29 April 2015
Friday bar gets competition from Homework Café
Homework? At university? For educators at institutions of higher learning, homework is simply referred to as independent study. Whatever you call it, the weekly Homework Café for Chem students has become such a hit that students are increasingly opting for books and calculators over frosty suds.
Help with heavy books
The Homework Café for chemistry students was introduced at the beginning of the 2012/2013 academic year. CHEM’s student organization, the Chemistry Study Council, thought that first year students might have an easier time ploughing through their burly textbooks if a helping hand was on offer. The initiative became an instant success. In a survey conducted after the Café’s first three months, co-organizers Jonas Niemann and Marc Hamilton Garner found that half of Homework Café participants attended at least half the cafés. Only 13% of respondents had only been once.
According to Garner: “it used to be that many of us spent Friday afternoons drinking beers. Then, on Sunday evenings, we’d struggle to get our work ready to be turned in. It’s as if the Homework Café has established a new academic culture. We see people sitting around in the canteen, completing their assignments, even on Friday’s when there is no Homework Café.” The surveys support his assertion. 72% of respondents were in either complete or partial agreement that “it is easier to complete and return assignments when (they) take part in the Homework Café, than when (they) must complete work at home over the weekend or on their own at school.”
Students help students
Eleven students, all in their third, fourth and fifth years of study, are involved as café helpers. While Jonas Niemann doesn’t dare promise that first-year students are becoming brainier by attending the cafés, he says that he definitely is.
“It’s unlikely that anyone who comes to the café will regress academically, but as for myself, I definitely understand chemistry better as a result of explaining it to others. Which is fortunate, because I want to teach high school chemistry when finished with my studies,” says Niemann.
68% of the café participants feel that their academic level “is improved through participation in the homework café,” and 68% believe that “the older students are well-prepared”.
Students that read together succeed together
While the café was staffed by volunteers in 2013, the Department of Chemistry decided to fund the initiative at the beginning of the 2014/2015 academic year. As a result, homework helpers are now paid for their commitment.
The Homework Café follows all obligatory first year coursework and meets nearly every Friday. If Friday isn’t possible, alternative meeting times are posted on Facebook, as well as on notices in classrooms. In 2015/2016, there are plans for the homework café to follow obligatory coursework for second year students as well.