LON-CAPA Information
for TCC Students

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Updated: 1/27/2006

The Learning Online Network with Computer Assisted Personalized Approach (LON-CAPA) is used to assign, distribute, and grade most of the homework that makes up a significant portion of your course grade. (See the syllabus for grading policies.)

Document development in progress.
What you see here is a rough draft.

Important Note:
If you have used LON-CAPA at TCC before, read the section below on passwords. Your password will be the same as it was in a previous course, so you can ignore the "first login" information.

Please Be Patient:
We are making the transition from the decades-old CAPA system to the much more sophisticated lon-capa system starting in Summer 2005. Many of the comments below will be updated as I develop more experience with the system and how it works from a student view. Advice from students is very much appreciated.


Table of Contents:

Contact me if there is a topic you think needs to be added here.


Access and Security

You are enrolled in a "Web Assisted" course, which means that it is assumed you are familiar with using the internet and the TCC e-mail and registration system. In particular, it is assumed that you know your TCC user ID and how to use a web browser, but you should read the sections below on security and setting up a web browser even if you are fairly experienced using computer systems.

You will need access to the Internet, i.e. the World Wide Web. There must be a hundred computers located all over campus that you may use, although you must have your validated TCC ID card to use many of them. Public computers are located in computer labs in the AC, CT, and TPP buildings as well as in the Math lab and the library. It is your responsibility to find these computers and the hours when they are available.

Although you will normally connect to "loncapa.tcc.fl.edu" to do your work, you can connect to any LON-CAPA server in the world and do your homework as long as the main TCC computer is on the web. LON-CAPA uses peer-to-peer file sharing to create a small network within the internet. The only thing you have to do differently is specify your domain as "tccfl" rather than whatever is the default on the system you connected to. At the witching hour, you could get better response from a system in a different time zone.

You should never assume that a public computer terminal has been set up in a way that makes it safe to use, although a freshly rebooted computer in a TCC lab should be in pretty good shape. Even then, your policy should be "trust but verify". In particular, a browser that was set to "conveniently" remember passwords can be used to access your personal data, particularly if the history file is intact. Some things you can do about this are addressed in the next section.

Be sure to exit when you finish submitting answers. This means you must log off and close the browser. If you leave the browser open, the next person using the computer may have access to your files.

Under no circumstances should you give your password to anyone else, including faculty and staff. Those who have a need to know specific information (such as your version of a homework problem, or your grades, or answers you submitted) can get that information without your password.


Web Browsers and Browser Settings

LON-CAPA provides some basic information about browser requirements on its Login Problems page. You might read it before using the system.

LON-CAPA will work with a wide variety of web browsers. The list includes Mozilla Firefox, Netscape version 4.7 and higher, Safari version 1.1.1 and higher (Mac users), and Internet Explorer version 5.1 and higher (found to be slow on MacOS). You can use whatever you want, but for reasons related to security, ease of use, and performance, I recommend the Firefox browser. It is small (about 5 Mb), available for free from www.mozilla.org, and will very likely become the default browser on many systems.

The browser you use must be configured to accept "cookies" and to run "javascript". It is also best if it does not block popups produced by the host "loncapa.tcc.fl.edu". If you know all about those things, you might still read the following and send me feedback if you think something could be explained better.


[In Firefox:   Tools -- Options -- Privacy -- Cookies]
[In Netscape:   Edit -- Preferences -- Advanced]
[In MS-IE:   Tools -- Internet Options -- Security -- Custom Level -- Cookies ]

In Firefox, I set the cookie options so that it only accepts cookies from the originating server and disposes of all of them when exiting the browser. The first option is available on other browsers as well, and I recommend it. I know that TCC sets the browsers on campus computers to accept cookies because they are needed to access Eaglenet.


[In Firefox:   Tools -- Options -- Web Features -- Enable Javascript]
[In Netscape:   Edit -- Preferences -- ...]
[In IE:   Tools -- Internet Options -- ... ]

Again, every TCC system I have used has been set to run javascript because it and/or java are used by Eaglenet.


