Deadlines, schmedlines

womanwriting2How do the rest of you handle setting deadlines for student assignments and late submissions?  Here’s an interesting idea from Nels P. Highberg (h/t Inside Higher Ed):

Keep in mind that I mostly teach writing.  Even when a course is not specifically a writing course, almost all of my assignments are writing assignments, and that shapes my policies in general.  In terms of late work, I try to keep things clear and simple.  I will take any essay up to a week late without a grade penalty, but I will not offer any comments on that essay at all.  Since I usually offer students the chance to revise all of their major assignments (except at the end of the semester), the lack of comments puts them at a significant disadvantage.  I always offer to meet with students in my office, but there is a pretty big difference between having a concrete set of specific comments on a draft and a series of notes taken during a office visit.

Highberg says he developed this policy because “policies need to align with pedagogies,” and I think that’s right.  He explains: 

In other words, the policies we create in our classes should clearly support our teaching goals.  As a writing specialist, I want my students to recognize that they are writers who make choices.  They must decide where to put commas, how to frame a piece of evidence, or what font will provide them with a particular ethos.  I feel like my late policy aligns with what I’ve come to call “choice pedagogy” because it gives students an option without forcing them down a particular path.  They must recognize, however, that their choice comes with consequences. In this case, those consequences directly affect their writing because the lack of comments will make revision choices more difficult.  Some readers may argue that grade penalties still allow students to make choices, but I feel like the goal of a penalty is to push students to turn in their work on time.  I feel like my version shifts the emphasis from the grade and to the writing, which is where I want their focus to reside.

I used to have a policy something like this in my upper-division classes, only I permitted students to submit the two major essays as late as exam week.  (These are classes in which they write 1-2 pg. weekly essays to ensure that they’re prepared for discussion, and I insist those are due on the dates specified.)  So long as the students did the reading and writing required of each essay assignment, it didn’t matter to me when the work was submitted, although students who submitted late essays (a la Highberg) forfeited the right to timely feedback on their work.  Most students (probably 85-90%) saw the wisdom of writing papers based on readings they had just completed over the past several weeks, rather than waiting until December or May.  But, three years ago, one student handed in essays that I suspected she had “recycled” from another student in the class, but because I hadn’t photocopied every graded student essay, I had no proof.  So, I went back to traditional deadlines, accepting late papers but subtracting one letter grade each day the paper is late.

Now my university has an in-house electronic plagiarism detector system, so I’m tempted to take a page out of Highberg’s book.  I assign only essays and take-home exams in all but my survey classes, but even in my surveys, they’re writing four short essays in addition to all-essay midterm and final exams.  What do you think?

0 thoughts on “Deadlines, schmedlines

  1. My policy, Historiann, is to always accept extension requests if they are made (preferably in person, rather than via email) at least 24 hours before the due date. I always put the extension in writing, so there is no doubt about it, and tell students that I prefer not to grant extensions on extensions: if they choose a new due date, they should live by it.

    I don’t believe I can usefully assign a grade to a paper without marking it up and articulating a response to it, so even late papers get comments from me: whether students find those comments to be an aid to learning (as I hope they are) is less than clear sometimes.

    I am sorry to say I have started to pre-empt the nearly irresistible pull of on-line sources of papers and commentaries by trying to design assignments to circumvent that pull: but I am unsure about the pedagogical value of such handholding–which asks for greater creativity on the part of the paper assigner and may indeed hinder creativity on the part of paper writers, all in order to hinder the knee-jerk laziness of a few bad apples?

    One ought to note that the degree to which teachers can offer useful responses to student writing is shaped by workload and class-size issues–writing class sizes may be (relatively) small, but I would find four of them impossibly burdensome, unless I seriously cut back on responding to student writing.


  2. I use traditional deadlines and late penalties, though I will always accept something late, and make it worth their while to hand something in late – I calculate grades based on percentages, and a 50 is always better than a 0. With 126 freshmen in my classes, giving them the option of waiting until the last minute would be a disaster, both for them and for me at semester’s end.


  3. Unspoken in this post is the sense of entitlement that some students have (and some Universities promote) in regards to deadlines. There can be all kinds of reasons a student is entitled not to hand in work when it is due (athletics, over-scheduling, illness, etc.) but are you really doing the student a favor by not treating them equally? Two kids have a fever of 102, but neither go to the doctor. One finishes the paper, the other doesn’t but e-mails you to tell you they are sick. Is it fair to give the e-mailer an extra week?

    And before you say: one student took the initiative and showed responsibility, you need to get real about the types of first-generation students who show up at big land-grant state schools (I teach at one). Some literally have no idea how to approach a professor – especially in a big, Gen Ed lecture course. The whole college experience that most Professors take for granted is new to them – its an extension of high school until they “get it.” A lot don’t return for sophomore year (that’s why “retention” is now so big around the country) because they are intimidated or not serious about the transition between high school and college.

    I think my system is pretty respectful and equitable, but maybe not. I state on my syllabus that anybody who asks for an extension 3 days or more before an assignment is due gets one – no questions asked. With no extension, the paper is penalized one-third of a letter grade (a B+ becomes a B) per day it is late. Any medical excuse will be accepted if proof is provided in the form of a note from a medical provider.*

    *- I realize this penalizes those without med insurance, but I know of no other way to handle the “I got sick, I swear!” excuse.

    Also: we’re trying to train these people for the reality of a job market where if they don’t get their TPS reports done on time they’ll be fired. We play a role in assisting them to become more mature, responsible, and professional – regardless of our disciplines.


  4. I absolutely hate to have papers handed in at random times – for me, I block off time to devote to grading and that’s it, that’s the time I have. I’m also more efficient and consistent when I grade in blocks, even though block grading stinks. But I do accept late papers, because to fail to do so creates such headaches that it’s not worth it. Each late paper is assigned a penalty of 5 points per day it is late. I do not grant exceptions except in cases of official documented medical/ personal emergencies (personal emergencies are those reported through the official channels of the university whose job it is to facilitate the challenges of students facing personal crises of all kinds). I instituted the documentation policy because I got tired of being the person who had to decide whose emergency was “legitimate” and whose wasn’t. It didn’t seem appropriate to me. I used to tell them, “It’s not that I don’t care – I know you have complicated, important lives outside of this classroom. But in order to create an environment of equity, I have to maintain one policy that applies to everyone the same.” Even if your computer blows up, your girlfriend breaks up with you, your boss insists you work a double shift.

    As others have posted, I believe that meeting deadlines is an important part of grown-up behavior, as is respect for other people’s time. I also think it’s important to encourage them to understand everything in terms of choices, as somebody else pointed out. You can choose to work an extra shift even if that makes you unable to finish your assignment. While in some ways that can be a false choice, because many students *have* to work and need the money (my former uni was full of students working as much as 40 hrs a week) – but then again, if your whole financial life depends on working, then maybe getting a B- instead of a B+ on an assignment isn’t the end of the world. Life is all about negotiating choices and consequences.


  5. I basically have the exact same policy as PorJ: any student can have an extension until the next class meeting for any reason, as long as it is requested in advance (in my case, I ask for 48 hours notice). Late work without an extension is penalized in the “traditional” way unless there is a written medical excuse. About half the class takes advantage of this policy for any given paper; since I know this, I know to expect the papers over the course of a week, rather than all on one day.


  6. I only give extensions if people ask me a week in advance, with exceptions for medical, technical, or family emergencies. I make them ask me for an extension so early because I want them to learn to manage their responsibilities — any scheduling conflict would be apparent more than a day or two in advance. I also encourage my students to talk to each other about collective extensions, because I’m more than happy to offer an extension to the entire class, even if it’s less than a week before the due date.


  7. Also: we’re trying to train these people for the reality of a job market where if they don’t get their TPS reports done on time they’ll be fired. We play a role in assisting them to become more mature, responsible, and professional – regardless of our disciplines.

    I do address this point in my post. My experience has been that deadlines matter in some places but not in others, and I think students need to have experience with inflexible deadlines and flexible deadlines so that they can handle both. I do believe there is a good chance they will encounter both; I know I have. I go into more detail about this point in the post, though.

    Unspoken in this post is the sense of entitlement that some students have (and some Universities promote) in regards to deadlines. There can be all kinds of reasons a student is entitled not to hand in work when it is due (athletics, over-scheduling, illness, etc.) but are you really doing the student a favor by not treating them equally? Two kids have a fever of 102, but neither go to the doctor. One finishes the paper, the other doesn’t but e-mails you to tell you they are sick. Is it fair to give the e-mailer an extra week?

