Expert TA Blog

3 Reasons Not to Devalue Homework

In higher education, chances are you’ve heard or dealt with issues of academic integrity. Some claim that cheating is now such a significant issue that they can no longer assign value to homework. It is true that the availability of solutions and the ease at which students can share answers online have drastically altered the way instructors must approach class assignments.

Answers to many textbook problems are widely available on the web. Even if students want to learn the material, they are unlikely to take a hit on their grade if they perceive that most of their peers are excelling by sharing answers. Therefore, it has become common practice among professors to completely devalue homework in order to remove the incentive or temptation to cheat.

Let’s imagine for a moment a scenario in which cheating does not exist or has been significantly reduced. Here are some foundational reasons why it is important to value homework.

  1. Practice works. As we recently discussed in our article Practice Makes Progress, students who practice course material in the same way that they are tested will achieve greater academic performance. Students need homework, but they are unlikely to complete it when there is no value assigned to it.
  2. Incentives work. Studies continue to show that students learn best when there are concrete incentives to practice throughout the learning process. In a 2005 study at Queens College and the City University of New York, researchers studied the likelihood of homework submission and the resulting performance on quizzes for two groups of psychology majors. The first group received up to five points for homework completion (toward a maximum course total of 510 points), while the second group only received instructor feedback. On average, students completing homework with an assigned value received a full letter grade higher on the following exam.  
  3. Milestones work. Just like quizzes and mid-terms, homework assignments provide measurable milestones throughout the learning process. This is valuable for both the professor and student, who can each make adjustments sooner rather than later if it becomes apparent that the material is not understood.

These can all be effective tools, but the modern classroom has changed. In an ideal scenario, all students are working their assigned problems, getting immediate feedback based on their missteps, and avoiding the temptation to peek at the online solutions. We believe this is now an achievable possibility, as it is something Expert TA helps instructors realize every semester.

Though one can achieve this by writing all of their own problems, grading by hand, and expertly guarding problem solutions, it may not be possible for every instructor due to time constraints, large class sizes or other factors. Not only does Expert TA have an independent library of thousands of expertly-vetted physics problems, but our solutions to those problems are agressively kept offline through direct effort, and students using Expert TA receive very personalized feedback when working in the system. We understand that a new approach is required to bring back the full value of homework, and we have created an environment allowing instructors to get the most out of their students on every assignment and for every problem.

 


See for yourself how Expert TA's system could work for your classroom by setting up an online demo.


 

Formed from the belief that a homework system should help instructors teach and students learn, Expert TA harnesses the power of technology to encourage practice during homework, while also giving meaningful feedback to both instructors and students. The Expert TA blog was created to serve as a hub of information to help educators track and discuss trends in education, software and student performance. Stay in-the-know by signing up for the Expert TA newsletter.

 

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Testimonials

  • I like the idea of guiding students, giving them a little more information each time they ask for help. I also think they should get the right answer. I am big about partial credit. If they got a number wrong, they got a number wrong. But I also believe in giving them a lot of credit if they have the right steps. With Expert TA’s true partial credit grading system, instructors can do both.


    Ellen Siem, PhD., Senior Instructor, Department of Physics, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR
  • With my students, I found that Expert TA was a way for them to help themselves, rather than seeing it as something that is just being assigned so they can get a grade. Initially, I set it up so they lose very little for clicking hints. I also gave them up to 10 different times to submit an answer. They are able to work through a problem on their own rather than being worried that asking for hints would get them a zero.


    Matt Evans, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire