Online Homework: A Necessity for Large Classes

Online homework: everyone uses it at some point, some programs are liked more than others, and many students are divided over whether it is worth the cost or not. So why have online homework in the first place?

The most intuitive answer is that it saves teaching faculty a lot of time. Large classes required for several majors, such as general chemistry, statics, and physics, rely upon online homework to track student learning without the need for intensive grading hours.

This has especially been true for statics, CEEN 241, which uses Mastering Engineering as their homework platform.

“The sheer volume of work that was coming in was really high, and we didn’t have the TA support to handle that,” stated Dr. Andres Guerra, a Teaching Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and statics professor. “We kept on seeing the section sizes grow and grow. The students also weren’t getting much out of the handwritten homework, and as the volume increases it gets harder to look at each individual’s assignment.”

The general physics classes often have class sizes around 500, which makes assigning physical homework assignments impractical.

“Online homework, if done correctly, lets you give graded homework no matter how large a class is,” stated Dr. Pat Kohl, a Teaching Professor in the Physics department. “In really big courses, the only realistic alternative to online homework would be to give optional non-graded problem sets, which don’t get a lot of buy-in.”

In many cases, despite many student’s beliefs, online homework has actually improved test scores and overall comprehension.

“We saw a jump in exam scores after we started using Mastering,” stated Guerra. “We’ve seen that student understanding has gone up and the instructor workload has gone down.”

However, some of you may wonder why such a large portion of a student’s grade and time must be paid for; after all, LON-CAPA, the physics homework program, is free. Why pay for a program when one can make a completely customizable one with no cost to students?

Unfortunately, no program is without cost. LON-CAPA is run by servers on campus, and running those servers requires money found in the technology fees students pay with their tuition and other fees each semester.

“It costs money to create those things,” stated Dr. Todd Ruskell, a Teaching Professor in Physics. “It’s all about resources. Having the qualified people, with the time it takes, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. You do have to pay for it; all that coding would cost your department something.”

The high price of other programs, such as Mastering Engineering or McGraw-Hill, which is used for Principles of Economics and Probability and Statistics, often results because the program is the best fit for the respective course that uses it.

“I wanted a system that focused more on giving students practice with the basics,” stated Dr. Scott Houser, a Teaching Associate Professor in Economics. “We don’t use a textbook, so everything is there. The way we use McGraw-Hill is more of a lecture system. It’s a good study tool more than anything else.”

For other classes, the online homework system simply puts the textbook homework problems into a digital format.

“Almost every problem in the book is available for us to assign,” stated Guerra. “It’s also in sync with Blackboard, so students don’t have to wait for their grades to be updated.”

In short, online homework has become somewhat of a necessity for faculty as class sizes increase. Online homework must always come with a cost, but many believe that this is outweighed by the benefits of an electronic system.

If one fact rings true above all else, it is that online homework is here to stay.




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