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Many times topics in courses are week-aligned, i.e., topic1 is studied on week1 (say in lecture1 on Monday/Wednesday and then in TA-section-1 on Friday), then topic 2 is studied on week2, etc.

Say the semester is 10 weeks long, and that there are 5 homework assignment (1st assignment covers topic1 and topic2, etc.)

I wonder what is the best strategy to schedule homework assignments, given that deadlines should be (at least) 2 weeks after publishing a new set of homework.

I see several options:

Option 1. Publish homework 1 (topic1+2) at the end of week2, with deadline at the end of week 4. [generaly, publish HW No. i on week 2i with deadline on week 2i+2]

Pros: An assignment is published only after the students saw all the relevant materials and have full two weeks to work on it.
Cons: Students usually work towards the deadline. Then, they actually work on the assignment only towards the end of week4, when topic1+2 are already stale in their minds.
(Another issue, of secondary importance, is that the last HW may interfere with finals.)

Option 2. Publish homework 1 (topic1+2) at the end of week 1 with deadline at the end of week 3. [generally, publish HW No. i on week 2i-1 with deadline on week 2i+1]

Pros: The students exercise topic1+2 immediately after seeing it.
Cons: They have only 1 week to do the assignment; Students that try to start the assignment early may get confused since some of the material haven't been covered yet in the lecture.

Option 3. Care less, do whatever.


Would love to hear your advice.

  • Use Option 1 or 2 or a different plan, publish it and then stick to it, but make one proviso that there will be no changes unless something else and with higher priority causes change : like another exam causing the schedule to change. – Solar Mike Dec 25 '17 at 21:36
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It's indeed an interesting question that I have wondered about myself a few times. In my case it is even worse because I am currently teaching a course that has lectures twice a week, so the scheduling gets even more annoying.

I am not sure if there is a silver bullet. My default nowadays is Option 2 - I publish homework before all relevant topics have been covered in class, just because otherwise it feels like the homework is ages behind the lecture. Another problem of your Option 1 is that the last in-class topics basically cannot be covered by homework at all. With Option 2 you only have like one class that can't be part of the homework anymore.

Of course, the ideal schedule in my opinion is Option 3 - publish all homework at the beginning of class and give students agency over how they schedule their own work. If you worry that students get confused because they don't know whether they should already be able to solve a given assignment, you can always note which lectures it refers to.

  • Publishing all HW at the beginning of the semester is a nice idea, but impractical since we devise new HW every term and write the HW only 1-2 weeks before the put online (ok, we don't write entirely new HW every time, but there is some difference) – Ran G. Dec 26 '17 at 18:46
  • Well I have the same problem, but we should both keep in mind that this is largely a planning fault on our sides. – xLeitix Dec 26 '17 at 18:49
  • Additionally, there are always unexpected events, cancelled lecture, etc. Loosing this flexibility is even worse. But I see your point. – Ran G. Dec 26 '17 at 18:50
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Strictly speaking from the perspective of a student, the more information you provide the better I can plan my schedule to accommodate all of the demands from all of my classes.

At the end of the day, you can (after notifying the class) modify the schedule as needed and the class should consent. However the same sentiment would be not shared when modifying the schedule without a plan whatsoever.

This is from someone who needed to take 24 units a semester (equivalent to 24 units a quarter). If professors didn't plan ahead of time, I would have to allocate flex time as part of my schedule. If assignments ran against big projects, I would have to make trade offs in quality.

  • I give work with a 2 week notice and 80% of the students attempt it on the last day AND expect me to answer all their questions by email at midnight when the test is the next day - planning Ha they have no idea what the word means... – Solar Mike Dec 25 '17 at 21:26
  • Would not planning affect this result? I would argue not. Those who do things the last minute will do things the last minute regardless of the presence of a well-thought-out plan. But for the students that need to juggle multiple classes and demands, having a plan is paramount to success. The system positives of having a plan benefits those who plan ahead, the efforts of one (the teacher) would have net benefits for those who choose to plan ahead. – Frank FYC Dec 25 '17 at 21:30
  • As far as last minute question, what would be the restrictions of you stating in the syllabus that questions will not be answered the day before? – Frank FYC Dec 25 '17 at 21:31
  • I give a detailed plan of what and when - do they read it... oh and those questions I already give a time limit for end of questions... Guess what - they still send the email : perhaps they can’t tell the time let alone read. – Solar Mike Dec 25 '17 at 21:33
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. – Frank FYC Dec 25 '17 at 21:35

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