    I’m not sure if by “this post” you mean the one I originally wrote or this one by Historiann, but if you mean my post quoted here, I do think this is fair, and my students agree with me. The student who took the time to finish a paper, however badly, will get copious comments and be able to revise more easily than the one who did not. However, the one who did not does not have to suffer greatly because of an undocumented fever (though I have to add that I have never, ever had to deal with excuses or notes or reasons for lateness since I instituted this policy in 2005). The one who did not turn it in on time still has a few weeks to recover and then turn her or his attention back to the essay.

    With this policy, the number of late essays I have to deal with has decreased dramatically. I get two or maybe three turned in late. Often, none are late. Before, I would get barraged by emails and excuses and doctors notes and funeral notices. For me, this policy makes my life much, much easier.

    My policies come from my experiences as a freelance writer and editor as well as my pedagogical goals and particular institutional contexts. They may not work for everyone.


  8. I meant to post a reply over at Nels’ blog but I’ve been inundated by marking and recovering from flu. Ugh.

    When I started, I didn’t deduct anything for lateness as a result of my grad student years (where I wasn’t allowed to do so). I had over 1/3 of the students hand things in very late and say that every other assignment in every other class was a priority over mine because of this policy.

    Now my policy for any longer composition is 5% per day up to one week late unless excused. But I think next term I might adopt Nels’ policy because I still get students who submit late and expect instant, detailed feedback (almost particularly because they’re late).

    Short assignments (such as tutorial responses) are due the day they’re due, full-stop. Students are marked on the best 6 of 8 or 5 of 7 of these so they have some wiggle room built in if they miss one or two. And, as others have said, there’s no time in my schedule to go back and mark old papers even at a few minutes per go.

    Finally, with those short assignment, I have a rubric: TAP (Thesis, Analysis & Evidence, Presentation) which allows me to grade on a 10 point scale (T=3, A=4, P=3). So they get some quick feedback in the form of T2A3P1.5 (Total 6.5/10) and they can refer to the more detailed rubric on WebCT for examples of better work in those specific areas in which their assignment was lacking.

    When you’re powering through 100-plus responses in a go, having a rubric really helps!


  9. Wow, I am amazed by the consensus in the posts and comments. I’ll give an extension if the student contacts me before the deadline. I will deduct 1/3 of the grade for each day its late and if an assignment is a week late, its a zero. (Although, I am pretty much a soft touch, so I will show mercy if the story is half-way plausible.)

    I think the pedagogy oriented late policy is great, but I am not sure it would work out with my 90+ western civ students. I had tried some different late policies, but it felt like I was reinventing the wheel. I have to be honest, the deadlines are there to streamline my workload, not to make my students into better people. Its my job to grade their papers, and I want to get it over with as quickly as I can.

    Janice, I like that response paper rubric! That TAP acronym is awesome! My students might actually remember that instead of the abstruse formulation I give them in assignment sheet. Can I steal it?


  10. It seems as if most people are much kinder than I am when it comes to accepting late papers. I don’t accept them unless there is a medical or family emergency, and they’ve contacted me beforehand or have a good reason for telling me after the fact. No extensions, no deductions for lateness. In part it is because I have too many students to keep track of who turns in what, when, but also I do think it is an issue of deadlines and preparedness. Learning how to balance multiple demands on your time is part of college, in my opinion. Planning ahead and alloting sufficient time to complete assignments is a skill I want them to learn. Plus a lot of their papers are tied to readings, so writing them after the discussion occurs means the point of the assignment becomes moot. That’s just my 2 cents.


  11. perpetua: I’m also more efficient and consistent when I grade in blocks

    Janice: having a rubric really helps!

    These points are both important and, I think, go well together. I would go so far as to say that reviewing an assignment against a rubric before grading helps me avoid over-penalizing for mistakes that are annoying but secondary to the learning.

    I have to say that the expectation of a “late policy” demonstrates a lack of respect for the course. I did think about how lectures and assignments would flow through the term. I did think about the relationships among assignments and classroom material. I did not set this all up just to create inconvenient work for you.

    I teach in the physical sciences. My late policy is “no policy,” as in, it’s due when it’s due (and I chose that due date for a reason). In one class with a heavy lab workload, students who earn less than 90% on assignments are required to rework them by a second due date. Everybody has the opportunity to earn a grade-buffering lab score and there is no penalty for turning in incomplete work, other than the heavier workload it incurs as the days march forward. If, however, a student turns in nothing at all, no points. I explain the reasoning behind the policy very clearly at the outset: if students don’t complete work on time, they fall behind with skills that will be required as the course progresses. I can count on one hand the number of no-show assignments over the 8 years I’ve taught this course.