[In Firefox:   Tools -- Options -- Web Features -- Block Popup Windows (Allowed Sites)]

If you forget about this, or go to a server that is not in your list, Firefox will prompt you when it blocks the popup. You can just click the appropriate box to have it added to your list.

Clearing cache etc on a public computer:

[In Firefox:   Tools -- Options -- Privacy -- (Clear All)]

Other browsers require several separate steps to empty the cache, discard cookies, clear the location bar, and delete any passwords that might have been inadvertently saved. Some make doing some of these things extremely difficult so I will not describe the steps here.



The LON-CAPA system currently maintains a password database that is separate from the one used for your TCC account. Once your LON-CAPA account has been established, it (and your password) will remain the same for every course that uses LON-CAPA at TCC. Your password should only be reset in the case of an emergency, such as losing it. See below.

Remembering your password:
The best strategy is to use the same password you use for other things. To do this, your standard password has to be "strong" enough to meet LON-CAPA's requirements. (You should also change it periodically.) If you need to create a new password and might have trouble keeping track of it, I suggest the following as one possible strategy to avoid writing it down: Use something like a "favorite" number or PIN that you know really well as the secret part of your password. Use a simple word as the other part of it, capitalizing one of the letters. Write that word down with your capitalization choice (e.g. "mAth") so you have it for reference, but never write down the full password (e.g. "mAth1234") or give it to anyone else.

Forgotten Passwords:
If you forget your password, LON-CAPA will lock you out of the system after multiple login failures. If this happens, one of the two people who manage the TCC domain can reset your password. They can be contacted by e-mailing the "user" LONCAPA at tcc.fl.edu. Use your TCC e-mail account to make this request! The change needs to be acknowledged to an e-mail account that we can trust. Do not say what you want the password to be. They will set it to something simple, tell you what they did, and then you can log in and change your password to what you want it to be. It is unlikely that this will be done outside of normal working hours.

It is a bad idea to have a web browser remember your password for you. It is really bad if a public machine has been setup that way, because then anyone who knows your user ID can login as you. You can control this:

[In Firefox:   Tools -- Options -- Privacy -- Saved Passwords]
[In Netscape:   Edit -- Preferences -- ...]
[In MS-IE:   Tools -- Internet Options -- ... ]

Be sure the option to "Remember Passwords" is disabled. In Firefox, you must un-check the box, but can very easily clear ones that were inadvertantly saved.

Why do we use a separate password?
There are two reasons for using the internal system rather than the same password you use for Eaglenet and e-mail: (1) Our systems people have to do some work before we can automatically update classlists and authenticate passwords, and administrative duties take priority; (2) I personally think the TCC student passwords are too weak to trust them for the critical data stored in our system, so I have made work on that option a very low priority.


Printing your HW Problems

The problems are available in two forms. You will first see them in plain text along with a space for your answer(s) and possibly a link to additional information. This is where you will submit your answers, as I demonstrated in class. Do not print out these pages. It is a waste of paper, particularly if there is a long discussion there. Our division (and your tuition) pays for printing in the computer lab, so please be careful and it will be more like to stay "free" for a while longer.

The way to print your assignment is to push the "PRT" button on the remote while you are looking at one of the problems in the assignment. A dialog page will come up that gives you several options. I recommend that you get in the habit of selecting the option that will print out all of the problems in the current assignment on a single page. This is a compact way of looking at the entire assignment and it also makes a very useful review and study resource. I also recommend that you work the problems on a separate page and staple your work to the set of problems, but students who prefer to trade short-term benefits for long-term losses prefer to scribble their work in the margins of that printout so they will not know what they did when it comes time to study for an exam.

Important Note:
The TeX file used to generate the PDF document is set up with rather narrow margins but will fit on a regular sheet of paper for most (but not all) printers. Do not use the "fit to page" option when printing unless your printer cannot handle the full size original. The result will be harder to read if it is shrunk in size.

The TCC systems are set up to read PDF files.
Elsewhere you might have to obtain a plug-in that reads pdf documents.
Get Acrobat Reader
You can get this (for free) by hitting the button above.


