Interesting observations, Marcia. At Angelo State, we see quite the opposite with online work. If I may, I like to present another twist to this conversation and talk about online quizzes, using College Algebra as an example. College Algebra has one of the highest DFW rates on our campus-in some years as high as 60%. Many students struggle in College Algebra, not just the less proficient. Faculty struggle as well to help students succeed in this core course. Almost all of the math instructors offer weekly quizzes, which is a promising practice-assessing students early and often. Some faculty offer weekly online quizzes with multiple attempts. Students can take and retake the weekly online quiz until they get the grade they want. What we have witnessed, however, is students will take the weekly online quiz, get a low passing grade on the first attempt, and then submit their grade. There is no incentive or push to try to do better or put forth more effort for a better grade. Unfortunately, this scenario continues for eight weeks, at when point the students bomb the midterm. They seem genuinely surprised they did not do better on the major exam.

I keep hearing Kay and Bryon McClenney's words in my head: "Students don't do optional." If we know something is important and will help students succeed, we have to create a mandate. Easier said than done. In examining the guidelines and ethics of online work, the burden is on us to show students not only what they need to do and how to do it,  but why the online work is important to the learning process. Using the Socratic Method, tutors and SI leaders should be trained to offer guidance in critical thinking-getting students to use new knowledge to solve problems as opposed to simply answering a question or plugging in an answer.


Sara Weertz, M.Ed.
Executive Director, First Year Experience
ASU Station #10915
Angelo State University
San Angelo, TX  76909
(325) 942-2595
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CRLA President-Elect 2013-2014<>

-----Original Message-----
From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Marcia Toms
Sent: Tuesday, January 07, 2014 1:31 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: guidelines and ethics online homework

Long post warning!  Must be using typing to keep my fingers warm :)

Hi Jane,

Ah the joys of online homework.  On one hand, it "makes" students do their homework because each assignment is grades (as opposed to written homework which may be spot checked or never graded).  And it gives instant feedback, which should be great.  On the other hand, it's presenting a whole new set of challenges.  Before I get specifically into how I talk to tutors, I want to set up how I see students and faculty are using online homework at least at NCSU (the home of webassign... talk about eating your own dog food :)

Most science and math gen ed courses here use some sort of online homework.

A few departments even mandate it for certain courses.  Faculty encourage students to work on assignments together to figure out the material.  Most courses have multiple submissions with little to no penalty for using the multiple submissions (sometimes students get 10 submissions for a multiple choice question with 4 possible answers).  Many questions also come directly from textbooks, but with certain numbers randomized so the student has to "crunch" his or her own numbers.  Some faculty have homework due regularly each week, some have a large amount due right before a test.

What I notice about students:

1) The instant feedback and the clear grading makes students very, very focused on getting all their webassign points.  Homework becomes a goal, not the path to a goal.  They will spend hours talking to everyone they can about how to figure out a single problem.  From my perspective, there is a large opportunity cost spent on getting what amounts to 0.1% of their final grade.  Time that could be spent understanding fundamentals (or even getting sleep) is spent hunting around, copying other people's solutions and trying to adapt their own numbers.

2) Students use whatever resources they can find.  Students have access to their notes and book.  They also compare solutions to peers.  And entering in a few phrases of text of a physics problem in google will supply students with a lot of worked out solutions.

3) The instant feedback/multiple submissions creates a culture where students will just try things.  Didn't get the right answer for a physics problem, try changing the sign, or use sine instead of cosine.  I know working backwards from a solution is a time honored learning strategy (one that I have employed myself) but the quick feedback seems to make it move faster, and I don't see much reflection after figuring out the right answer.

In my dissertation research (excuse the shameless self-promotion), both the higher and lower achievers all used resources available to them (textbooks, notes, peers, internet).  There were two main differences: 1) the lower achievers tended to equate homework with studying and 2) the lower achievers were less accurate in their assessments of their knowledge.

