Online versus traditional homework

coloured text books

Right now we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the world has got into lockdown. This meant that school have closed and moved to an off-site and online learning mode. Students are at home and their learning is taking place through online methods. There has been a sudden shift to online teaching and learning. Now more than ever we need to understand the benefits and pitfalls surrounding this new mode of education.

For the moment, the shift to online learning appears to be temporary. When lockdown eases, schools will return to classroom delivery. In fact, I have returned to work and am back in the classroom following on from several weeks of off-site working and online teaching.

Benefits to working online in education

Literature has for while described the benefits of working online in education settings. Homework is one area which has had considerable research since the advent of technology and platforms suitable for educational environments. There is evidence of benefits for both teachers and students. The research literature has considered how homework allows for increased student engagement, improved  depth of subject matter, and increased skills in self-regulated learning. For teachers, it provides the opportunity to extend the time of learning outside of the classroom as well as to monitor student progress. Homework however, does have a downside. Research has shown that homework needs to have value, fulfil a purpose and not used as a pressuring tool. 

Technology in education

Technology provides students the ability to learn and access information on demand and without geographic restrictions and limitations. The use of technology and platforms provides many benefits to students such as immediate and individualised feedback, the opportunity to correct errors and refine work and resubmit. This can allow students to develop a mastery-approach t learning where mistakes are a valued part of learning and the end result is for understanding.

Computer use in education is prevalent throughout the world. Little is understood how online use for homework outperforms traditional forms of homework.

Research on online homework

A large-scale meta-analysis of comparisons of rational versus online homework was conducted by Magalhaes et al (2020). The focus of their study was to understanding what format of homework has more benefits for student performance. In this meta-analysis, college students were the prime population although some secondary school students studies were also included.

Most of the papers surveyed used convenience samples and this may have methodological issues such as the ability to control for influences that might interfere with the sample results.

Research Findings

Overall, the researchers found that after allowing for the differences in the studies used in the meta-analysis (differing measures, outcomes, non-standardised instruments), they found that there was little difference in benefits between traditional and online homework. Both modes of homework appear to be equally effective for their intended purpose.

There were differences were found in the responses by students to some of the research questions. Students’ perceptions and opinions of online homework were more favourable than traditional homework. The majority of students in the meta-analysis favoured online homework over more traditional modes of homework. Furthermore, the meta-analysis found that students’ believed online homework more beneficial for their engagement and academic success. This has to be a positive outcome for students despite little rigorous evidence to support their views. This is a strong argument in favour of online homework for academic success.

Educational implications are students’ believe online homework is more beneficial for their engagement, learning and academic success. Beliefs form a very large part of academic achievement and the more we can do as teachers promote positive academic self-concept, the greater the potential for students.

© Teacher Motivation (2020)

Magalhães, P., Ferreira, D., Cunha, J., & Rosário, P. (2020). Online vs traditional homework: A systematic review on the benefits to students’ performance. Computers & Education, 152.

Homework and academic achievement: is there a relationship?

Female student carrying lots of books up some stairs

We all have opinions on the value and place of homework. Some authors have called homework the “job of childhood” (Corno and Xu, 2004). It is a point of disagreement for schools and parents. Homework can be time-consuming. It’s difficult to see a direct relationship between the time invested and academic achievement. Many things can intervene between homework and academic achievement. Is it the time spent or the quality of homework set which makes the difference?

Homework research

Research has been mixed in the area of homework and academic achievement. Some research finds positive link between homework and achievement, while other research finds homework of little benefit in overall academic achievement. Separating the noise from the data is a particular issue in homework and achievement research. What I mean by noise are all the other variables which can affect homework and achievement that are not directly measured in research, confounding results. ## Does homework lead to a significantly better academic achievement for students?

At present research suggests there is little evidence that the amount of time spent on homework is related to primary school students’ academic achievement. Jerrim and Lopez-Agudo (2020) studied the results of several European countries via PIRLS and TIMSS data. In fact, the researchers found almost no association between the amount of homework set by teachers and primary school children’s academic achievement.

Other researchers Dettemers et al, (2009) have found mixed results between homework and academic achievement using the PISA data. In some countries, they found a positive relationship between homework time spent and academic achievement. Conversely, in other countries they found there was little support for the amount of sometime spent on homework and academic achievement.

Another large study conducted by the U.K. Education Endowment foundation found that although high school-level students do benefit academically from time spent on homework there is little evidence in support of similar benefits for primary school students (Education Endowment Foundation, 2017).

So what is the issue?

On the quality of homework set, there are differences in homework. Homework can be related to content-only or homework can be based on more real-life situations. Content-only based curriculum develops knowledge. Homework based on real-life skills in can extend the content knowledge to apply to improve real-world competencies. These are skills that students will use later in life.

Real-world competencies would seem to have more benefits to students in the long term than competency-based homework derived from curriculum only content knowledge alone. Therefore, quality of homework is suggested as an area for investigation into the benefits of homework for academic achievement.

Student motivation is connected to homework. Students’ perception of homework quality set by the teacher as high has positive benefits for student motivation (Trautwein et al, 2006). This requires a more thoughtful approaches to setting of homework so primary school students may improve connections between homework and academic achievement.

The amount of time spent on homework is not found to be a predictor of academic achievement for primary school children. Quality and type of homework appears to be more beneficial to primary students than increasing the amount of homework given and therefore the amount of time spent on its completion.