Tips for giving online homework assignments

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many teachers had to pivot quickly and adopt a digital teaching platform. And even as the lockdowns lift and teachers return to the classroom, it looks like online homework assignments are here to stay. In fact, some expect the global e-learning market to exceed $243 billion by 2022.

Of course, a significant part of these new methods for delivering education includes assigning homework. The good news is that online homework has been shown to increase student achievement, and when done effectively, online homework assignments can do more than just teach — they can also further motivate students.

The tips below will help you get the most out of your online homework assignments.

Pro Tip

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Figure out your goals for the assignment

First things first — you need to have a goal. What are your intentions in assigning this project? What do you want students to gain from the assignment? Are there certain skills and abilities that you want to measure? Your online homework assignments should clearly support your goals for the course in general.

For example, if your goal is for students to demonstrate critical thinking, you might want to ask them for an analysis of a certain issue rather than asking them to simply summarize an article.

You never want your assignments to be “busy work,” so make sure that you clearly define the connection between the goal of the assignment and the assignment itself — not only for your students but also for yourself.

Communicate clear expectations

Along with defining a goal for each online homework assignment, it’s critical that you clearly communicate your expectations to your students. Let them know what assignments they need to complete, the format they need to submit them in, any specific guidelines they need to adhere to, the timeline for completion, and how they will be evaluated on each particular assignment.

Because students will be completing the assignment online, this can sometimes present an additional challenge — confusion can quickly spread about expectations. This is why you also have to be an online moderator when you give homework. Take extra care to quickly resolve any possible issues, and clearly communicate your expectations on how students can get your help and feedback on the assignment.

Be consistent

To ensure that students get the most out of their online homework assignments, it’s critical that you remain consistent in every way possible.

For example, try to use the same approach each time you post an assignment — whether it’s sending an email or uploading the details to Google Docs, where you can update them as needed. Pick a time each day or week to send out assignments so that students can get accustomed to a routine. Don’t forget to pay attention to the layout of each assignment. For instance, be consistent with your structure, putting the content in the same place each time.

Include real problems and real solutions

Aligning your curriculum to real-world situations can help students become more engaged and better understand the subject matter they’re learning. A survey by YouthTruth — a nonprofit student organization — found that 52 percent of students didn’t think that what they learned in school was relevant to what they need to know in their day-to-day life.

To increase student engagement with online homework assignments, consider shaping the curriculum around a practical problem or question. That way, when they’re studying the subject matter, they’ll be more engaged because they’ll know it applies to the real world.

To further increase motivation, explain to students why you chose that particular assignment and emphasize the creation of an end product. For example, instead of just assigning an essay that will be graded and electronically filed away, have students write essays that can be published online on a classroom blog. This adds an interactive element to online homework that can help improve participation.

How to assess the effectiveness of online homework

Teachers need to know that the online homework assignments they’re giving students are actually doing their job — informing, educating, and shaping the minds of students. The best way to go about gauging the effectiveness of your assignments is to analyze the results of the homework itself. Are students succeeding? Do they appear to grasp the concepts at hand, or are you noticing trends that need to be addressed?

Another way to measure the effectiveness of your online homework assignments is to ask the students themselves. Sending them a survey to complete and asking them for honest feedback can help you understand what’s working and what might need improvement.

Take the time to evaluate your cumulative successes and struggles, and make any necessary adjustments going forward. You’ll find that fine-tuning your online homework assignments results in greater success — for you and your students.

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