Allow me to set the scene for you. You are maybe 18, maybe 19 years old, in your second semester of your freshman year. You arrive to your first class, a general education course in a big lecture hall, and your professor begins to go over the syllabus. Within that word file is a six page novel outlining every one of the readings, discussions, essays, group projects and exams that are due each week. What do you do after class?
For many people, you drop it.
I’ve always found that in classes where I have less work from my professor, I am more invested in those assignments that we do have. This means I’m actually learning so much more than I would if I sat down every Friday for three hours straight busting out dozens of assignments, Googling every answer and really absorbing nothing. It also always seems to be those general education or lower-level major classes that assign an overwhelming amount of work. Why do we value quantity over quality?
Many studies have been successful in proving that while homework can lead to positive changes in student achievement, there’s certainly a limit to how much time can be allotted to homework and still keep that student success rate in a positive curve. Duke Today, a product of Duke University, actually reported all the way back in 2006 that high school students were only really able to complete between 90 and 150 minutes of homework a day and still maintain higher achievement. The time range for effective homework increases with age, but even accounting for the additional years in college, that still does not allow for the seemingly endless hours that some professors and classes require.
Even when homework is assigned, it’s important to mention the fact that every student learns differently. Forbes senior contributor Natalie Wexler wrote about the different types of homework and their individual strengths. For example, “retrieval practice” is a type of homework practice where students wait some time after they have learned something new and then are asked to recall details of what they learned without consulting their notes. While this wouldn’t be effective if it were graded for actual quality, it has proven that attempting to briefly recall what they learned in class after they’ve started to forget the content significantly helped their ability to retain that information when it came time to take a test. This means that for a lot of students, doing assignments like discussion posts and responses doesn't really help them understand the content that much — in fact, a lot of students finish discussions before they even do the reading it’s based on by just Googling the material.
That brings us to my next point. The International Center for Academic Integrity has repeatedly emphasized how much work schools need to do in order to prevent cheating. In 1990, before every student carried a smartphone and smartwatch everywhere they went, Donald McCabe, one of the ICAI’s founders, reported, in combination with follow-up studies, that over 60% of university students admitted to some form of cheating. That is no small number — even in the journalism school, where plagiarism can result in expulsion, it’s not spectacularly difficult to cheat. Sometimes students will spend more time figuring out how to cheat than they would if they actually did the assignment. High rates of cheating can be attributed to, you guessed it, sky-high expectations surrounding grades and too much meaningless homework.
There’s just one more final point to address regarding the over assigning of homework in college (and also in K-12, but that’s a whole other beast), and that is the fact that education often places a higher value on academic achievement than mental and physical health and personal development. Alfie Kohn, a lecturer and author experienced in education and human behavior, told The Atlantic that there’s a philosophical question to address when discussing the amount of homework that is appropriate to assign students: why does homework and academic success matter more than a students’ family and friend time, critical thinking skills and social development?
Even though those of us in college are older and more mature than our K-12 counterparts, universities still tout the fact that their school provides not only what students need to thrive in their chosen career field but also knowledge of culture and life through the use of clubs, fraternities and sororities, general education and a very highly regarded athletic program and recreation center. Even Stanford research found that too much homework leads to many consequences like significant stress increases and generally poorer health.
The biggest point here is that despite the fact that a university is supposed to provide a rigorous education and hold students to higher standards, there’s no benefit to overwhelming them with work. Increases in work outside of the classroom not only worsens health and, potentially, academic success, but it also tells students something, even if the message is subtle: your life is not as important as this class. There should never be any reason for a person to sacrifice their own mental health or sanity for one three-credit college course.
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Amanda "Mandy" Betz (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and public relations. She spends her free time shopping, writing and hanging with friends.