Online homework has great appeal for instructors, especially those teaching large courses. By using online assignments, instructors don’t have to collect, grade, and promptly return large quantities of homework assignments. Online programs provide instructors with feedback on student performance that can be used to modify the presentation of material in class. Online homework is also beneficial to students. They get feedback promptly, even more promptly than that provided by very conscientious instructors. Online homework can also be designed so that it allows students to work on areas that frequently cause trouble and/or on areas where the individual student is having difficulty.
Despite these beneficial design features, there is a need to document quantitatively that completion of online homework positively impacts student achievement. Some work in this area has already been done, and somewhat surprisingly, the results to date are mixed. Some studies reported a positive impact. In some studies, the correlations were weak, and in others online homework had no impact on exam scores. “The lack of consensus on the effectiveness of online homework highlights the need for further investigations.” (p. 71)
This research team decided to go with an online homework system that had showed better student performance than text-based homework in previous research. “For our study, we examined whether the previously reported learning gains for this online homework system were an isolated instance of success, specific to an instructor, or whether the system had the same efficacy when taught by multiple instructors over multiple years.” (p. 72) To answer that question, researchers collected data from 13 sections of the same course, enrolling 3,806 students and taught by five different instructors over a six-year period.