In small classes (with <50 students) I have mostly had positive experience for assigning homework. The homework allows the students to better learn the concepts and to better prepare for the exams. Usually, the score of my homework has been 10% of the total grade. Usually the homework are graded by a teaching assistant.

What are the pros and cons of assigning the homework for large classes?

What are the effective methods for assigning homework for such classes?

(If the subject matters, I means a calculus class of about 200 students).

3 Answers 3


Given that your job is teaching, not just lecturing and grading, I don't see any cons. If the students don't practice, they won't learn. People learn through practice and repetition, not from hearing lectures and taking exams, cramming from notes and a book.

Learning something involves physically rewiring the brain. The neurons get new connections (synapses) that need to be reinforced. See The Art of Changing the Brain by James E Zull for the science behind this.

Sadly enough, students don't really know how to learn in too many cases, nor do they have the time or discipline to do what is not required of them. So you need to give them meaningful practice as well as a goad to get them to do it. I think, actually, you would be more effective if the percentage of the grade for homework was much higher than 10%.

If you have adequate support (TAs) then there should be little reason not to have such graded homework with comments not just numbers on them.

If students get a lot of practice they will actually remember things and be able to put it to work later. Otherwise it is as fleeting as the end of the course.

Even if it is impossible to grade all the work you give them, give them the assignments anyway. While it doesn't solve the goad problem, it at least gives guidance those with a bit of discipline. Even if you permit them to work together on homework or to grade each other's work, it is better than expecting them to learn without practice, practice, practice.

  • @DanNeely, thanks. Fixed "don't know". Sometimes I make sense, actually. I just made a comment at Academia that "You'd be surprised at how many mistakes you'll make without [reviewers and editors]."
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 17:50

For numerically-based assignments like the ones in the classes I teach, I tend to use automatically-marked assignments in things like Blackboard or Webwork. That still gives the students feedback on what they did right and wrong, but means I just have to spend a little up-front time, not time marking lots of assignments.

I believe that personal, individualized feedback is better done during in-class tutorial sessions, during "office hours", and written as feedback to midterms or project work.

I tend to agree with both Buffy and Makeo: Giving students a structure and pace from which to learn is important, BUT students learn differently, so a variety of learning mechanisms should be used.

Pro: Giving students structure and pacing for their learning.

Con: Inefficient use of tutors' time.


There are multiple cons to graded assignments.

Firstly, you impose a particular study schedule upon your students. Many of these students will have their own personalized learning routines, which your graded assignments mess with, since the students now constantly have to meet whatever deadlines you set. Some students may learn better in different ways, and may have to reprioritize their methods just to meet your demands.

Secondly, for large classes, it becomes more difficult to spot cheaters. If you have a class of 20 people, it's often easy to see if one student has been copying off of another student. But if you get 200 papers, that becomes much harder.

Thirdly, it's a lot of work for your TAs and yourself. Grading 200 papers every week for, say, 14 weeks? That's a lot of work, and for what? 10 % of their grade? What's the point?

I still think assignments are a good idea in general, but one should not assume they are perfect.

  • 1
    Hi, Welcome to SE Academia. Towards the best experience in this community (and elsewhere) I recommend you rephrase your answer objectively towards meeting the guidelines on "Be kind and respectful towards other users".
    – Scientist
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 12:42
  • Unless homework is scheduled out to the hour, giving students the two to seven days between course sections to get homework done isn't really imposing rigidity in their routines. Also, @buffy never claimed homework was perfect, just that they consider the pros to be convincing. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 12:49
  • 5
    I took the liberty of providing an edit that leaves your argument intact, while still meeting the community standards of being kind and respectful. I hope this helps to demonstrate the way of disagreeing that we welcome here.
    – BrianH
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 13:05
  • Time management is a valuable skill learned in university if it wasn't already learned. In the United States, for every hour a student is in class, the general expectation is that students spend 2-3 hours outside of class preparing / studying / writing papers / etc. That means a student should be making sure that they have, in the case of a full 15 credit hour semester, 30-45 hours free during the week to do their work, and it's not unreasonable to expect some of that to be available in between class sessions. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 13:44

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