Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Online Homework for Agricultural Economics Instruction: Frankenstein's Monster or Robo TA?

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Online Homework for Agricultural Economics Instruction: Frankenstein's Monster or Robo TA?

Article excerpt

This paper describes the programming required for online homework, evaluates its use, and presents methods for student identification and for processing student input. Online homework applications were evaluated in a real class setting. Generally, online homework is cost effective for large classes that have numerous assignments and repeated usage. Online homework appears to increase learning through increased student study-time allocations. Students felt that online homework made course website interaction more productive. They also indicated that online homework increased their perception of the value of lectures and that its use in other courses would be welcome. All findings were highly statistically significant.

Key Words: computer-aided instruction, economics teaching methods, instruction cost effectiveness, online homework

JEL Classifications: A220, G130, Q100

Agricultural economics instruction is under stress. Connor identified some sources of this stress, including the continual tightening of instructional budgets, pressure to shorten graduation time, larger classes, a reduced faculty base, and stress on graduate programs resulting in fewer graduate teaching assistants. As a result, instructors are being asked to do more with fewer resources. This general tightening of available instructional resources, and, in particular, the reduced availability of graduate teaching assistants, has created pressure on instructors of large classes to utilize fewer graded homework assignments. Using the Internet to automate homework is one way to ameliorate the impact of declining instructional support.

This automation is easily envisioned because it requires interactions similar to those which occur when the Internet is used for shopping, making airline reservations, or renewing professional association memberships. While envisioning is easy, implementation is difficult. Developing online homework is technically demanding, and it requires the developer to learn several different programming technologies and new programming languages.

This paper reports on the development and use of online homework in real class settings, and it has two objectives: The first is to describe the programming required to implement online homework. This description will provide an overview of the programming strategy, define and describe the programming technologies employed, and provide references to useful development materials. The intent is to give those with potential interest in developing their own online homework applications direction to the technologies and an assessment of the magnitude and complexity of the programming task. The second objective of this paper is to report students' evaluations of interactive online homework used in my courses. This evaluation will be based on student survey responses and on examination performances. The intent of this evaluation is to estimate the expected benefits from online homework in terms instructional time savings, more positive student attitudes, and enhanced learning.

Literature Review

Economics instruction has a tradition of utilizing the lecture format in what has been described as "chalk and talk" (Becker; Becker and Watts 1995, 1996; Vachris). Agricultural economics instruction also relies on the lecture format, although websites supplement nearly half of the undergraduate agricultural and resource economics courses taught in the western United States. (Dahlgran 2003). Half of these websites contain only course syllabi and instructor contact information, while the other half convey subject matter. The potential benefits of more sophisticated course websites include increased student learning and retention, increased perceptions of instructor effectiveness, more positive student attitudes toward the subject matter, and promotion of active student learning (Agarwal and Day; Simkins; Stephenson et al.), as well as instructional cost effectiveness (Dalgaard, Lewis, and Boyer; Lewis, Dalgaard, and Boyer). …

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