A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

ISSN Print : 2229-6557, Online: 2394-9244

Daily Home Assignments at the Tertiary Level of Education

Malvika Gupta

Abstract

The Dayalbagh Educational Institute (DEI) has recently included two new components in its semester-cum-continuous evaluation system, called Daily Home Assignments or DHAs and Class Assignments or CAs.  Professor Dutta Roy introduced a version of the DHA, in the form of daily quizzes, as part of his teaching methodology during his tenure at IIT-Delhi.  This was to initiate self-realisation in students to “the benefits of continuous preparation and serious attention to the class material” causing “them [to] learn the concepts behind every development and enjoy the subject”.  In the same light and in Professor Dutta Roy’s words regarding daily quizzes, the aim of the DHA is to initiate self-realisation in students for “the benefits of continuous preparation and serious attention to the class material”, which causes “them [to] learn the concepts behind every development and enjoy the subject”.  In this article, I will offer an analysis of the value of Daily Home Assignments at the tertiary level of education.

Keywords: Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Daily Home Assignment, tertiary level of education

Introduction

In the words of Jacob Tharu (2011),

Our responsibility as teachers is to discover/understand where our learners are initially and help them move forward. Only hardened autocrats will fail to see the possibilities of collaboration (learner participation) here. In this frame, teaching and assessment become mutually dependent and supportive (p. 30).

It is in this spirit that the Dayalbagh Educational Institute introduced DHAs.  Professor Dutta Roy recalls that he came up with the idea of giving his students daily quizzes from his studies abroad in the United States. In his memoirs, Glimpses From a Lifetime in Teaching and Research, he recounts his experiences of attending lectures of a few reputed teachers at the University of Minnesota, US, which broadened his horizons of knowledge, while at the same time, helped him learn “novel methods of teaching and evaluation”, which ultimately greatly benefitted the students and teacher.  As he narrates, 

In every class, the first thing the Professor did was to pose a problem on the board and ask the students to solve it in a given span of time, typically ten minutes or less. While the students were busy in tackling the problem, the Professor would distribute the graded answer papers of the previous quiz and any handout he or she wished to give to the students. The daily quiz problem was not a routine one, but could be solved easily if the student had followed the previous class lecture seriously. This practice could be implemented in a small class of ten to thirty students, because a large class would mean loss of some more time in collecting the answer scripts (typically a single page, which every student was expected to keep ready); also grading them before the next lecture may pose a burden on the teacher. (2015, p. 5).

Later, in a very interesting manner, Dutta Roy recounts the benefits he experienced when he implemented this novel practice in his own classes at IIT Delhi,

I practiced this daily quiz routine in small classes later at IIT Delhi with very satisfactory results.  Initially, the students did not like it, but as the semester progressed, they came to realize the benefits of continuous preparation and serious attention to the class material made them learn the concepts behind every development and enjoy the subject. For the teacher, it is a boon because it gives instant feedback and almost 100 per cent attendance. Nobody can afford to miss a lecture because the daily quizzes carried 15-20 per cent weight in the final grading of the course (2015, p. 5).

Daily Home Assignment at DEI

At DEI  both the DHA and the CA have been implemented with the aim of achieving two goals:  firstly, to motivate students to become active, involved and participatory learners; and secondly, to offer students a chance to improve their overall performance on an ongoing basis instead of being evaluated on the basis of a few tests and examinations. This continuous engagement, learning and participation, combined with regular feedback and evaluation, helps the student understand where she or he stands and where more effort and attention is needed for further improvement. The CA is a weekly quiz which tests the students on the topics covered in class during that week, which have already been explored and understood in the DHAs done during that week. To better understand this, the DEI scheme for theory courses is presented as follows:

Semester-cum-Continuous Evaluation System

1.1 This is the soul of our innovative programme and radically alters the learning process to the benefit of the students. The result of a single examination does not determine the fate of the students. Examination and evaluation is a continuous and convenient exercise. 75% weightage is assigned to continuous evaluation while 25% weightage is assigned to external end semester evaluation in each major and half course.

1.2 Course: Each course is identified by a course number which contains three letters and three integers. The syllabus of each programme is divided into a convenient number of courses spread over the various semesters.

1.3. Continuous Evaluation: The academic progress of students registered under different programmes is evaluated continuously through a series of periodic evaluation comprising the following:

Table 1

Components of Grading and Evaluation at DEI

Theory Courses

(i)   Class Tests

(ii)  Daily Home Assignments

(iii) Additional Assignments

(iv) Seminars & Group Discussions

(v)  Attendance

(vi) Semester/Module End-Semester Examination

 

Source: “SEMESTER-CUM-CONTINUOUS EVALUATION SYSTEM.” DEI Admission Portal.  Web. 20 Apr.  2017. 