The 100/100 homework grades gave the lower achievers a false sense of knowledge, and they lacked the metacognitive awareness to remind them 1) they used a whole lot of resources when earning that 100 and 2) that doing it once (using all those resources) doesn't mean that they can do it again on their own, in a timed/stressful environment.

So, when I talk to tutors about online homework, here's where I start:

1) I share these observations with the tutors.  Get them to think about how they complete their homework (especially ask them to compare/contrast online homework in a class they "care" about with one they don't).  And we encourage tutors to talk to students about the challenges... "That's great you got this.  [Next time I see you/in a couple of days], try this [similar problem] to make sure that you can do it on your own without any help (from me or your notes)."

2) In semester long tutoring relationships, I stress going over concepts first.  Talking through what was covered in lecture, trying to rework a sample problem, covered up, annotating it so they have more complete notes, etc...  After a while, if the student is clearly doing that on her own, they may shorten that section and move to difficult homework.  Even in drop-in or less regular sessions, tutors start by asking about concepts or what the student already knows.  Often, they end up reviewing/practicing more basic material that the student hasn't grasped.

3) If tutors feel it's appropriate to work on a homework problem, the student should already have attempted the homework (significantly... show me your work).

4) Sometimes, tutors need to help on specific online problems (not just a similar one).  Because the "trick" of the problem can't get modeled any other way.  I see this a lot in physics where the student needs help getting the picture correct from the words.  The tutor uses Socractic questioning to help the student piece together the picture herself.

5) Tutors are good about not rushing after a problem is complete.  The tutors often get the student to summarize the process, the difficult parts, what they need to memorize, etc...

Sorry so long, homework is obviously a bee in my bonnet :) -Marcia NC State University

On Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 1:10 PM, Jane Neuburger <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:

> Happy New Year to all colleagues!


> I've just searched the archives, looking for a discussion or thread

> regarding guidelines and ethics for tutors working with online

> homework assignments.  Beyond our "usual" guidelines (thank you, CRLA

> and ATP; and

>, have we had, as an organization, a

> discussion on what guidelines to provide for tutors who work with

> students in the online homework world?  May I invite comments on this,

> please?  I'm hoping to have one of my Level III tutors present a

> workshop on this, and he'd love your commentary.


> Here's what we face at Syracuse:  I've talked  with department chairs

> in the sciences and in mathematics.  Several of our science

> departments are using Mastering Biology and Mastering Chemistry (Pearson products).

>  Homework generally counts for between 10-20% of the grade, although this

> is always at the discretion  of faculty.   When homework existed in the

> textbooks, a number of faculty and departments asked that tutors work

> on the similar problem sets, not the exact homework sets.  This is no

> longer possible in at least some of the online sets.  Our department

> chairs have asked that at least, the tutors do not "do" the homework

> and that they direct students to finding the answers in notes or text.

> So, that's what we are doing.

> So, let me start a list of rather unfinished statements.  Please add,

> change, edit!  And, thanks in advance.


> 1). We have discovered that it's better to have students double-check

> their answers before submitting (you earn progressively fewer points

> when you do not get it right on the first try).  This is a variation

> on what students seem to be familiar with in the online game

> environment of "click and if it doesn't work, go back again".

> 2).  Tutors must not do the online, but rather, redirect to the text

> and notes.

> 3).  When or if a student is stuck in an online question. . . .

> 4).  Tutors may demonstrate similar problems before a student attempts

> the online question.  Tutors must always refer back to the students'

> notes and/or text.


> Cheers,

> Jane Neuburger

> Director, Tutoring & Study Center

> Syracuse University

> 111 Waverly Avenue Suite 220

> Syracuse NY 13244

> Main Campus 315.443.2005

> Stevenson Room 105E; 315.443.9942

> Fax: 315.443.5160



> Nationally Certified Tutoring Center; CRLA Level III




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Marcia Toms, Ph.D.

Associate Director

Undergraduate Tutorial Center

Division of Academic and Student Affairs North Carolina State University Campus Box 7118 / 101 Park Shops Raleigh, NC 27695-7118


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