US study says small changes to homework assignments could improve learning

March 20, 2014

A study from Rice and Duke universities suggests that small, inexpensive changes to homework assignments, which combine technology and psychology principles, can help students learn more effectively. The study examined students in an upper-level undergraduate engineering course at Rice University who switched back and forth from week to week between 2 different styles of homework: a “standard” type of assignment, and one that incorporated 3 principles from cognitive science that have been shown to promote learning and increase long-term retention. The principle gives students multiple opportunities “to practice retrieving and applying their knowledge on new problems” by assigning questions for one week’s lecture multiple times over the course of several weeks of assignments. The research revealed that students scored approximately 7% higher on the portions of the final exams that were taught using the new homework method. Co-author Elizabeth Marsh explains that further research is needed to determine whether the results are broadly applicable across disciplines and grade levels. RiceU News Release