Working this past weekend on my Physical Science course, I have seen nothing but busywork for the last two days (and a lot of stupid mistakes in the material). The written assignment on the Metric System I started over an hour ago is still keeping me busy, not because it’s hard, but because it repeats the same exercises over and over and over again ad nauseam in a multitude of ways. I can understand the need to drive fundamental concepts like unit conversion into students’ heads, but the difference between ten questions and a hundred is like the difference between nicely handing a gift to the recipient and dropping it on their head from ten stories up. One’s nice, the other gets really annoying.
My point is not that assignments containing repetitive exercises be eliminated – they do help drill the concept – but that they should not be overly long. Long assignments tend to dull interest in the topic at hand, leading to students who procrastinate (doing fun and interesting things that change) instead of doing their (tedious and long) assignments. I can testify to this by mentioning the fact that I was tinkering with my local MediaWiki installation and playing games more than I was working on homework, overall. Not the best use of my time, and it was all because the assignments are so boring.