Stories from
the trenches

Why do students want more homework?

International faculty member, CMU-Pittsburgh

When I began teaching in the U.S., I didn’t assign homework. Instead, I graded students exclusively on a midterm and final. But upon receiving a blistering set of course evaluations after my first semester, I discovered that students here want me to give homework. This caught me by surprise. In my home country college students aren’t generally assigned homework. There are exercises they can do on their own, but it’s up to them whether or how they do them, and their work is not graded. Everything is focused on the final exam, and students prepare for it as they see fit; they work independently and don’t expect or get feedback. To me, the U.S. students’ insistence on homework seemed, well, childish. However, I talked with several American colleagues and they see the issue quite differently. It’s the instructor’s responsibility to provide practice opportunities, they told me, not the students’ responsibility to find their own. Moreover, they said that a midterm and final alone do not provide students with sufficient feedback on their progress. They agreed with my students that more homework is in order.

It still seems odd to me to assign homework to college students, but my colleagues have helped me understand the U.S. system better. Now I assign more homework. While I sometimes wish students here were as independent as students in my home country, I see the value of early feedback and I respect my students for wanting to practice the skills they are learning. There are pros and cons to both educational systems, I think, and neither is perfect. But this is where I am, these are the students I have, and I’ve come to appreciate them the way they are.

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