What are online homework assignments?

Online homework describes any work a teacher assigns over the web that students must submit in the same way. As long as students have reliable internet access, teachers can post homework assignments online, collect student work, and provide immediate feedback on these electronic documents with PDF tools like Adobe Acrobat Pro.

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How online homework is good for students.

Many researchers have examined whether students find it more difficult to complete homework online than with pencil and paper and whether moving homework online results in significant differences in student success.

In their paper “Online Homework: Does It Make a Difference?” physics professors Scott Bonham, Robert Beichner, and Duane Deardorff conclude that assigning and grading homework online is a viable option. They found that online homework makes little difference to student performance in college algebra and calculus courses. And in a survey, more students preferred doing their homework online than with paper.

Other studies found that some students who do online homework perform better than students who use traditional homework methods. Researchers from Western Michigan University and Medical University of South Carolina summarize several online homework studies in “Online Homework Versus Pen and Pencil Homework: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs?” and find some cases linking interactive, web-based homework to a greater understanding of the subject matter and better grades.

Graphic of a teacher commenting on a student's homework in a PDF document on a laptop

The 3 benefits of online homework.

Whether a class is remote or in person, students and teachers both can gain from taking homework assignments online.

1. Faster feedback

When teachers collect homework online, they can give instant feedback to students. With the comment tools in Acrobat Pro, teachers can add notes to student PDFs that students can immediately incorporate into revisions or apply to their next assignments. Teachers are freed from lugging stacks of student work from the classroom to the office and back.

2. Greater flexibility and accessibility

With online homework, students can stay current on their assignments even if they miss class or forget to write down the details. Students can’t lose their homework, and they can ask clarifying questions by adding their own comments to the assignment PDF. They can also collaborate on group work, even if they’re online learning, by using the same link to add comments to a PDF.

Students with visual impairments or other reading difficulties can hear their homework assignments with the Read Out Loud feature in Acrobat. Read Out Loud uses the voices already installed in a student’s system to read all of the text in a PDF, including the text in comments and alternate text for images and fillable fields.

No matter where students are, they can submit almost any assignment electronically. Even a high school or college algebra assignment done with pencil on paper can be submitted electronically. All the student has to do is snap a photo with the Adobe Scan mobile app, and their paper full of equations becomes an editable PDF. The student can then share it right from the app.

3. Practice with computer literacy

As more and more work moves onto the internet, students benefit from developing an early familiarity with online work. Through online homework assignments, students can practice their problem solving and critical thinking skills while also learning how to navigate electronic documents and digital document tools.

A teacher and their students looking at a computer screen together

Challenges of online homework.

Teachers need to understand the challenges of online homework assignments so they can be prepared to find solutions and set up their students for success.

1. Motivation.

In a completely online classroom, students can struggle to stay motivated and engaged. In a live setting, students benefit from in-person interactions, but if online assignments are in no way connected to the activities in the physical classroom, students might face a similar lack of motivation. To avoid that problem, establish a clear connection between online assignments and learning outcomes. Provide feedback by annotating work so that students feel recognized for their efforts. Be sure to provide the support students need in knowing how to access online materials and view scores, feedback, and other outcomes. Encourage students to publish and share their work in a polished PDF format to celebrate their accomplishments.

2. Distraction.

For some students, the immediate availability of a browser window that can whisk them away from the discomfort or boredom of completing an online assignment is just too tempting. However, getting distracted easily is a problem most students encounter even with paper homework. Coach your students on how to stay on task. They can try the Pomodoro Technique with a YouTube video timer to break work into productive intervals and take planned but limited breaks.

3. Access to technology.

Millions of students do not have access to the internet at home. These students face serious obstacles in being able to complete online homework assignments. Teachers and administrators need to be thoughtful and devoted to ensuring that every student has access to the tools they need to achieve the same learning outcomes as their peers.

A student completes online homework successfully.

Take more work online.

With Acrobat Pro, educators can do much more than assign and comment on homework. They can complete all of their grading online. Whatever their pedagogy, whether or not they use an online homework system, teachers can comment on student performance, share exam scores, and keep students connected no matter where they are.

And if your school already subscribes to Adobe Creative Cloud for students and teachers, you already have access to these valuable tools.

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