Online Homework, an Epidemic

Has our college education system become over dependent on online teaching tools? Are these tools being used properly, as a way to aid students, or are they being used in a way to lessen the professor’s work load? Hell, are these online teaching tools even as effective as they could be? All of these are questions that I’ve had running through my mind as I’ve gone through my college experience, but this year it’s gone a step too far,

I frequently help my girlfriend with her chemistry homework, I read about the topics, explain them to her the best I can, and help her get through it. Why do I do this? Obviously because I love her, but even more so because the class feels more self-taught than professor instructed.

Emily’s professor for entry level college chemistry uses a tool called Aleks. In the beginning I thought it was great. I thought it was the best attempt at online homework that I had ever seen; while I still do think that it is really good, it is not being used properly by her teacher. The homework that she does and what she learned in class almost never correlate, as in: the things she is expected to be able to do online are barely (if not never) lectured on by her professor.

I see several different possibilities for why it’s this way. 1) The professor is expecting the knowledge learned on Aleks as a prerequisite for what he will be teaching in class. 2) The professor is unaware of what things are being taught/reinforced on Aleks. 3) The lectures on less throughout the week and expects the students to make up the difference online on their time.

Clearly option three is by far the worst, and the least likely, but after 10+ hours of working on chemistry homework assigned on Thursday, due Sunday, it starts to feel that the professor could have spent a bit more time on the topics. Mind you, these 10+ hours are filled with googling, researching and pure trial and error attempting to figure out the solution to problems.

What’s most frustrating about the whole situation is that the tool is really quite strong. It is broken up into several categories of essential knowledge for the course, and then has things that are required before diving into the essential knowledge. Every few weeks the student takes an assessment that judges their knowledge of the math and basic scientific principles required to complete the next few weeks of assignments. If the student has substandard skills in any of the required areas, they are required to do lessons in those skills before moving forward.

In each lesson, you are asked a question, and expected to get it right 3 times before moving on. You may answer the question, or you may hit explain, and it gives a textbook quality explanation of what you are working on, while working through the problem you were just given. Getting the question wrong requires you to get it right one extra time (up to a total of 4) and getting it right the required number of times moves you forward.

I’ve exceeded my 500 word limit, so this discussion will continue tomorrow with how this brilliant and strong learning aid isn’t being used to its fullest capacity. Tomorrow, or the next day (depending on tomorrow’s length) I will also be discussing some things that I think could be added to the tool to make it even stronger.


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