The Impact of Problem Sets on Student Learning

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of British Columbia]On: 09 December 2014, At: 19:06Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Education for BusinessPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    The Impact of Problem Sets on Student LearningMyeong Hwan Kim a , Moon-Heum Cho b & Karen Moustafa Leonard aa Indiana UniversityPurdue University Fort Wayne , Fort Wayne , Indiana , USAb Kent State UniversityStark , North Canton , Ohio , USAPublished online: 01 Feb 2012.

    To cite this article: Myeong Hwan Kim , Moon-Heum Cho & Karen Moustafa Leonard (2012) The Impact of Problem Sets onStudent Learning, Journal of Education for Business, 87:3, 185-192, DOI: 10.1080/08832323.2011.586380

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  • JOURNAL OF EDUCATION FOR BUSINESS, 87: 185192, 2012Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0883-2323 print / 1940-3356 onlineDOI: 10.1080/08832323.2011.586380

    The Impact of Problem Sets on Student Learning

    Myeong Hwan KimIndiana UniversityPurdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA

    Moon-Heum ChoKent State UniversityStark, North Canton, Ohio, USA

    Karen Moustafa LeonardIndiana UniversityPurdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA

    The authors examined the role of problem sets on student learning in university microeco-nomics. A total of 126 students participated in the study in consecutive years. independentsamples t test showed that students who were not given answer keys outperformed students whowere given answer keys. Multiple regression analysis showed that, along with pre-GPA andstudent major, a problem set with or without answer key significantly explained student learn-ing in economics. The authors discuss the role of answer keys and implications for teachinguniversity economics courses.

    Keywords: microeconomics, problem sets, student evaluation, student learning

    Homework is one of the most common instructional strate-gies instructors use to enhance students learning (Cooper &Valentine, 2001; Warton, 2001). Homework refers to any as-signment given by teachers to students designed for themto do outside of regular class hours (Cooper, Robinson, &Patall, 2006; Cosden, Morrison, Albanese, & Macias, 2001;Olympia, Sheridan, & Jenson, 1994). Cooper et al. suggestedthat there are instructional and noninstructional roles forhomework in Grades K12. From an instructional perspec-tive, homework is an important opportunity for students toreview, practice, and synthesize skills or concepts. By com-pleting the homework, students are expected to master andtransfer skills or knowledge to different contexts (Becker &Epstein, 1982; Cooper et al.; Epstein & Voorhis, 2001). Froma noninstructional viewpoint, homework creates a commu-nication opportunity between parents and young students,as well as providing information about class and schools toparents (Epstein & Voorhis). In addition, homework fulfillsdirectives of school administrators, but it can also be used asa way to punish students. However, in higher education, the

    Correspondence should be addressed to Myeong Hwan Kim, Indi-ana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Department of Economics,2101 E. Coliseum Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46805, USA.

    instructional aspect of homework is more critical than non-instructional roles because students are independent learnerswho must take responsibility for their own learning.

    Researchers have found that homework is more effectivein secondary than elementary school level classes (Cooperet al., 2006; Keith, Reimers, Fehrman, Pottebaum, &Aubrey, 1986). In their meta-analysis, Cooper et al. founda positive influence of homework on student learning ingeneral. However, Cooper et al. showed stronger correlationsbetween homework and learning in grades 712 than inK6. In addition, Cooper and Valentine (2001) and Cooperet al. consistently found that the relationship between timespent on homework and learning was weaker in elementarythan secondary school. Cooper and Valentine suggested thatyounger students have less ability to pay attention to thehomework and use less effective study habits. Therefore, itseems homework is a more effective instructional strategyin higher grade levels than in lower grade levels.

    However, most of the homework studies were conductedin K12 settings. Very little research has been done in highereducation (Radhakrishman, Lam, & Ho, 2009), althoughhomework plays a significant role in instruction at this level(Emerson, 2011). Unlike high school, university students areexpected to take more responsibility for their own learning.Whereas younger students received assistance from parents,university students cannot expect the same or similar type




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  • 186 M. H. KIM ET AL.

    of help. Students are independent learners required to takeresponsibility for their own learning.

    In the present study, we investigated the role of homeworkon student learning in a university setting, particularly in aneconomics class, particularly the role of answer keys givento homework problem sets. The specific research questionguiding the study is the following:

    Research Question 1: Do college students in a conditionwhere they received problem sets with answer keys per-form better than students in a condition where they onlyreceived problem sets in an economics class?

    We believe that the study results expand our understandingof the relationship of homework to student achievement inlearning economics in higher education.

    Problem Sets as Homework in EconomicClasses

    Although there are diverse forms of homework in an eco-nomic class, one of the most common is problem sets givenas homework (Becker & Watts, 2001; Bonham, Deardorff,& Beichner, 2003; Emerson, 2011; Grove, Wasserman, &Grodner, 2006; Miller & Westmoreland, 1998). This is aparticularly common strategy in mathematics, physics, andcomputer science, as well as in economics. Because thecontent in these areas is regarded as particularly difficult formany students, problem sets are used to help students solvedifferent types of problem and to practice ways to approachthe problems. Often, instructors choose some or many ofthem for following tests.

    The types and numbers of problems in each set vary de-pending on the instructor. Also, ways to use problem sets asan instructional strategy are very diverse, including individ-ual work with problem sets, collaboration with problem sets,and presentation of the results of problem sets. Althoughmany faculty members use problem sets, empirical researchinvestigating their effect is very rare. Much research relatedto problem sets in economic class has been concerned withthe role of student aptitude variables (e.g., scholastic apti-tude test [SAT]) on learning (Cooper et al., 2006; Okpala,Okpala, & Ellis, 2000). Okpala et al. argued that, in uni-versity macroeconomics class, academic efficacy and studyhabits was positively and significantly related to studentsperformance. Also, Okpala et al. showed that SAT scoresand accumulated credit hours were significantly related toabove-average students but not to below-average students.That is, other effects could be found for students doing well,but not for those doing poorly.

    There is a lack of experimental research investigatingthe role of problem sets in student learning (Grove &Wasserman, 2006). There were few examples of empiricalresearch using problem sets in an economics course. Millerand Westmoreland (1998) conducted an empirical study toinvestigate the effectiveness of alternative versus traditional

    ways of grading in college economics courses. Students inthe experimental group were asked to solve all the problemsets as homework. The instructor only solved two selectedproblems during class, and


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