Is there any difference in the effectiveness between online and paper-based homework?

July 15, 2020

As part of the Teachers for Research and Feedback program, ASSISTments teachers are matched with researchers to improve math education (and the ASSISTments platform) for many other teachers and students. Learn about one such research project below. If you're interested in becoming a Teacher for Research and Feedback, or to hear about upcoming opportunities, sign up for the newsletter here.

RESEARCHER: 

Luisa Ferrari; University of Milan, Faculty of Political, Economic and Social Sciences, Italy

QUESTION I WANTED TO ANSWER: 

Is there any difference in the effectiveness between online and paper-based homework?

HOW DID I TRY TO ANSWER THIS:

I set up a simple experiment in which two different conditions were compared. Students were divided in two groups: 

  • one half of the students would have access to online homework with tutoring 
  • the other half would not (making their experience much more similar to paper-based homework). 

Each student faced the same set of problems and, at the end, was asked to complete a little test in order to evaluate its improvement during homework. The experiment was built and delivered as a normal problem set in ASSISTments, based on a particular math skill, and was addressed to 6th grade math students. 

WHAT DID I FIND:

The results showed that online tutoring strategies are effective, which was proven by the fact that the students who had access to them scored significantly better in the final test.

This was true even when we controlled for the initial differences between students, such as average past performance or their prior experience with the platform. The effect of access to tutoring strategies can be decomposed by looking at how the condition affects other factors’ impact. The condition seems to partially fill the gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, since the importance of prior knowledge in predicting the final test’s score is weakened when students have the chance to access help and hints. Moreover, for students who do not have access to help, their score during the experiment section does not accurately predict their score during the test, while there is a positive relationship in the other group: students learn more when they have immediate access to explanations to correct their mistakes. In general, the condition seems to weaken the influence of traditional performance predictors, such as previous score and practice level, thus flattening out students’ individual differences in achievement.

HOW CAN THIS HELP TEACHERS:

This study shows teachers how and why online learning methods can help their students. This points to the fact that when teachers are looking for useful online tools that they should look for those that offer tutoring for students and not those that simply replace paper with a computer.

LINK TO THE COMPLETE STUDY AND FINDINGS

The above is a synopsis of the research and its conclusions. If you want to read the full study, click here.

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