In every class, there is one. Whether they deliberated until the morning it was due, couldn’t be bothered or forgot altogether, when the time comes to hand in the day’s homework, he or she will be sitting ready with a sheepish smile and an excuse as to why, yet again, no work is forthcoming.
Now, however, with the advent of modern technology and rapidly advancing aids to learning, that student may never need an excuse again.
It’s no secret that traditional learning is losing the battle against the rising tide of tech these days; e-learning is becoming all-pervasive. From the humble interactive whiteboard, a relatively simplistic measure to save space and allow more information to be broadcast at once (a critical development for those, like me, who struggled to take notes quickly in classes), to classes where textbooks have been swapped for tablets, more and more schools are rushing to embrace new advances to keep up with the generations they are trying to teach.
The implications of this on the education system across the last few years have been staggering. No longer does a teacher have to decide on the single best way to impart wisdom to a class and hope that it sticks; with interactive projects he or she can incorporate concise visual and auditory stimulation to appeal to children that learn best in a variety of ways.
The ready availability of YouTube and other video-hosting websites allows a demonstration of potentially risky or complicated experiments at the stroke of a key. Chemistry classes don’t just have to talk about what happens when Caesium reacts with water, they can watch it as good as firsthand with high-quality videos, using a range of angles and speeds for the full package.
This direct and constant access to the sea of information can help find better ways to engage children, and gives more routes to understanding the topic at hand, whether through a more dynamic range of examples or a more efficient usage of time. Many schools are trying different teaching styles, which focus on using modern teaching aids to facilitate interpersonal learning.
With such a wealth of resources available, a class can be set a wide range of assignments from a central hub and allow the teacher to come and help the students that really need it. As much as this technology may be useful for e-learning, it is still technology, and children show a much greater affinity for it than for working from a textbook.
Online resources can be constantly progressing and evolving, allowing students to find more depth on a certain topic or progress onto the next if they need it, which allows a greater range of development for an entire class than a static workbook.
Yet this willingness to adapt and modernise may do away with one of the classic trademarks of school altogether. With such a constant connection to the information network, the boundaries between school and home are being broken down, and homework is rapidly becoming an archaic institution.
With more efficient lessons, even the slower children may be brought up to speed in a fraction of the time, and this allows teachers to critically reinforce the topics they teach. Traditionally, this was the purpose of homework: to take home and practise what you learned so as to ensure it was retained. If every child has already learned and understood the topics in their minds by the end of a lesson, is this purpose not somewhat obsolete?
A study by Galloway, Conner & Pope, published in the Journal of Experimental Education, found that students being pushed to do ‘pointless’ or ‘mindless’ assignments for the sake of grades, and ‘overlearning’ what they had already been taught, were suffering both physically, mentally and developmentally. The students were found to be developing issues with stress, sleeping patterns, headaches, and even depression.
Such problems lead to knock-on effects where the important new information being taught in lessons is being wasted, as retention and effort are drastically reduced when under the effects of sleep deprivation. Thus, forcing students to over-study one topic may lead to an inability to correctly learn another.
Additionally, with access to the same technology at home and at school, with phones and handheld tablets more powerful than the computers of the millennium at nearly every child’s disposal, there is also very little to ensure the authenticity of a child’s homework. Parents and older siblings need no longer apply to help with equations, as a trip to WolframAlpha will solve them without requiring any additional input.
Even online plagiarism filters used to check essays can be beaten. Services exist online to combat and bypass filters with basic tech tricks, or, in the case of unemployedproffessors.com, older students can effectively hire an out-of-work teacher to write an assignment for them. Whilst this is obviously not foolproof, as a D+ student suddenly turning in an A* paper will turn heads, the fact remains that the safeguards of the past are a fraction as strong.
There are, however, alternate approaches to these problems. Curriculum evolution in reaction to modern teaching methods has led to the rise of a ‘No Homework Policy’ in a growing number of schools. These schools, such as Gaithersburg Elementary School, ML, and College de Saint-Ambroise, Quebec, are doing away with the entire concept of homework as an extension of this modern teaching style and allowing students to focus on other crucial parts of their development, in reaction to papers such as Etta Kralovec’s “The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning.”.
In the above example, the students are given a half hour of personal reading time in lieu of homework assignments, to further extend the importance of learning to extra-curricular development. Similarly, the Finnish education system, lauded for over a decade as one of the best in the world by the NCEE, focuses on all aspects of development for children and students, backed by a culture that places high value on the importance of education, and high quality policies regarding the recruitment and training of teachers.
This system facilitates learning as best as possible, by funding schools with substantial government grants, providing hot meals and psychological counselling and health services, spreading the schooling network so as many people as possible have an easy place of education to reach and subsidising travel for those that don’t, and providing lessons in a wide breadth of subjects from academia to trade skills.
There are no ‘Advanced Placement’ classes, either; students with a higher understanding of a subject matter are expected to help out those without. The high quality of this education system comes with absolutely no burden of homework at all.
So what can we take away from all of this? I think that we can see the way we teach will continue to evolve and develop as technology marches on. And though we must keep up if we wish to stay on top, if we try to adapt to the technology without adapting our attitudes we will find ourselves falling backwards, and affecting the lives of our youth as we try to force them to do things ‘just because that’s how we did it’.
If that means abandoning some of the traditions, such as homework (and creative excuses why we didn’t do it), then so be it.
Written By Alex Benjamin
Brain Smith – https://www.flickr.com/photos/delphwynd/
-Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools, Mollie Galloway, Jerusha Conner & Denise Pope, Volume 81, Issue 4, 2013
-“The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning.” Etta Kralovec & John Buell, 2001
-National Centre on Education and the Economy, NCEE.org
– CIEB, Center on International Education Benchmarking, ‘Top Performing Countries’, Finland.