    A colleague uses an exponential decay function for points possible on assignments. The total value of the assignment has a maximum on the day it is due and decreases from there, exponentially. So he grades as a % of the points possible on the day it was due. The student is free to prioritize accordingly.


  12. I should add that I see a difference between courses for which assignment due dates are provided at the start of the term and courses where they are not. If due dates are provided at the outset, students should be able to note them in their day planners (or whatever) and arrange their time accordingly. I’m willing to entertain extensions in courses where a schedule of assignment due dates is not available at the start, for example at the graduate level when students have some control over the direction the course takes.

    Whew, okay, enough from me.


  13. I’m with ej. I announce the first day of classes that I do not accept any late assignments for any reason. I explain to students how to use a calender and the syllabus to plan ahead for their assignments, and emphasize that I find it unfair to penalize the students who DO get their work in on time by allowing others an extension.

    I’ve been doing this for a few years, after finally deciding that I hatied being put in a position of deciding whose excuse was good enough and whose was not.

    I also use this rule as part of a general effort to establish my “firm” persona as a professor–a female professor.


  14. Okay, more from me. In the context of an individual class, accepting late work only “penalizes other students” when grading is done on a curve. Otherwise, students’ grades are independent. I’m clearly in the no-late-work camp but I just don’t get this as a rationale for it.


  15. As someone who left a tenured position to take a job in the business word, I’m confused. Can someone tell me the business equivalent of having a grade deducted by 1/3 for each day a project is late? I’m reading some people saying that they have firm deadlines to prepare students for that so-called “real world,” but having worked in that world for going on twenty years after earning tenure at an academic job (and now teaching periodically as an adjunct), I don’t see how reducing a grade prepares students for that business environment. Does pay get reduced by $50 for each day a project is late? My experience in business has been that some deadlines are firm and some are loose. People need to learn how to tell the difference because they will encounter both in the business world. Can one policy in one class teach students how to handle job demands twenty years into the future? If you create a policy because it helps you do your job, that makes sense to me. If you create a policy because you think it will teach students something about the course material (which is what the original post sounds like to me), that makes sense to me. But all of this about using policies teaching students to be better people in whole other parts of their future lives does not make sense to me, and as I throw the idea out to my colleagues around me in this “real world” environment, they get a good giggle out of it.


  16. I used to do the “traditional” deductions for late work, but gave it up in favor of a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If a student wants an extension, they can have one if they ask at least 24 hours in advance, (unless they have a documented emergency). I don’t care why they want the extension – I care that they recognize that it is their responsibility to manage their time and their assignments. If they can’t, then I don’t accept the work, period. I agree with Deng that the deductions policy does not reflect what they will experience after graduation. I also tell my students on the first day of class that my job is to teach them according to the syllabus, and their job is to do the assignments according to the syllabus. I really hate the attitude that college is *not* work, because that fosters student irresponsibility in ways that make our lives, and potentially theirs, much harder.


  17. Wow–lots of responses! A few thoughts:

    First, I’m really glad to hear from Doug, because I pretty much gave up on teaching students to work for deadlines as an exercise in work readiness. What I discovered in my previous experiment with no deadlines is that most students make the deadlines anyway. People are what they are, and some of them will meet their deadlines no matter what, and others will shirk and put them off or violate them at will. It’s not my job to try to change them–but it is my job to try to teach them a little history and to try to improve their writing and critical thinking skills. (I agree that time management is a good thing to encourage, I just don’t see it as my primary role.)

    In the end, the big deadline in any classes is the day on which my grades are due. If a student is so chronically late that it puts me in a position of having to flunk hir, I’ll do it cheerfully. (This has never happened, BTW.)

    My sense of the workplace is the same as Doug’s: some deadlines are inviolate (fellowship and grant applications, for example, or tenure standards, usually), while others are fudgeable. Show me a historian who’s met every single article or manuscript deadline ze’s been given, and I’ll show you someone who is probably underemployed. Historians are the most egregious deadline violators, and as someone who was 2 years late (!) with her book ms., I would feel pretty silly as a really strict enforcer. But–disciplines and the fields in which we’re training students vary, so deadlines may well serve a solid pedagogical purpose in other classes/fields.

    That said–I think it’s totally reasonable for those of you with strict deadlines policies to stick to them for whatever reason. They’re your classes, and as perpetua and others have pointed out, they’re tools for managing our workloads, too. One thing I think all students must learn is that their professors are all different and have different policies–and it’s their job to observe them and work it out. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I always say!

