I teach freshmen courses. The lessons are in the classroom, but I also use an LMS to receive homework, to communicate grades and comments, and to post additional readings and resources.

It is normal to encounter a few students not doing work, but this term, I found about 80% of one section doing no homework, even easy work. To investigate why so many students are not doing the work, I tried these strategies:

  1. I sent private messages to each student informing them that they missed several assignments and that it is their responsibility to inform me of any problems. The students did not reply.

  2. I posted a private survey to the LMS to all students, asking for students to describe any problem they were having with the LMS or homework. None of these students completed the survey.

  3. Seeing no replies after 5 days, I set aside some of class time for a whole-class discussion on this topic, but this made students nervous. In retrospect, realize this was a poor choice.

I did learn through the discussion that some students did not know how to use the LMS and now that we've spend 20 minutes covering that (again).

After my discussion, more homework is coming in, but still about 50% of the class has a 0%.

  • I do not see this problem in my other sections, nor have I had this failure rate in past years.
  • A student signed me into their account, so I could confirm that there were no anomalies in the LMS for this section.

I want to identify why this section has so few students submitting work, so that I can make appropriate adjustments to the course, as necessary. How can I investigate this problem further, without making students nervous to explain?

  • 4
    I don't have experience with LMS, so I'll just provide a suggestion. I would use LMS to do all those homeworks before I assign them to the students to see what kind of problem the students might have. If I find problems using that LMS, I would seek help from the LMS support, i.e. it was not students' fault. If I find no problem with that LMS, I'll fail the students. Please note that I am saying that I'll work through all the homework problems using the LMS.
    – Nobody
    Oct 25, 2014 at 8:06
  • 3
    You don't describe reminding your students of the consequences of not submitting homework. Lazy students aren't suddenly going to start doing homework on an unfamiliar system because you ask them nicely.
    – JeffE
    Oct 25, 2014 at 15:24
  • I've checked the LMS from a demo student's perspective and found no problems. The course is identical in every way to what other sections have access to.
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:06
  • Yes, I explained the math behind the grading (fairly standard), let them know that if they start work now, they still have a chance to pass, and told them if they did not start submitting the work, they would fail. Most of these students are not even going to the LMS to check their failing grades.
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:07
  • Even if you have a proper Exam for a proper grade at the end of the year you can warn students that if they dont do the problems they may fail .You can get the repeat students to tell the others what happens if you dont do your homework .You tell them that if you can do the problems unaided then you will pass otherwise you may fail.
    – Autistic
    Mar 27, 2016 at 7:38

3 Answers 3


You have been around the block a few times, so I interpret this question to be "What is going on with THESE PARTICULAR students?" And of course I don't know.

I have run into some scenarios at my large public university which may be relevant:

  1. Recent admission changes which bring in students from more low-income schools with less experience with self-regulated learning.

  2. Changes in course requirements which allow less-experienced students to take the course.

  3. Limited timing of a different required remedial class made one of my two sections also all remedial.

  4. A shift to making a class more online also allowed students to fall behind more easily.

Whatever the reasons, I would also want to know why this results in homework avoidance and how to help overcome this.

Have you tried having undergraduate tutors ask the students what would help? Your students might feel safer admitting problems to peers.

  • (1) and (2) seem very likely the reason. I'll contact the administration to see if this co-hort was created differently.
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:01
  • @Village (2) is the reason I asked you to test the LMS yourself, see my previous comment underneath the question. Some students just don't know how to deal with some badly designed LMS.
    – Nobody
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:07
  • That may be the case. I use Edmodo as my school's official LMS is not maintained properly. In Edmodo, all upcoming homework is arranged like blog posts on a single page, with instructions and due date printed right there, and a large "Turn In" button. Students do not even need to navigate anywhere to find the assignment or instructions which appear right on the front page when logging in. These incoming freshmen have never used this previously, but as they are IT majors, I'm surprised they'd possibly have difficulty using this interface.
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:22
  • @Village Aha. You did not say they are IT majors. In this case, I would say fail them if you have told them to turn in the homework at the beginning.
    – Nobody
    Oct 26, 2014 at 11:09
  • 5
    I have confirmed that (1) and (2) describes exactly the situation with these students.
    – Village
    Oct 27, 2014 at 10:43

There are many aspects to this question, which amount to "what are some good teaching techniques?" In fact, I think getting students to do homework assignments is one of the most important parts of teaching. I recommend you look for in person training programs at your intitution's (or a nearby institution's) teaching center. Each institution in this network has such a program: http://www.cirtl.net/.

When I did this, I learned how to design better assignments, lead better class discussions, create more engaging classes, and find out what determines student success. I think most senior faculty would benefit from similar training.

In this case, I suggest creating in-class activities the students cannot do unless they did the homework.

Also, in my experience, all LMS suck. Don't use them except when you have to (typically to keep grades confidential).

  • I agree about LMSes, but the homework is best submitted digitally and the LMS is much better than simply using E-mail.
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 4:58
  • 1
    I agree that there is always room for improvement in my teaching, but I already have quite a lot of pedagogical training. Is there something more specific I can do to identify the causes of this group doing poorly, while other groups have been doing well with my teaching format?
    – Village
    Oct 26, 2014 at 5:02

Undergrad here,

+Is there any chance an above-average percentage of these students are registered for a pass/fail grading option? They might think "oh I just need a C" and be choosing to ignore the homework, thinking they can just ace the exams. Even good students do this. Perhaps your registration system puts them in one section.

+It could also be that your problem section was the only one left open for people who did not bother to register in a timely manner. Thus, slackers would be overrepresented :). There would also be a shortage of good students that the slackers could copy from. Was there confusion about the availability of your class this term?

+Perhaps there was a miscommunication about class drop procedures. People just quit doing the work and think you will be the one to unregister them? Are these people coming to class? Perhaps the hypothetical hasty-registered "slacker section" have decided to mass quit...but slack off on the unregistering.

Or, like the others have said, something is wrong with your LMS and they might not know which homework is due. If there is a tech issue, it might not necessarily "look broken" and people think you just have not given any homework YET.

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