Tag Archives: Distance Learning

Rethinking Homework For The Post-Pandemic World

Homework sucks. Nobody likes doing it. I think that’s an uncontroversial opinion, even in these contentious times. I may no longer be in school, but I vividly remember how much I hated it. From grade school to college, it was often the worst part of any class, course, or subject. I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment.

That said, I understand why it exists. Like taxes or colonoscopies, it’s a necessary evil. It’s a means by which we test and reinforce the knowledge we teach to young, curious minds. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for determining who is actually learning and who is not.

I bring this topic up not to start a crusade against homework, as some already have in the past. I’m not looking to uphold or expand it, either. I’m raising the issue because the current state of public education is in a precarious state, especially in America.

It’s already well-documented that America’s ranking in the world of education leaves a lot to be desired. There are many systematic issues for that, some of which I’ve ranted about before. Changing that system doesn’t come easy, but if ever there was a time to re-think our approach, it’s now.

A global pandemic has caused huge disruptions to a lot of things, our schooling system being just one of them. In the span of a year, we’ve upended decades of entrenched educational traditions. The whole ritual of getting on a bus, going to a big building, and shuffling kids through multiple classes every day has been tabled.

Yes, it’s distressing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

At the same time, it presents an opportunity. This is a chance to rethink how we go about education. Why not start with homework? Nobody likes it. If we’re going to change anything, let’s start with that.

As tempting as it is to claim homework doesn’t have a single benefit, I can’t overlook the research that has been done on this topic. People have actually studied it. While the conclusions aren’t clear-cut, the current body of evidence suggests some amount of homework is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

How much constitutes “some?” That depends on a lot, both in terms of the students and the subject matter. Some students can handle more homework than others. For others, it’s genuinely detrimental to a student’s achievement. When you look at the data, the only consistent result is inconsistency.

To me, a guy who despised homework as much as any other school-age kid, its impact varied. There were some subjects that I was naturally more interested in than others. Subjects like history, biology, and writing were already something I did in my free time. Homework in those subjects wasn’t too much of a burden.

In other subjects, like English, Spanish, and certain math classes, it was little more than a test in frustration. I never learned anything from it. I just did it to get it done so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually learned from that kind of homework.

I know that’s just anecdotal on my part, but the research seems to bear that sentiment out. If a kid is interested in something, their natural curiosity will lead them to explore it. Homework can actually help with that effort. I can attest to that.

Back in high school, I took a world history course in my sophomore year. Around that same time, I developed a fondness for watching the History Channel, especially its many World War II documentaries. I wasn’t assigned to do it. I just did it because I was curious. It ended up paying off.

Later that year, we took an exam on the World War II period. I did not study at all for it, but I still got a perfect score. I just knew the material that well. The teacher even singled me out for my score, which was a nice bonus.

The same thing happened whenever I had to do an essay question for a test. I liked writing, so that was easy for me. I’m mediocre to awful at every other form of testing. I knew plenty of others who were the opposite. That’s kind of the point. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.

The same logic applies to homework. Since not everyone learns the same way, assigning the same kind of homework for everyone is bound to have mixed to negative results. It’s a blanket solution to a complex problem, which may ultimately hurt more students than it helps. It’s a reason why some jurisdictions have already experimented with eliminating it completely for certain grade levels.

I don’t think that solution is feasible, given how entrenched homework is within the current system. While I’m sure many students would celebrate its abolition, those same students may miss out on the benefits of learning outside school hours.

I know if there were no homework when I was going to school, I probably would’ve been more inclined to slack off. There’s a critical balance to strike when it comes to after-school learning. If school becomes too easy to brush off, then nobody benefits in the long run.

That’s why I’m more in favor of reforming it. One potential alternative is to switch from homework to retrieval practices. That practice emphasizes recalling what you learned rather than doing pre-made assignments. That may actually be easier in the current situation, given the growing prevalence of online schools and distance learning.

There are other alternatives that include a greater emphasis on projects, exploring basic life skills, or assigning certain educational games. Some may or may not be as effective, but like I said earlier. This might be the best possible time to consider those alternatives.

It has been year since I’ve been in school, but I remember enough to know that the system I went through had plenty of room for improvement. I also realize I was lucky. I went to public school in a relatively affluent area. I realize that my school had resources that others didn’t.

The current system for schooling hadn’t changed much since I graduated. Up until this year, public schools had clung to their tried and true traditions, which included their approach to homework. I think the time is right to rethink those traditions.

This past year has completely disrupted the schooling for an entire generation of kids. We don’t yet know the extent of that impact, but there’s still time to guide it. Reforming how we approach homework won’t fix everything, but it’ll definitely help the overall experience for the students. School is hard enough, even without a global pandemic. At the very least, let’s make this one arduous aspect of it a bit more bearable.

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Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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