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  Online Homework Service Appreciated by AHC Students and Instructors

December 20, 2002

Point. Click. Learn. That’s how Allan Hancock College students in three different science courses are doing their homework-and liking it.

The UT Homework Service, a national online homework network, allows students to log on, complete the assignment, and receive instant feedback about their work. The system works especially well for instructors, freeing up their time for improving their lectures and focusing on problems students find difficult. It’s working for studentsOnline Homework because they’re finding out instantly if their answers to problems are right or wrong, instead of waiting days or weeks later until instructors grade their work.

“The beauty of this system is, when you generate a homework assignment, it’s posted on the Web site,” explained D. K. Philbin, an Allan Hancock College chemistry instructor who assigns online homework regularly. “Students go there, get the assignment, print it out, do it, log back on to the Web site, submit their answers, and it’s instantly graded. And their answers and grade are sent to me.”

“I’ll notice if all of them are having a problem with a question, and we’ll discuss that in class the next day,” he said, when the question and the answer are still relevant to what they’re learning in class.

“Anything that frees up my time from correcting papers makes me a better teacher,” added Philbin. “Now I can spend my time with students and preparing for class.”

The online homework service accessed by Philbin and fellow Hancock instructors Erin O’Connor and Linda Metaxas was developed at the University of Texas at Austin. It was O’Connor who introduced the program to Philbin. O’Connor has been using the service for five years. “It really works well,” he said. “It provides immediate feedback, allows students multiple attempts to complete the problem correctly, and since each student receives a unique problem to solve, it encourages them to collaborate and work together.”

O’Connor regularly goes online to monitor which problems students are having trouble with, and then covers the topic in class the next day.

University of Texas professor C. Fred Moore developed the program because instructors were overwhelmed with the task of grading homework, and because students were putting in minimal efforts on their homework.

The online homework service offers “a huge selection of excellent questions, keyed to popular texts,” said Philbin. “The problems work with what students experience in their textbooks.”

Instructors can also edit the online homework system’s questions to fit their needs, he added.

Students like the system better than traditional methods of doing homework “because they get answers instantly,” Philbin said. Also, because their grades are posted immediately, students can keep track of where they stand in the class, he added.

“I love it,” said student Max Zhuchkov, a computer science major in O’Connor’s Engineering Physics 162 class. “The online homework lets us do it anytime, at night for example. I get instant feedback rather than having to wait until the instructor grades my work. That way, I don’t assume my answers are right and find out two weeks later that they were wrong.”

“It probably saves me 70 to 80 percent of the time I spent in the past dealing with homework,” Philbin said. “I can devote that time for lecture preparation, and reading to refine my teaching techniques.”

In effect, the UT Homework Service allows teachers to create customized homework assignments that students can complete on their own time. The service contains a bank of more than 22,000 problems in physics, math, physical science and chemistry, and teachers all over the country are using the Web-based service, university officials said.

University officials added that, although students work independently, with each receiving an individual set of questions, interaction between students has increased and students are more likely to turn in answers to problems and then, if they need help, seek it.

Students are also required to explain what they did to solve problems, and because a student articulates a process, rather than just scribbles down a number, “everyone learns more,” university officials said.

And, they add, instructors are seeing improvements in grade point averages.


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