – matriculated or non-matriculated students – for the same tuition charged for regular calculus courses.

Summer semester begins May 12, and students may enroll for summer calculus courses now through Tues. May 27, the late enrollment deadline. Registration instructions, general information about examinations and homework, and links to the calculus courses and the university’s other online courses may be found using the U’s Technology Assisted Curriculum Center (TACC), housed in the Marriott Library and accessed over the Internet at

Websites containing all the materials and links needed for the calculus courses are at:
Calculus I –
Calculus II –
Calculus III –

Students may download brief class notes as Postscript or PDF files, although Rossi says students should “get a regular text if they feel they need more discussion.” The text is “Calculus” by Dale Varberg, Edwin Purcell and Steven Rigdon.

The website for each course also contains Postscript or PDF files of practice problems and answers, as well as and past examinations. Student use an Internet link to access a program named WeBWorK – developed by the mathematics department at the University of Rochester, N.Y. – to download homework assignments, and to enter their homework answers online. The software tells students if they have answered a question incorrectly, and students may keep trying to obtain the correct answer until the homework deadline.

WeBWorK allows Rossi to email the entire class or individual students as needed. Students also may obtain help by visiting Rossi’s office, sending him email or visiting the Mathematics Student Center (located in the basement level between the Widtsoe and Cowles buildings).

“On average, I respond to about 30 to 40 email inquiries a week, ranging from ‘Help, I don’t have a clue’ to specific details about specific problems,” and the email volume rises in the weeks before exams, Rossi said.

Students may take the midterm and final exams at any testing center in the world, with arrangements made by Technology Assisted Curriculum Center. Rossi emails progress reports to students after each exam.

Calculus is offered online with help from a $5,000 grant and ongoing support from TACC and a $10,000 grant from the Utah Electronic College run by Utah System of Higher Education. Calculus I was first offered online last summer, followed by Calculus II in the fall and Calculus III this summer.

In its simplest terms, calculus is a system of calculation. A more precise definition is that it is a science dealing with the relations between variable quantities or magnitudes, and with the methods that use those relations to deduce an unknown quantity from a known quantity. For example, calculus is used to show how the position of an object and its velocity are not independent, but depend on each other, according to Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

The calculus courses are just a few of dozens now offered online by the University of Utah. Some five dozen online courses were offered spring semester, in subjects such as anthropology, chemistry, communication, economics, engineering, family and consumer studies, foods and nutrition, gerontology, political science, psychology and writing. Information on all online courses is available at