Section: Opinion

Online homework detracts from learning experience

When I look at Kenyon, I think, “You know, we could be better. We should be more like the University of Phoenix.” It makes sense. The university has many esteemed alumni, such as basketball star Shaquille O’Neal (who earned a master’s in education in 2005), Harold Hurtt and Peter Sperling.

Yeah, I have no idea who those last two are either. But if we’re not trying to be more like the University of Phoenix, then why is Kenyon trying to shove robotic online programs on us? Didn’t we all come to Kenyon so we could actually know our professors?

Every Wednesday for my econ class — without fail — we have a graded homework assignment through a website called Applia. My professor (whom I adore) says this is for convenience, and he’s right. With Applia, he doesn’t have to sit down and grade all of our assignments by hand and then give them back to us two weeks later after we’ve forgotten the material. With Applia, we know at midnight on Thursday what our score is. That sounds great, right?

I’d say no. We’re being graded by a machine and a machine can’t understand our methods or intentions, or give personalized feedback. With Applia, our answers are right or wrong; there is no partial credit, no follow-through points for a slight miscalculation and, most importantly, there is no feedback showing at what point I went wrong. If I make a mistake identifying the deadweight loss caused by a price ceiling, I only know that I got the answer wrong.

I have no idea why my answer is wrong and because of this, I’m not learning much. Had I done this by hand, my professor would have marked off points but he also would have been able to teach me based on my mistake. A computer can’t teach me specifically why I’m wrong; it can only give me a red mark and show me the right answer.

My second transition to becoming a Phoenix is my French class. In French, all of our homework is on our textbook’s supersite. The exercises are usually straight out of the book, which is nice, but do you know what’s not nice? Yep, the red marks from the computer.

I’m not complaining that I’m bad at French. I’m complaining because most of us get marked off for things we don’t need to know in French. In one unit of French, we have probably 50 exercises. Of these 50, 40 are very easy and are good practice to make sure that we know our stuff — but the other 10 are a clear example of the problem with putting everything online.

These 10 exercises are the most important and relevant to our curriculum: writing complete sentences based on listening. In my own experience this is pretty straightforward — but do you know why we all get zeros on this? Because we misspell people’s names. Because there is an extra “r” or “s” in someone’s name, the entire class got a zero. If we had homework that we turned in, our professor would have seen the name misspelled, but also seen that the verb conjugation and adjective agreement were right. A computer doesn’t see this; a computer is just trained to match your answer against the correct one.

Am I complaining too much? Probably. But I’m complaining because I came to Kenyon to have a close interaction with my professors. I came so that I would be Griffin Burrough and not number six on the roll call list. Having online class components may be convenient but from my naïve freshman point of view, they go against what makes Kenyon, Kenyon.

Griffin Burrough ’18 is undeclared from Summit, N.J. He can be reached at


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