Tag Archives: liberal education

Getting Students Off to a Fast Start on Homework


With the start of classes, some students typically struggle to hit the proverbial ground running. This problem is especially true when it comes to homework. Often, homework completion rates for the early assignments are abnormally low. If left unattended, the pattern responsible for such low completion rates can become entrenched. Expectations that homework does not matter very much can produce a self-fulfilling prophecy where it truly doesn’t matter when it comes to student allocation of their time out of class. If that happens, opportunities for student learning can be squandered, the realization of learning can be reduced, and the depth of learning can be rendered superficial.

To address such risks, I provide my class with homework completion reports after each assignment. The report shows the percentage of students who have completed each assignment to date, the cumulative completion percentage as the semester progresses, and the percentage of students who fall into categories ranging from having completed all assignments to having missed all assignments.

For context, I often provide a message accompanying the report. In my first message, I offered some context about the assignment questions. I also devoted attention to one of the questions in particular, as that question was more demanding than the others. It required students to synthesize what they had read and then reach a judgment based on that synthesize. In other words, students had to do more than describe or discuss relevant concepts. They had to apply them in a fashion that went beyond textbook-type discussions in their own words.

The relevant excerpts from my explanation about that question are as follows:

Question 5 was qualitatively more challenging than the other questions. Critical reasoning is developed and strengthened through practice.

In most cases, students underestimate their full potential. They are capable of achieving far more than what they believe they can accomplish. One area in which students underestimate themselves concerns critical reasoning, likely because fully developing that capacity requires effort, trying to see problems from different perspectives, and synthesizing concepts beyond neat boundaries.

Perhaps Ophelia had it right in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” when she responded to King Claudius’ inquiry as to how she was doing, “…Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

Learning is a journey in which engaged students depart from the familiar port of “what we are” to the exciting destination of “what we may be.”

Higher Education is all about that journey. If anything, that journey is an underlying premise of a liberal education. That’s a message that should resonate with faculty, administrators, students, and all other stakeholders in Higher Education.

Finally, the summary report not only provided the solution to the question, but also provided information as to how students addressed the question. This solution and information were offered as a starting point for part of a larger forthcoming class discussion.