It might just be the time of year. Spring has sprung; sports and shows are in full swing. When the weather is so nice outside, who wants to have their head in a textbook? Whatever the reason, those of us here in the Center for Teaching and Learning are hearing some specific complaints about homework and the overabundance of it.
So, how much is too much? It’s hard to gauge. Some students can dash off their homework in half an hour and be knowledgeable and ready for a discussion or quiz about the information. While other students in the same class can take two hours and not manage to wrap their minds around the content. If you are feeling concerned that your homework is too much or not enough, try the following ideas.
Invite two of your students in for a brief discussion about homework in general. Choose two students who may be at both ends of the spectrum for success in your class, or choose a diligent participant and someone who is quiet. (It’s probably a good idea not to choose two friends.) Ask them, “On an average night, how long does it take to do the homework for this class?” Ask them how they do it (alone, in a crowd, with music or in silence, etc…), where they do it (desk, bed, library), and when they do it (morning, after sports, or late at night). From these discussions you can get a feeling if the homework is too much or not enough or if the student themselves need support to make different homework style choices. By talking to two different students, you can get a feel for varied opinions on the homework.
The other idea that might help you succeed in making sure of a proper homework load is to give students a brief, printed questionnaire. Ask the questions listed above and then compile the answers to get a feeling if the amount of homework you are requiring is right for your class and your students.
A final reminder: Most students would prefer no homework, so any of the questions you ask, whether in person or in a questionnaire, are going to be colored by the idea that less is much better. Temper their answers by looking through the lens of responsibility to teach the correct amount of content. You’re still the instructor.