[Policy explanation] No more group assignments

People

Nickvash Kani

January 30, 2024

Group homeworks

Historically, homeworks could have been completed in groups of at most three students. Ideally, the way it should have worked is that each individual in a group looks at all the problems and comes up with some quick notes on possible solutions. Then the group would come together and attempt to reach a consensus on each problem. Finally, the solution writing and presentation would be divvied up between the members so alleviate some presentation burden.

Datapoint #1

In SP23, there was a problem in the Divide and Conquer lab that was also assigned in the homework.

This is a classic linear time selection problem and once you know the solution, it is almost trivial. Problems like these typically make good exam problems and seeing as this problem was in a lab and on a homework, I figured I would put something similar on the exam:

Or in this case, not just similar, but exactly the same. The question is: “how many students showed any knowledge of the standard solution mentioned in class, lab and homework solutions?”: 28%.

There were lots of brute force solutions which thankfully pulled the average up, but only 28% of students had any knowledge of the linear-time solution. So the question is why? Well given that 28% is a bit less than a third, and that homework groups consisted of three students maximum, my theory is that the vast majority of students working in a homework group divvied up their problems and not paying attention to the rest of the homework. Not good. I’m not making moral judgments because I do not believe in good or bad people, just people with differing priorities reacting to their environment. But as a professor my job is to incentivize learning especially since the reward for that knowledge is not immediate.

Will update with more datapoints over time.

Conclusion

Given this information, I am eliminating groupwork. I have reduced the homework burden compared to past semesters so a single person should be fine doing all the problems themselves and the overall workload is similar to other ECE/CS courses. If group assignments are important to you, I believe Section A will maintain the historical groupwork structure. For my part, I firmly believe in making iterative changes every semester in an effort to continuously try and improve the course and that is what I am doing now as well.