Optimizing Assignments for Our Over-Scheduled Students

Although we may wish that students had only our course to focus on during the semester, reality is that they must juggle multiple courses with multiple overlapping deadlines, extracurricular activities (project teams), and some level of social life. Common concerns in end-of-semester evaluations related to course assignments include (i) continuously shifting deadlines, (ii) last minute modifications, and (iii) assignments poorly times with respect to content delivery (homework before the lecture).

The following suggestions are perhaps obvious, but is good to be reminded of them anyway as the semester begins:

  1. Have an assignment due early in the semester so students build time for your course into their schedules; by week 3, most students have completely filled their schedules with ongoing commitments.
  2. Be sensitive to students' time-management needs. Assignments and projects should be distributed with clear deadlines and with sufficient time to allow students to interweave them with other responsibilities.
  3. Where possible, coordinate homework deadlines with other required courses in the major, and try to avoid known due dates from large common courses (e.g. Math 2940).
  4. Required topics should be covered at least 4-5 days prior to assignment deadlines.
  5. Emphasize that effort needs to be sustained throughout the week and semester, and not just the evening before the deadline or exam.

Homework and assignments are critical to the learning experience, requiring extensive student effort. Part of our responsibility as faculty is to ensure that this effort is effective.