Improving the effectiveness of homework

Interesting study published this week in Educational Psychology Review this week claiming that by making 3 relatively small changes to homework significantly improved outcomes.

Rice study: Simple changes to homework improved student learning

The study alternated the type of homework that undergrads received each week. The intervention homework has three principles:

Repeated retrieval practice – In addition to receiving the standard homework assignment, students were given follow-up problems on the same topic in two additional assignments that counted only toward their course participation grade.

Spacing — Rather than giving all the problem sets for a week’s lectures in one assignment, the researchers spaced the problems over three weeks of assignments.

Feedback — Rather than waiting one week to learn how they did, students received immediate feedback on intervention homework, and they were required to view the feedback to get credit for the assignment.

This study involved engineering undergrads, but the use of spaced , retrieval practice and feedback have all variously been established as effective ways to help improve students’ attainment, so it further confirms the general efficacy of these strategies. The use of immediate feedback via a ‘digital tutor’ is hardest to replicate (especially if your homework is essay based!) – though not impossible for other subjects or where multiple choice might adequately provide practice.

The repeated measures design they used might be a relatively straightforward way of testing our own small-scale innovations. It might be easier to replicate that structure to investigate the effectiveness of other study interventions than to use independent groups – with all the problems of random allocation / individual differences / different teachers / etc.

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