The convention wisdom in Higher Education is that engineering students must do some minimum amount of homework to be successful mastering mathematical problem-solving. This wisdom mostly feels right to teachers and students — to the point where student expectations of an engineering course often amount to a series of problem sets that constitute an exercise in matching formulas with the right problems and using algebra to solve for the missing variable.
But it’s not exactly clear what the students are actually learning in such course — except perhaps some basic algebra. It is remarkable how little research there is that supports the idea that homework problem sets improve mathematical learning.
This article tries to shed some scientific light on the question, “Does homework improve performance on exams?” The answer seems to be “No.”
I’m not arguing that exam performance is the ultimate goal of any learning activity. But if there is any basis for justifying a traditional homework problem set, wouldn’t it be to better prepare for exams? For example, I don’t think we could argue that mathematical problem sets improve moral character, or leadership skills, or self-awareness, or interpersonal communication, or creativity, or any of the other things that we might value in engineering professionals. If they do nothing else, then at least homework problem should improve performance on exams, right?
Our CEE300 class is organized around the premise that the world no longer needs more people who are good at solving mathematical problem sets. We need people that can identify, formulate, and resolve real problems in the real world.
Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?
Surprising Findings Challenge the Conventional Wisdom (Again)
A brand-new study on the academic effects of homework offers not only some intriguing results but also a lesson on how to read a study — and a reminder of the importance of doing just that: reading studies (carefully) rather than relying on summaries by journalists or even by the researchers themselves.
Let’s start by reviewing what we know from earlier investigations. First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school. In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement. If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says… .
The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework.
- Alfie Kohn: Homework: New Research Suggests It May Be an Unnecessary Evil (huffingtonpost.com)
- Homework is a waste of time, study finds (ibnlive.in.com)
- Homework: An unnecessary evil? … Surprising findings from new research (washingtonpost.com)
- Homework – why bother (mymindbursts.com)
- Study Finds Too Much Homework Bad for Students (newsplex.com)
- Educational Readings November 30th (treehornexpress.wordpress.com)
- The Homework Dilemma (educatoral.com)
- How Smart is your Homework? New CAIS Program October 16th (caisct.wordpress.com)
- How to Set Good Homework (thefilipinoteacher.com)
- Should Australian Schools Ban Homework? (tutoringtoexcellence.blogspot.com)