Guest Contributor: Kristen Quinn, Northern Essex Community College (Haverhill, Massachusetts).

As I tell all my students as they moan and groan when I assign homework, I went into teaching for two reasons:

1. To make my student lives miserable, and

2. To make millions.

I have a feeling that they only think that I am being sarcastic about the second reason. But getting students to do their homework was an ongoing challenge in courses that I taught, and the lack of practice outside of the classroom was being reflected in the students’ test grades. So I needed to do something different, something to encourage (and force) my students to stay on track and practice the material when they were outside of the classroom.

I teach all levels of accounting (financial, managerial, and intermediate), so practice and repetition is key. I teach at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts and am lucky to have small class sizes (maximum per class is twenty-eight students) and I heard from a lot of my students the following:

  • “I don’t have time to do homework, I work thirty-plus hours a week.”
  • “I don’t have time to do homework, I have a family.”
  • “I don’t have time to do homework for this class because I take four other classes.”

So the challenges were how to make my students want to do the homework (and make time in their busy schedules to do it) and how to keep them engaged in the class when they are not in the classroom. I had always made homework assignments part of their final grade but I decided to increase the weight associated to the homework; I made it worth 20% of their grade. My feeling was if they would put in the effort to earn a good grade for the homework then their test grades that made up the remaining 80% of their grade would be higher.

I decided the best way to keep my students on track and engaged would be by having them complete their homework assignments through CengageNOW. So many times students would say to me that they opened the book, looked at the question, and didn’t even know where to begin, but with the videos, hints, and check my work features in CengageNOW they felt they could get through the problem. This was huge to keeping the students engaged while learning on their own! I felt like CengageNOW gave me the ability to almost be in every student’s home helping them with their homework and guiding them along. There were no more excuses of why they couldn’t try the homework-they had a variety of resources to use no matter what their learning style.
One of my favorite features in CengageNOW is the wide variety of options that instructors have when creating assignments. These are the four key assignments options I have chosen and that have proven to be very helpful in keeping the students on track!

1. Number of takes: I limit the number of takes on the homework to one. (Yes, I said one.)  The reason that I did this was when I gave multiple takes the students that should have taken it more than once didn’t and the students that didn’t really have to sometimes would. They would kind of do the assignment, putting in little effort, because they knew they could take it again. When I told them ONE take that is the only thing that stuck in their heads and they ended up spending more time trying to complete that homework assignment because they knew they only had one shot. I of course do not want to penalize my students who do their homework so I tell them that if they do the entire assignment and answer every question and put in a true effort no matter what CengageNOW gives them for a grade, they will get a 100% in my class for the assignment. As I stated before homework counts for 20% of their grade and this is a way to basically add 20 points to their final grade (disclaimer: I do not offer extra credit EVER, I do not drop the lowest test grade so I tell them this is their chance to positively affect their grade (or negatively affect their grade). Also I only have maximum of 28 student in a class so it is easy for me to review everyone’s homework assignment-not so easy if you have 200 students per class)

2. The second very important option I now use is prerequisites! I actually customize my prerequisites. They have to meet two prerequisites in order to move onto the next assignment; 1. The previous assignment has to have been taken, and 2. They have had to spend a certain amount of time on the previous assignment. I do the second option because if they simply open the missed assignment and hit submit it will unlock the next assignment, but if I require a certain amount of time to be spent on the assignment it will not open up unless they complete it. Here is the trick: I don’t tell the students about the second prerequisite, just the first.

3. I limit the amount of times the students can “Check My Work” typically to about three checks per question. This way they don’t get “trigger happy” with clicking that button until they get a green check mark. I want them to see how they are doing and if they can’t figure out an answer after fixing it three times I want them to know they need to ask for extra help on that item!

4. Last but not least I let my students see the correct answers to the homework immediately after they submit it. My feeling is that I have a captive audience at that moment and I want them to be able to see what they did right and wrong.
What I am sure you are all interested in is one simple question; Did it work? And the answer is YES! I had no less than 77% of my class completing each homework assignment and my students need a C or better to move onto the next course in accounting and I had 85% with a C or better.


Kristen Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Northern Essex Community College. Kristen is also an adjunct accounting professor at Lasell College. She received her Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from Assumption College and her Masters of Science in Accountancy from Suffolk University. Kristen has been teaching for the past 6 years and currently uses CengageNOW in her introduction to financial accounting, intermediate accounting and managerial accounting courses. Prior to teaching Kristen worked as an auditor for Grant Thornton, LLP. She is a Technology Power User for Cengage Learning.


How do you get students engaged in their homework assignments? How do you keep students engaged in course material, even after they’ve left  your class sessions? Share your thoughts in the comments.