Are students studying enough?

One of the great things about being friends with a retired statistician like Hal is that he often sends me interesting articles that I doubt I would ever come across on my own. This one (which at this writing could be found at: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/04/what_happened_to_studying/ ) has identified a trend many of us who teach statistics already suspect … students are studying less now then they did in the “past.” In fact, the article claims that the average student is studying about 14 hours a week … total, for ALL of their classes. So, let’s take a typical 15 credit semester as a full time load. If we assume students have five three credit courses, then students are only studying approximately 168 minutes A WEEK for your class! As I read this article, I began to think, maybe my students aren’t “pulling my leg” when they tell me they study more for my class than any other. I expect students to study for 1 – 2 hours six days a week. This is what I tell them, and the assignments that I provide to them do require students to complete the work. Not surprising, students who complete the homework assignments do better on exams then those who do not ( a correlation I actually demonstrate from data I collect from them earlier in the semester). Thus, even on the less then scientific “Ratemyprofessor” web site, students forewarn others who may be stuck taking my class …. do the homework!

One of the main statements in the Boston Globe article on studying is that professors do not assign students more homework because they do not want to correct it. In truth, I am in awe of my math professor friends who have students hand in homework all of the time, as they toil over correcting it. It’s funny, I have never assigned homework for students to turn in for me to correct. I have a couple of theories as to why I have taken this “easier” approach. It could be from my days as an elementary school teacher, when the more experienced teachers laughed at me when, in my first year of teaching, I corrected every piece of work my students completed. I suppose it may also be a left over from my memories in my own statistics classes as an undergrad where I spent lots of time reviewing homework with other students in the class. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure they were getting as much out of me helping them as I was by trying to explain what they had to do. I remember how their homework grades were similar to mine, but their test grades weren’t even close. I knew then, as know now, homework grades are not a good measure of a students’ understanding, especially when it’s fairly easy to track down the answers really understanding the work. I also knew that I learned more by completing problems when I had the answers to check my work off of rather then waiting for a professor to make comments, I seldom read (sorry). So, my students have 1 hour of homework each night, six days a week, and I don’t check any of it. This doesn’t count problems assigned in the textbook or reading material, as they also are assigned things to read and problems to complete, neither of which I verify. They receive all answers with the homework packet (or in the back of the book). In fact, I often provide them with the answers to intermediate steps to help them figure out their own mistakes. I know students are completing the homework, as they bring it with them to office hours when they have questions, or it falls out of their note books in class. Plus, I can see it in the work they do on the exams. Students who don’t do the homework make some very interesting (though often consistent) errors on the exam.

Having some help from Hal Kiess and Josh Sandry (my supplemental instructor while I was creating these homework assignments) I formally put these homework assignments into a format that anyone who is a faculty member and registered with Pearson Publishers can access. http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/academic/product/0,3110,0205626246,00.html If you use these homework sheets, I encourage you to provide me with feedback. During a future blog I’ll talk more about how these homework sheets came into being, and how I am still adding to them yearly.

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