College instructors often debate the value (or harm) of assigning homework to college students on the first day of class. The general consensus is that it depends on the teacher and the subject matter. There is no right or wrong answer. Some teachers present an overview of the class syllabus, while others assign homework online due for the first day or assigned on the first day.

In her book Curriculum in Context, 1st ed., Leigh Chiarelott said, “Many educators and parents argue that homework teaches students responsibility, time management skills, goal-setting strategies, and study skills, and these arguments are generally indisputable. However, homework also needs to be done under the proper conditions and at an appropriate point in the learning process, or the result is likely to be frustration, anger, procrastination, cheating, and the development of misconceptions.”

No, don’t assign homework on the first day

On the first day, students may be flustered and distracted with all the new students, teachers, campus navigation, classrooms, books, roommate issues, and other concerns of the first day. So the first day may not be the most advantageous. Some teachers simply present the syllabus, offer an introduction and overview of what the class will cover, and state classroom and homework policies. Overwhelming students on the first day may discourage them. Some students who transfer or are moving in from a long distance away may even miss the first day of class. Having to make up homework so early in the semester may keep them from catching up.

“Students do not have high expectations for the first day of class. … They want to know what is in the syllabus, how much work to expect, and what the instructor’s policies on attendance are. The first day of class is the time to introduce the course, gain the students’ interest, and start the semester on a positive note,” wrote Dave Ferreira of Three Rivers Community College in “College faculty insider’s guide to the first day of class.” The first day sets the tone for the rest of the course and influences students’ opinions about the class and the instructor.

Yes, assign homework on the first day

College students are adults now, not coddled high school kids. They’re in college to learn, so you should get started right away. Courses with complex subject matter, like math and science, can’t afford to waste a class and need to start teaching the material right away. Assigning homework on the first day gives the teacher something to discuss on the second day.

“It is common for college professors to expect you to have an assignment completed for the first day of class, as they often like to get right into the material…These ‘pre-first day’ assignments are typically given via e-mail, posted online or printed on the syllabus — so keep a lookout,” reported Cathryn Sloane in “7 things to know before your first college class” posted on USA Today College August 12, 2013.

Some college professors post homework on their website or alert students in a welcome email or text message to homework assignments that are due on the first day, such as reading assignments. The popular 1973 film The Paper Chase, with its very stern law professor, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., has a scene in which he assigned a court case the students would discuss on the first day of class. If it’s good enough for Professor Kingsfield, it’s good enough for you.

Reference: Chiarelott, Leigh. 2006. Curriculum in Context, 1st ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

What are your arguments for giving or not giving homework on the first day?