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.
- Positive: If done correctly, it can be a powerful way where students learn from and bounce ideas off one-another. That is definitely a good thing.
- Negative: The group can simply divvy up the problems and each individual won’t look at the problem(s) not assigned to them. In this case, group assignments are treated as a way to reduce the workload.
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.
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.