I'm going to be teaching my first course in the fall semester, and I've been trying to think of ways to make the homework benefit the students. One thought I had was to have the homework be due the week following its assignment for full credit, at which point partial solutions would be posted to the course site, or at the following lecture for partial credit. I can think of variants where parts of the assignment could be submitted at each deadline, so if a student figures out how to do problems 1, 3, and 4 but has no idea on problem 2, he can submit the three he figured out for full credit at the first deadline, then use the partial solutions to figure out the last problem and turn it in for partial credit at the second deadline.

What are the benefits and drawbacks for the students and administrators of such a system? Students: Is this a system that you would find helpful? Instructors: Have you tried anything similar in the past, and if so, what were the results?

This is what I've been able to think of so far:

  • Administrators
    • (+) Encourages students to look at the solutions
    • (+) Helps homework be a learning experience
    • (-) Requires two sets of solutions if full solutions are posted later
    • (-) Requires more organization, especially if students are allowed to submit on multiple days
  • Students
    • (+) Provides an extra resource when working through the assignment
    • (+) Encourages completion of the assignment, which should increase retention because students are using (some) of the knowledge
    • (-) Confusing system
    • (-) Assignments will overlap if assigned weekly
  • Perhaps you could elaborate on how you plan to distribute partial solutions? For example, if student A has difficulty with problem 1, and student B has trouble with problem 3, how will you ensure that these two students don't just share their partial solutions with each other? – Mad Jack Jul 14 '16 at 15:10
  • @Mad Jack Partial solutions would be posted online to the course site after the first deadline. Because the opportunity to turn in the assignment for full credit has passed at that point, it doesn't matter (from a grading perspective) who has access to which problems. – Aliden Jul 14 '16 at 15:17
  • Got it. You could consider editing your post with the above clarification [or not, in case my misunderstanding is an outlier]. – Mad Jack Jul 14 '16 at 15:20
  • This system is also used in my university, but the deadlines are not so strict. We have 3 deadline across the semester, which is better than weekly deadlines in my opinion. Also, the students are encouraged to talk to each other in order to understand better the theory. – Mikey Mike Jul 14 '16 at 15:35
  • @MikeyMike Can you clarify how the deadlines across the semester are related to the system I've proposed? Of course the students would be encouraged to discuss; this would just be an additional tool. – Aliden Jul 14 '16 at 15:39

I give weekly assignments and post the full solutions immediately after the assignment is due. However, I also give partial credit (50%) to any assignments turned in after its due date but before the final exam.

I have seen a handful of students utilize this system. Typically they are the ones who normally complete assignments but missed the deadline due to extraneous circumstances. I consider these use-cases to be exactly in the spirit of my policy. Occasionally, I will have a student who submits virtually all of the assignments in the last week of the term. I see this as an unintended consequence of the policy (I would actually prefer to discourage this kind of procrastination).

There are a few downsides from an instructor's point of view:

  • There is a higher organizational load than if you enforce a strict deadline. I find the marginal cost of grading a late assignment to be surprisingly high. If assignments came any more frequently than weekly, I am confident my system would become onerous, and the one you propose would be even worse.
  • There is a risk that an honest (but poor) on-time effort by a student could be surpassed by a dishonest late effort by another student. I haven't seen this but it is a worry in the back of my mind. I try to avoid this by actively encouraging students who do poorly (worse than 50%) to re-submit after looking at the solutions.
  • Why do you think that the system I'm suggesting would be even worse from an organizational load perspective? The way I've conceived it, nine days (or thereabouts) after the assignment is released, the instructor can post full solutions and grade the assignment as normal, aside from needing to sort together two piles. – Aliden Jul 14 '16 at 19:29
  • @Aliden that may have been my misreading of your idea (or more likely my projection of your system onto mine). If the "partial credit window" is only a few days, I could see that being a manageable system. Note, however, that every day you grant in the "partial credit window" is a day that I would see as a delay in getting the graded assignments back to the students. (This last part might not necessarily be true, but it would be true knowing my tendencies.) – HermitianCrustacean Jul 14 '16 at 19:38

I think this is a really good idea. Students who have no clue how to solve a problem need to figure it out and work through it. If they can't do it initially by themselves, then your partial solution will help them, and they'll get partial credit in exchange.

I will add that judging by you saying it'd be "confusing", that assignments would "overlap", and that you'd need more "organisation" to handle the assignments .... it seems you expect many students to make use of this extra deadline? If so, I think that'd be nonoptimal. The vast majority of the students should deal with the vast majority of the problems as they normally would: working on them, following up on their ideas, solving it, and turning it in on the first deadline. You can ensure this by only giving a very low amount of partial credit if they happen to use the second deadline and your partial solution.

Your system should only be in place for that small subset of students working on a small subset of problems that they truly have no clue what to do with. It should be there to ensure that everyone works through and understands everything (and your partial credit is the reason they'll do this, so while it should be low, it should still be something they're gonna want). If the partial credit is too high, not only will all those weaknesses you mentioned come into effect (very confusing system because now students have to measure the probability of their initial solution being correct versus the partial credit they'll get if they wait till the second deadline, it'll require more organisation since many students will be using this system, and it'll give you many overlapping assignments, again because many students will use it for many problems), you also risk making it very unfair towards the students who worked it out for themselves.

  • Thank you for the answer. In my initial post, I was intentionally harsh because I think it's a good idea and I wanted to be clear about any shortcomings. I think that your comment about the amount of partial credit is spot on, and that becomes the way to adjust how many people will tend to use the system. – Aliden Jul 14 '16 at 17:07

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