Comments on Using CAPA

There is a direct link to LON-CAPA on my home page and the main course pages. Accounts, once created, remain active even when you are not enrolled in a course, but you will not see any course materials unless you are currently in a class using LON-CAPA.

The CAPA homework assignments will not be distributed in class. You obtain your assignment by logging into the LON-CAPA server and selecting the assignment you want to work on. You will see the problems and spaces to enter your answers, and you will also get a link you can use to obtain (and print) a pdf version that is the best way to look at the problems.
   (See comment above on printing the pdf files.)

I encourage students to work together on their CAPA homework. Since the homework is personalized, you cannot copy answers; however, the problems are the same so you can discuss how to set up and solve the problem and/or do the calculation. You can usually find someone who will give you an "equation" that can be used to come up with a "correct answer", but do not fool yourself into thinking that this means you can actually do that problem correctly if you get it on a quiz or exam. By the way, I also get a problem set. If I work on a CAPA problem in class, I will work on mine, not yours. I will look at your attempt to solve your problem outside of class, during office hours.

You should already have read my study suggestions for physics classes. They apply to everything you do in this class but are particularly relevant to doing homework problems. Sloppy work and "equation grabbing" on your homework will usually lead to poor performance on quizzes and exams.

You will also use CAPA to submit your answers to the homework by using the Internet. After an answer is submitted, you will be told immediately if it is correct. If your answer is not correct, you can try again without any penalty but there will be a limit on how many times you are permitted to submit an answer for a given problem. The important thing is that you get full credit whether you took one try or fifteen tries to get the right answer.

Correct answers include appropriate units and a numerical value that is at least a 3 sig. fig. approximation to the exact answer calculated by the program. You will be warned (without penalty) if your answer does not include units when units are required (or not required, as the case may be).

Some of the mechanics problems in CAPA implicitly assume that g = 9.80 m/s2, whereas I will have you use 9.81 m/s2 for everything else, including exams. Since CAPA has a tolerance built in that accepts answers that are correct to a bit less than 3 sig figs, a solution found with 9.81 m/s2 will be OK (for the problems I have looked at) if you did the rest of the calculation OK.

Do not wait until the last day to do your homework. Homework assignments are distributed in advance of the material covered in lecture. The best strategy is to use CAPA to submit the answers for the problems related to the topics covered each day in lecture. This will avoid the very bad falling-behind-in-class strategy and give you time to ask questions.

Survey says: Students love the fact that CAPA tells them immediately if a solution is right or wrong, that they get more than one try to get it right, and that some problems give a hint after several wrong tries. Students hate the fact that CAPA cannot tell them what they did wrong and that what hints are available are often too generic to be helpful. You need to realize that this is only a problem if you wait until the last minute to submit answers. Try it earlier and you can ask me to help you find your mistake(s).

The "formal" deadline for submitting homework is the start of class on the due date. That is also when any "handed in" problems are due. Up to this time I am available to answer questions and deal with any computer problems that may arise. The "absolute" deadline for submitting answers is 11:59 PM that day. That is one minute before midnight. You can continue to work on problems after class, but I strongly advise you to complete and submit homework before class starts because I will not make any allowances for system failures after that time. Further, I may or may not go over a CAPA problem in class on the due date; my schedule has time for those questions on the day before the problems are due.

The deadline at one minute before midnight is absolute. No excuses are accepted. If you cannot tell time, or the power goes out, or your computer crashes, or the CAPA computer crashes, or the network goes down, or you car breaks down on the way to the computer lab, well, that is just tough luck. Do not even think of asking to hand it in after the deadline. Remember, it is not a good strategy to wait until the due date to start your homework. (There are legitimate excuses that I can deal with, but I will expect you to have been up-to-date on the work. I can see when answers are submitted as well as whether they are correct.)

Use the links on Remote Control to navigate. The pdf file Using LON-CAPA gives some examples.


Notes from the CAPA Instructions


 ?? Contact me if you have any questions.