    I completely agree that equity is very important. But equity is preserved when whichever policies you choose are equally applied to all students. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a “sense of entitlement” in my students re: deadlines. I have found that whatever my policies, so long as they’re clearly stated on the syllabus, and so long as my deadlines are clearly advertised there too (which I sometimes push back, but never forward), I’ve never had problems with students being presumptuous.

    I think I’m going to try a version of Highberg’s policy next semester, and see how it goes. I really like his attempts to put the emphasis on the writing instead of on the grade, and his use of feedback as a carrot. (I think his use of a week for a window of opportunity is also wise–my previous aborted policy was clearly too forgiving.) Some of my students might care what I have to say about their work–others are just looking for a final grade they can live with. Those who care will just have to care enough to meet the stated deadline.


  18. Maybe the pre-meds we get in Biology are less civilized than students in the Humanities, but I’d have to say that with our crowd even if you don’t give them an inch, they’ll take a yard. Or try to.

    There’s also the factor of confident students or ones who felt entitled asking for extensions and shy ones not asking. That was really the first principal component, and not need. That really bothers me from a fairness standpoint.

    So I’m in the hard-and-fast deadlines camp. No extensions. And if you had to go to your granddad’s funeral, bring a note from the funeral director.

    The curious thing was that once the students realized I was serious (it took one semester) the requests for extensions dried up. The only people who came to see me with long hard luck stories were, with occasional exceptions, people who really had hard luck.


  19. This is an issue where I’m so glad I teach in Britain, where (at least at my university, but I think this is standard), students can’t get an extension from the professor (or lecturer as we say …) teaching the class. Our system is that extensions of a day or two can be granted by a designated member of the secretarial staff, anything more serious and they have to see a designated academic who is reponsible for the programme. That person certainly has to deal with *lots* of students asking for extensions, but s/he gets teaching relief to cover this and the other tasks that go with being degree programme director, and students are in my experience much less likely to approach someone they don’t know so well. And I don’t have to try to make a judgement about the relative seriousness of everyone’s sick grandmothers. It also means students know that the policy will be the same for all classes, at least across a given programme.


  20. I’m glad Ruthibell piped up, because what I was going to say in the last British institute I taught in, late penalties and extensions (including what merits an extension) were not set by individual staff. There was a university policy and it applied to everybody. We did however ‘manage’ the students ourselves- in that if they needed an extension of up to three days they asked their lecturer or tutor (whoever the work was due in to); for more, they needed to go to the course director.


  21. Can someone tell me the business equivalent of having a grade deducted by 1/3 for each day a project is late? I’m reading some people saying that they have firm deadlines to prepare students for that so-called “real world,” but having worked in that world for going on twenty years after earning tenure at an academic job (and now teaching periodically as an adjunct), I don’t see how reducing a grade prepares students for that business environment. Does pay get reduced by $50 for each day a project is late? My experience in business has been that some deadlines are firm and some are loose.

    Sure. I’ll give you an example: The “upfronts” are a time when advertising agencies, advertisers, and media corporations meet in New York City (usually the third week of May) to make commitments going forward for the following year’s television season. Ask anybody who works in that side of that business what the upfronts mean, in terms of a deadline: it is your job (and most likely your career) that hangs in the balance on those deadlines. Your pay wont get reduced if you don’t have an excellent presentation; you’ll just be fired.

    Similarly, if you work in journalism, and you miss your deadline consistently, or even occasionally, you will be fired.

    Do I really need to defend the idea that deadlines are important in the business world??? What about hitting your quarterly numbers?

    I, too, have worked both inside and outside of academia, and I have found deadlines to be much less flexible and more rigid outside of academia than inside. Perhaps its the industry one chooses to work in? But you can safely say this: teaching students to work on deadline is better than teaching students that all deadlines are flexible.


  22. quixote–I think you’re right that having a strict policy will tend to discourage the malingerers. But–Highberg’s policy lets students choose their own penalties, and they’re applied fairly (presumably, anyway).

    I agree with those of you who have written about not wanting to adjudicate between sob stories, by the way. I don’t like to do it either–with my strict deadlines policy in place now, like quixote, I don’t hear any. (I have made exceptions this term because of the flu, so long as students check into the self-reporting website my university has set up.) Highberg’s window of 1 week seems reasonably fair–unless a student is in fact hospitalized with some dire diagnosis, most students can get around to finishing an assignment within a week after the deadline, no matter how many grannies’ deaths or bloody fluxes/agues they have endured.


