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Expert TA Blog
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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.
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  3. 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.  
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  5. 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 know that there are a number of effective ways instructors have engaged their students in the learning process. Let us know what's worked for you by sharing your thoughts in the comment section.

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