<http://www.dei.ac.in/dei/admission/index.php/important-links/118-semeste....

The educational development and progress of students is further enhanced when they are encouraged to think, read and write about what they have learned in the class and outside of it.  The concepts learned by them are strengthened, while they also explore, critically analyse and evaluate newer interlinked ones, thereby stimulating higher order thinking skills. For the student to benefit, however, the DHA necessarily has to be such that the student achieves the aforementioned objectives. For that, the engagement of both teacher and student determines how well the DHA system works. Such an engagement implies that the teacher needs to reflect on what is taught and design the DHAs accordingly.

My experiences, along with students’ and teachers’ reflections are presented below, which are drawn from teaching one semester of Research Methodology to M. Phil. and Ph.D. students, two semesters of teaching English to Bachelor of Business Management students and Bachelor of Architecture students. In the Research Methodology class, I gave the research scholars daily home assignments to encourage them to do further research on the topics covered in class, thereby strengthening their understanding of it.  In an assignment covering qualitative research and quantitative research, for example, in addition to the standard definitions, I introduced the students to new interdisciplinary developments in their field of study—English Literature and Theory—and encouraged them to reflect on how these two approaches to research can be combined, rather than only using the qualitative approach, as has been generally employed by English literature researchers up to date.  The students were asked to research further on a theorist introduced to them in class—Franco Moretti. Moretti follows a quantitative approach in his study of English literature, in which he advocates using distant reading.  The students were asked to think about how close reading and qualitative methods could be combined with quantitative research methods (distant reading), as occurs when a systems approach is employed in their research and writing to unearth new discoveries and results.  The students were then asked to prepare a DHA on this.  In fact, throughout the course, students were asked to go a step further and write assignments on the topics covered in class. They were also encouraged to think beyond the subject matter taught in class and make further interconnections in their DHAs. 

Regarding the same class, I found that the students often did not submit original written work. To tackle this problem, I put into place the following strategy:

Submission of original work  (to eliminate sharing, copying and cut and pasting)

Practice in oral presentation

Initiate class discussion

Allow students to see what and how other students (their peers) were doing in class

I found that student apathy and disinterest in written assignments began to wane and finally disappear altogether when I incorporated oral presentations of the DHAs. Out of the four classes per week, I set aside one class or half a class depending on the assignment, to make the students present their assignment orally. While each student still brought the assignment in written form, she/he had to share her/his work with the class. To initiate a discussion, I would ask the class if they had any questions. I would then give my feedback and evaluate the assignment on a five-point scale and inform them of their marks immediately. I noticed a change in the performance of the students as compared to the earlier written-only assignments: not only were they more enthusiastic about their assignments, but their performance also improved. They now had a healthy sense of competition and worked with an aim to excel. Thus, a variety or balanced mix of written and oral DHA assignments served the students well. 

Another strategy I came up with was to convert a few DHAs into group DHAs (but with each student evaluated individually) similar to the Seminar-Group-Discussions (SGDs), which are a component of grading and evaluation at DEI.  I conducted group DHAs for B.B.M. students (1st year Business Management students) as I was teaching them phonetics in the first half of the course and, in the second half of the course, speaking (speeches, extempore, debates etc.) and listening skills.

In the second half of the semester, to make the course more contemporary and interesting, I asked the students to watch an episode of a popular television show “Shark Tank”, related to their chosen field of study—business. In this show, entrepreneur-contestants make business presentations of their products to a panel of “Shark” Investors, who then decide whether they will invest in their company or not. We watched one episode of the show in class, and then I explained to them how the show was set up. I divided the students into groups of 4 shark investors and 4 entrepreneur-contestants and asked them to recreate the show and present it in front of the class in turn.

The students were motivated to put in a lot of effort, including written preparation, rehearsal and props. They presented the show in a lively, interesting and professional manner. Not only was this assignment relevant to their academic area of study, it also helped them put into practice what they had learned in theory about speaking skills in English.  The assignment   required them to be good and powerful orators, public speakers, or a presenters. I gave them instant feedback on where to improve and also told them where they had performed well.

Debate is another component of their syllabus.  So, again, I gave them the freedom to organise their own teams—in favour of the topic and against.  I came up with topics which interested and stimulated them. They organised their written material and presented in front of the class.

