Online Homework, an Epidemic Part II

Oh hey look, free time (or, at least, something that resembles it.) Now seems like an excellent time for continuing my discussion on online teaching tools.

Last time I wrote about what my complaints and the downsides that I saw in the way that the current standard for these tools is. Let me stress that it isn’t only Aleks that has these issues, but Pearson and any other tool I’ve ever worked with has the same downfalls.

I’ve already touched on how it’s being misused, but let me recap. Instead of being used as an aid, these tools are being used as the go to place for teaching. They boast comprehensive preparation, which for some students is absolutely true. For the right student, these tools could completely eliminate the need for lecture and recitation in person. However, the problem is that not all students are the type of student that can absorb information via text and reading. Many students need a combination of text, audio and graphical Medias in order to really learn the material. Just reading an explanation of the covered material will never be enough for a student who needs more.

We don’t go to school to teach ourselves the material in homework. We don’t pay universities obscene amounts of money for them to tell us to buy another access code to learn from. We go to school to learn, we pay to be taught. It’s an honest to God problem that Emily can come home from Chemistry and tell me that she learned nothing, and when I look at her notes and see that they don’t cover any of the material on the homework, I know she’s not exaggerating.

To me it seems pretty obvious how the current system could be used better. It should be in supplement to the lecture. A student, Emily for example, should be able to come home after her lecture on Monday, look at the Aleks assignment, and feel like she knows the basic premise of the material. Here’s where these systems can really shine: student exploration and discovery on their own is a very powerful teaching method. Online tools like this can support that in so many ways, encouraging students to look in their textbooks, check online, and seek support from their peers. All of this, however, is unobtainable if the student is going in blind to the assignment.

In short, this can all be summed up as follows: the problem isn’t that the students have questions or that they don’t know what to do, that’s okay. The problem is that students don’t know what the right questions to ask are.

I’m going to leave it there for now. Next time I plan to talk about what things could be added to these tools to make them truly remarkable. Education is changing, instead of using technology to support the old ways, we should change education to utilize the new technology.


Check back tomorrow for another peak at my puzzle project.