Note: The authors of this article work for Firefly, an education technology offering chargeable products and services for schools.
Homework is part of the fabric of schools, but its value is frequently contested both in the press (Turner, 2018) and academia (Shumaker, 2016). The increase in school technology, such as online learning platforms, has created new ways to approach homework for teachers and students.
Several studies have looked at homework’s efficacy (Hallam and Rogers, 2018) or questioned its value (Kohn, 2007), but few have canvassed the perspective of students studying within today’s education system. Firefly Learning commissioned two wide-ranging surveys to understand from students how technology supports or hinders their homework completion.
In the UK, the fieldwork was carried out by OnePoll from 22nd January to 8th February 2018 and consisted of a countrywide sample of 2,000 students, aged 11-to-15. Of those students, 87% attended a state school and 13% an independent school. In Australia, Pureprofile were commissioned and carried out fieldwork from 18th June to 28th June 2018. Their survey consisted of 500 respondents aged 11-to-16. Unlike in the UK, the respondents’ school type was not captured as part of the study. The figures throughout draw from the data of these two surveys.
Both surveys asked the young respondents questions such as, “think about when you don’t complete your homework – what is the most likely reason for this?”. These questions were then referenced against age and gender to reveal any correlation to reported levels of homework completion or incompletion.
The OnePoll UK survey asked respondents how many pieces of homework they received, finding that on average they tended to be given six pieces of homework per week, spending an hour per night completing the work, and responses suggested more than one in four pieces of homework is handed in late (28%). This translates into more than 1 million articles of homework being submitted late per day in the UK. A similar picture appears in Australia, with 33.4% finding timely submission of homework a challenge, often resulting in substandard or failed completion.
Both surveys found that reasons for homework not getting done were lack of knowledge in the subject matter to complete the work (23.9% in the UK and 21.6% in Australia) or that it was not a priority and other activities, such as hobbies, hanging out with friends or sports took precedence (20.4% in the UK and 26% in Australia). Within the mix, however, was distraction by technology – that is to say, social media or TV or video games – with 19.6% citing this as a challenge in the UK and 34.6% in Australia.
The study also looked at who, within the samples, was most susceptible to reporting distraction from technology. In the UK, boys were substantially more likely to report being distracted by technology, and as a result not complete homework, than girls. There was also a difference in the type of technology causing these distractions. Boys were more likely to be distracted by video games, TV or YouTube than girls, whereas girls were more likely to find social media a distraction. In Australia, a similar trend was identified, although it was less pronounced.
The clearest age-related trend concerned social media, with older children reporting being increasingly distracted by it, with 14-and-15-year-olds in the UK and Australia more likely to report being distracted by social media than 11-and-12-year-olds.
This research demonstrated the ubiquity of technology in students’ lives and how they tend to gravitate towards it. In the UK alone, schools spend £900 million on education technology every year (Manning, 2017). Many virtual learning environments or learning management systems, which can be used to set homework, are designed to support a bring-your-own-device policy – that is, they work on the mobile devices or computers of students (Bird, 2016). This reveals a tension between the medium through which many students receive their homework assignments, and their engagement with technology for personal use or entertainment. In other words, there is a conflict between school-directed technology use and the technology usage which might distract from this work.
Th application of technology in schools is providing new and varied ways for students to complete their homework, such as providing a tool for tracking deadlines, helping with organisation, directing students to the resources they need, and making the submission of homework possible outside of school hours. Schools continue to adopt technology, implying there is an enthusiasm to try these new approaches to homework setting (Rosser 2017) and with some reported benefits – for example, Fettes College reported a “noticeable reduction in late preps” after the school implemented an online learning tool (Monks, 2016). The opportunity for schools is to leverage their students’ enthusiasm for technology and, if they believe in its efficacy, to use it to support homework – the challenge is whether technology will ever escape being a distraction to such efforts.
Turner, C (2018) Parents in revolt at school’s ‘no homework’ policy as they complain a generation will ‘flunk’ exams. The Telegraph, 27 January 2018. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/01/27/parents-revolt-schools-no-homework-policy-complain-generation/ (accessed 9 January 2019).
Shumaker, H (2016) It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. New York: Tarcher, Penguin Random House.
Hallam, S and Rogers, L (2018) Homework: The Evidence. London: UCL IOE Press.
Kohn, A (2007) The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids get Too Much of a Bad Thing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.
Manning, E (2017) Out with the old school? The rise of ed tech in the classroom. The Guardian, 1 August 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/aug/01/schools-slowly-edtech-sector-cubetto-kahoot-firefly (accessed 9 January 2019).
Bird, J (2016) More pupils are told to ‘bring your own device’ as school budget cuts bite. Financial Times, 6 May 2016. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/c51f9ee0-f744-11e5-96db-fc683b5e52db (accessed 9 January 2019).
Rosser, M (2017) Schools highlight urgent need for teacher CPD in EdTech in major BESA report. Available at: https://www.besa.org.uk/news/schools-highlight-urgent-need-teacher-cpd-edtech-major-besa-report/ (accessed 7 January 2019).
Monks M (2016) How Fettes College achieved 100% tech adoption. Available at: https://fireflylearning.com/blog/how-fettes-college-achieved-100-tech-adoption (accessed 7 January 2019).