I am pretty sure this came up on some email discussion listserv. Someone mentioned that students could just look up the answers to homework on cramster.com. Maybe you are more with it than I am, but I had never heard of this. Of course I had to check it out.
At the basic level, cramster gives solutions to homework problems. I was surprised how many introductory physics texts were available. They even had Classical Electrodynamics by Jackson. They did not have the text I use for calc-based intro physics, Matter and Interactions.
So, I tried it out. The site is pretty nice. They have tons of solutions. It seems to be that you can ask and access answers based on karma (by answering other questions) or by paying more. That is really just a guess though. The site also has a general question and answer forum type area. Even though cramster.com says “just help, don’t give the answer” typically the answer is given.
Then what is the problem? The problem is with my jobs. Yes, jobs. I have two jobs. My first job is to help students learn. I am a learning-faciliator if you like. I do this in many different ways. One way is to assign homework. Oh, my other job is to evaluate how well students understand the material. I have to give them some grade at the end of the semester. One obvious way to do this is with an exam or feats of strength.
Here is the question: Do you grade homework? Oh, I know what everyone says. If you don’t give a grade for the homework, they won’t do it. But I think if it is worth a grade, they will try to get a grade, and not try to learn. Clearly, it is easy to get solutions off the internets. Yes, I know there are other strategies to prevent them from cheating. But I say, why? Why prevent them from helping themselves?
Suppose I were not a learning-facilitor but a trainer at the gym. Would I pay people to do their exercises?
Ok. Maybe you could consider the homework as part of your evaluation of their understanding. Sort of like take home quizzes. But if you do that, then you are going to have to deal with stuff like cramster.com.
I admit, I have given grades for homework. It is hard to say it is not graded (well, I do collect homework and give feedback – or have WebAssign do that). But when it becomes clear that the homework is for THEM, it is easier to use it as a learning tool (which is what it is).