What exactly is the purpose of out-of-class assignments (i.e. homework)? Students seem to dislike doing these assignments. Profs seem to dislike assigning them because it also means grading them. And if it’s a reading there’s always the feeling that it might not be done.
Can this all be improved, even just a little, so that learning might occur and that teachers might observe something of a student’s understanding of these assignments?
Here are a few suggestions.
First, engage in a discussion in the course about honesty and about the fact that learning and critical thinking are more important than grades. Point out that trying to dupe you, the professor, into almost anything that involves outright dishonesty is not only unacceptable; it’s just plain ridiculous. Even if you haven’t seen it all, telling your students you have is an effective technique. And don’t tell them this in a potentially punitive way. Just tell them straight up that dishonesty only hurts them, embarrasses them, and is unacceptable.
Then talk about why they are in the course. Discuss improving their knowledge of the subject and becoming an educated person and point out that those things are the bottom line, not a grade.
After all this is said, profs can then make the grading or evaluating of written pieces a bit more substantive. Tell your class that at the end of every out-of-class written piece each student is to write a paragraph or two that very honestly evaluates the piece. What does she think works? What might need a little more work? What did he understand or not understand? What light bulbs went on? Explain that each is evaluating his own writing and understanding of the material, not pleading for a good grade.
If the assignment is short answer, such as the solving of math problems, have each student indicate in writing at the end of the assignment where he/she is confused or where they feel they succeeded. Just because a student arrives at a right answer doesn’t automatically mean she understands how she arrived at it. Point out that you, the prof, actually needs to know where the gaps in comprehension are, or even if a student is clueless. The object of a course is not to be frustrated and to scrape by. It is to understand the material and feel successful.
In terms of reading chapters or articles, ask the student to bring to class a two-or-more sentence summary of what she read. Whoa you say, that’s not enough summary. Actually your students are likely experts at summarizing things in 140 characters or less. A few sentences and a little sharing of those sentences in class should start to increase and improve both doing the readings and understanding the readings.
Yea, all this is probably a bit more work for the prof, and certainly more work for the student…but the purpose of higher education is to get a student to think and to self-evaluate for himself or herself. And it’s for the professor to see how the student is thinking and when they need more help.