College Academic Rigor Improved with Assignment Frequency

It is September 12th and you assign a month-long project due on October 12th, giving students over four weeks to complete the work.  Because you are giving the students an entire month, you are expecting a great deal of both quality and quantity of work effort involved.  After all, it counts a full 25% of their grade!

  • So when do the vast majority of undergraduate students do the lion’s share of the work?
  • How much time do they really devote to your “major” project?
  • How good are undergraduate students’ time management skills?
  • How can you make sure the middle and lower performing students devote adequate time to your important assignments?  In any class, you will get a certain percentage of motivated students who will do outstanding work; the real challenge is to establish a course structure that motivates the others.

How to Resolve This Dilemma

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know; the vast majority of undergraduate students wait until the last week or even the last few nights to complete month-long or other long-term assignments.   Most undergraduates lack the maturity, commitment, and time management skills to make gradual progress on a long-term project and devote extended amounts of quality time.

Most final projects or papers are nowhere near the standards that faculty expect because of the lack of total effort expended and the last-minute nature of this effort.  Most faculty members respond by lowering their grading standards because otherwise too many students would receive low grades.

So let’s get realistic about most undergraduate students.   What’s the solution for this dilemma?  The solution is not rocket science.  Instead of one to three major assignments throughout the semester, assign much shorter weekly assignments, which end up being about 12 over a typical 15 to 16 week semester, considering that three weeks are consumed by major tests and a final exam.

Advantages of This Weekly Assignment Approach for Students

I also “sell” to students the idea that the weekly assignment approach benefits the students greatly.  I do this in conjunction with showing a course timeline by week throughout the semester which is provided as a Free Attachment.

  • The weekly assignment approach reduces amount of study time for two major tests compared to other classes. My tests largely consist of exercises that apply the concepts derived from completing the weekly assignments.  Therefore, the weekly nature of the assignments provides a forced structure for those less motivated students.  As long as the students are keeping up with the weekly assignments that account for 30% of grade, study time for tests is lessened considerably compared to other classes.
  • Giving weekly assignments enables me to avoid having my course contribute to the end-of-semester stress. While most other courses have both major long-term projects due and major tests at the end of the semester, my plan allows students to complete work steadily over the course of the semester.   The weekly frequency of assignments requires students to expend the normal four to five hours during the last few weeks of the semester, instead of requiring all-nighters.

The Educational Superiority of Weekly Assignments

Having students complete quality weekly assignments that apply and reinforce academic topics is ideal from a learning model standpoint.  Study and analysis by students frequently over a period of time is a much more effective learning/retention environment than less frequent, major assignments.

Another obvious benefit is that students receive real-world problem solving assignments on nearly every major weekly topic studied in the course, instead of major project work in conjunction with only a few topics.

My major course Core Purposes include a) enhancing the creativity, resourcefulness and strategic nature of students’ problem solving skills, and b) strengthening students’ presentation and Excel skills. With approximately 12 quality graded weekly assignments, one can make immense progress on these Core Purposes as opposed to only several major projects that are unable to come near achieving these above objectives.

So Why Don’t We Find Weekly Assignments Commonplace?

Most undergraduate faculty are unable to devote the time involved in developing and grading weekly mini-case work assignments and fielding corresponding student questions.  Research, publishing, presentations, committee work are the priorities of the vast majority of today’s undergraduate faculty and graduate students.  Instructing students comes after the above priorities, which drive tenure, compensation and day-to-day departmental recognition.

While teaching marketing, despite being assigned two sections with 75 students each, I was not provided with a graduate student (or some other resource) to assist me in grading weekly assignments and quizzes because I was not conducting research as a part-time instructor.   In order to avoid compromising the learning environment for students, I ended up hiring graders out of my own pocket to assist me.  I realize that it is not realistic for instructors to absorb the cost of grading; however, the priorities of graduate students need to radically shift to incorporate major grading assistance.   Combining a higher emphasis on faculty to dedicate time to instruction functions, as well as more time allocated for grading from graduate students would enable our undergraduate business schools to reap the benefits of weekly assignments.

To avoid plagiarism and to require students to solve weekly assignments on their own, cases given from semester to semester must be altered or totally changed.  There are casual and sophisticated filing systems of prior assignments that too often students gain access to.  Changing assignments takes a great deal of time but ensures that every student is challenged properly.

Propelling Forward Increased Frequency of Assignments

The following student emails I received articulate the immense benefits of weekly assignments to undergraduate business students and their ultimate employers.  To achieve these benefits, the priorities of faculty and graduate students need to be shifted to support the time-consuming efforts behind the development and grading of weekly assignments.

“This semester my most challenging and rewarding class has been Marketing Management.  The weekly assignments taught me many practical things in business (RFPs, Gantt Charts, etc.) and also made me become a near expert in Excel.  Thank you for the great experience.”

“The material presented in class was very educational, informative, and pertinent.  Information was constantly related and applied to real world situations. As I went back to the syllabus to jog my memory of particularly notable topics, I realized that I had learned valuable information from every topic from lectures and completing the weekly assignments.”

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