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Are there any benefits to having an entire course's homework problems available from day one?

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Jadav Payeng

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( 4 months ago )


I am designing a course for the upcoming fall semester, and I am tossing around an idea in my head. While planning which topics to cover each week and how to set the pacing of the course, I figured I might as well plan ahead for all of the homework problems I'd like to assign. And if I've already done that before the semester starts ... well, Why not make every homework assignment I plan on giving to the students during the semester available on the first day?

I plan on giving one assignment per week, due on Fridays. Each assignment will have a specific due date, and students will be required to turn in those designated problems by that date (but I will, of course, accept early submissions).

Potential benefits for students:

  • They can see the "story arc" for the course, beyond just a list of topics in the syllabus (which might have terminology they don't understand anyway)
  • They might be more motivated to engage with the course, seeing the kinds of problems they'll be able to solve later on
  • They can get started on problems ahead of time, alleviating time pressure during future busy times of the semester
  • They can set their own pace, rather than waiting for each week's problems to be "released"

Potential downsides for students:

  • Seeing the difficult problems posed later on, or just seeing the sheer number of problems, might demotivate some daunted students
  • They might feel like standards will be higher, knowing that every problem has been available for so long
  • Some students might get distracted from the current topic of the course by working on later problems too far ahead of time

Potential benefits for me, as the instructor:

  • While introducing a topic in class, I can point to specific problems they can now solve with this knowledge (instead of vaguely saying, "You'll see this later on, trust me")
  • I anticipate more office hours visitors as the students work on the problems ahead of time and realize they need help
  • I'll have a set schedule and can use this as an impetus to keep the desired pace of the course going throughout the semester

Potential downsides for me:

  • Having such a rigid schedule might be too restrictive, and small tweaks to the pacing/content of the course will be difficult to implement. (For instance, I would feel uncomfortable adjusting an assignment if some students had already started working on those problems.)
  • Might this lead to more student collusion?
  • It might be difficult to keep students on task if they're generally disinterested in the current topic, for whatever reason

Main questions:

  • Is this worthwhile?

  • Do you have personal experience with doing this? How did it go? Do you have any suggestions for how to do this well?

  • If you'd recommend against it, why? What are the major downsides that outweigh the benefits?

  • Even if you don't have direct experience, do you have any items to add to the lists of benefits/downsides that might help me make this decision?

(For reference, I'm planning this for an introduction to combinatorics and graph theory, a 3000-level course, so mostly 3rd and 4th year students, and almost surely entirely math majors. If your answer takes this into consideration, even better, but this is not a requirement for a good answer!)

what's your interest


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