In the B.Arch. (Bachelor of Architecture) class, narrative and dialogue writing are a part of the course syllabus. In order to make the DHA interesting, I asked the students to once again organise themselves in groups and prepare a skit, including the characters and dialogues, and to present it as a group in front of the class. The students were enthusiastic as they had a chance to work on the skit together, with each character writing their own lines, practicing their English speaking skills, and then performing and also entertaining the class. There was dynamic interaction and synergy in the class and once again they got immediate feedback on their performance from me. This was very different from individually preparing a dialogue in written form that would be submitted to the teacher, and returned with no interactive feedback, which is what they would have done in the traditional method of instruction.

For “Correction of Errors in Grammar”, another syllabus component, I assigned a written DHA in which the students had to compose five sentences with grammatical errors in the usage of various parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, article etc.) and then present the corrected sentences, pointing out the errors, in front of the class and teacher.   I also gave the students incorrect sentences and asked them to identify the errors and present the correct sentence in class.  I then called upon another student to verify that the sentence was indeed correct and if not, where the error (s) lay.

Teacher Observations

My observations and those of the teachers I spoke with and surveyed informally (through a very short questionnaire), generally agreed that submission of original work was an issue. So, I tried to intersperse oral DHAs with written ones, which solved that problem in small to medium sized classes.  However, this was not very practical in large classes, as more time was needed to conduct the oral DHAs and holding the interest of students who were not presenting was another issue I had to contend with. 

In all the classes, I deducted marks as a means to penalise students who were handing in shared or copied work. I would write the name of the offending student(s) on the work of the student from whom I believed they had copied. I announced in the class that I would have zero tolerance for submission of copied or shared work and a “0” would be given to students who handed in un-original work. If there was an inkling of originality, then a 1 or 2 out of a total of 5 marks would be given for effort. Those, who submitted original work would be evaluated in the 4-5 range. I observed that, after the submission of DHAs was done for each week, on C.A. days (held once a week in the form of a quiz), student attendance would be higher than other days because, as S.C. Dutta Roy had mentioned, most students did not want to miss a quiz.

There were, however, some problems in this system of DHAs:  Many teachers faced the problem of unoriginal submissions from students, in which assignments had often been put together using information copied off the internet. Also, in large class sizes, it was difficult for  teachers to grade assignments.  Students, on the other hand, experienced the daily submission pressure of DHAs.

As far as the strengths of the system of DHAs were concerned:  Students were encouraged to do further research on the concepts they had learned in class. Not only did this reinforce their learning, but they also enlarged their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. DHAs also gave the students who did not do well on tests and examinations a chance to improve their marks. The weekly CAs gave the students an idea of where they stood ahead of the Class Tests 1 and 2. They had an opportunity therefore to work harder and improve their performance. As for the teachers, DHAs and CAs helped them keep track of the performance of the students throughout the semester. This, in turn, allowed teachers to create lesson plans according to student performance and needs.

I conducted an informal survey of the students in the classes where I was teaching as well as of the teachers in the Department of English. Most teachers and students who responded to the questionnaire agreed that:DHAs are beneficial.  

DHAs are beneficial.  

DHAs reinforce and strengthen students’ concepts

The current format of DHAs was fine for most students, while some students said that the format and number of assignments could be revised.

Class size is important.

Submission of original work is an issue and has to be constantly monitored.

Conclusion

The introduction of Daily Home Assignments and Class Assignments at the tertiary level of education at the Dayalbagh Educational Institute is an innovative step and effort in the pursuit of evolving an educational system which benefits students by empowering them to become active and participatory learners and offering them the alternative of not being graded on the basis of a few select tests and examinations but on the basis of continuous evaluation.

References

Dutta Roy, S.C. (2017). Glimpses from a Lifetime in Teaching and Research. In S. C. Dutta Roy, Memoirs (pp. 1-13). Gurugram: Indian National Academy of Engineering.

Moretti, F. (2005). Graphs Maps Trees: abstract models for a literary history. London: Verso Books.

Dayalbagh Educational Institute “Semester-cum-Continuous Evaluation System.” DEI Admission Portal. Retrieved from

<http://www.dei.ac.in/dei/admission/index.php/important-links/118-semeste....

Tharu, J. (2011).“Beyond the achievement-proficiency divide: A new perspective on language assessment”. FORTELL. 22: 28-30

 

Malvika Gupta has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), and an M.A. and a B.A. degree from Temple University, Philadelphia. She is Assistant Professor (English) at the Dayalbagh Educational Institute (D.E.I.). Her research interests are in the areas of consciousness, systems theory and literature. In 2011, she was conferred the national award, “Young Systems Scientist Award” by the Systems Society of India for “a young flag-bearer of the systems movement for outstanding contribution to Literary Systems”.

malvikagupta.dei@gmail.com