  23. By the way, Feminist Avatar and Ruthibell: I love the idea of an adminsitrator being the gatekeeper on deadline extensions, so long as I’m not the administrator! (I would imagine that he or she would get a lot fewer requests overall than individual faculty would get.)

    PorJ: yes, a lot of this is industry/discipline specific. I work in a world where some deadlines are hard and fast, and others are not, but I recognize that not everyone does. One thing I’ve noticed is that deadlines get less and less important the more senior the individual in question. (I am currently the beneficiary of a LOT of goodwill because I’m a tenured person, rather than a student/grad student/adjunct/junior faculty person.)


  24. About fairness, I’ve been doing this policy for a few years, and students across the board love it because they feel it’s fair. No one ever asks for extensions because there’s no point in asking. And students then know that I am not making subjective decisions based upon people’s requests for extensions. They know that the policy applies to everyone equally and that everything is upfront.

    I hated, hated, hated having to ask people to produce proof for a death in the family. My grandmother died my second semester of college the day before a paper was due in a class. The professor made it clear on the first day that she would never grant an extension, so I said nothing and failed the paper. For the next paper, I earned an A, and she called me into her office. I think she thought I plagiarized, but when she found out about my grandmother, she was very upset that I didn’t ask. I reminded her that she said we shouldn’t ask. She was flustered, for sure. I ended up with a B+ in the class because I aced everything else, and she changed her policy in future classes I took with her because, I think, she saw how her policy hurt someone she came to think of as a good student.

    One reason I created this policy years ago is because I was tired of dealing with death notices and doctor’s notes and police reports. Since I instituted this policy, I haven’t had to deal with any of that stuff. For me, it was about creating a simple policy that would make my life easier and emphasize for my students the things I wanted to emphasize while de-emphasizing other things.

    But I want to emphasize now what I said in the original post. If this policy does not work for you, don’t do it. We all have to create policies based upon our individual contexts.

    Oh, PorJ, you quote Doug, but I think you miss one thing he says in what you quoted, which is the last line: My experience in business has been that some deadlines are firm and some are loose. As he says, some deadlines are firm, and some are loose. You have presented some examples of firm deadlines, but others of us can talk about those that are loose. I’ve experienced both in my life, as I talk about in my original post. What better way to teach students that the workplace handles deadlines in various ways by showing them, through our policies, that the importance of deadlines is different in different contexts?


  25. I’m in the camp of not having students write papers, period. I don’t think it does anyone any good.

    It’s not enough practice to even get any traction at becoming good at writing (especially not with the entitlement issues that half the students have, with the largely wealth based exemptions given to them to “skip” english 101/102), so I don’t find the skill based argument for papers persuasive.

    In my mind it’s glorified busy work that rewards poor thinkers (combining several sources and rewriting them with poor english isn’t plagiarism, it’s just how school works!) while punishing those who know enough to know how little they know and how very unqualified they are to say anything of any use. At that point, writing papers becomes agonizing. One might be more likely to get an A for the pain, but does it really serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things? I’m not sure it even trains you for more advanced academic work where you ARE in a position of being an authority on the subject you’re covering and where there are repercussions for being wrong and not just slovenly.

    Not that my opinion will do anything for you. Unless, of course, you free yourself from the bonds of writing assignments and begin to only interact with students via a scantron machine (and I admit, it’s unfair to people who deal poorly with that), but hey, a solution exists! 😛

    OTOH, I strongly object to plagiarism detection software: they shouldn’t be able to make money off of our work (more money than *I* often do at any rate!) by translating it into numerical hash and then reselling it both private and public institutions; hell, if some kid gets an A stealing a phrase from me, well, at least it did SOMEONE some good! Better they profit than some corporation.


  26. I made a HUGE mistake my first semester where I am of giving extensions with penalties – 5 points for each class meeting it was late, 10 if it were over a weekend. Sadly, I did not put a deadline on the extension. I did not realize how UN-grade-conscious my students were. They were willing to take hits of up to 50 points (out of 100!) on the paper just to buy the extra time.

    Usually, I would say, “well, that’s their problem, if they don’t mind failing the paper.” Except it became my problem because I would have a steady stream of late papers all semester. Like Perpetua, I grade in blocks, and I don’t want stray papers showing up right and left.

    So, pedagogy and “real world” preparation be damned! I don’t want to have to keep track of 150 students’ separate papers as they filter in. I say “NO LATE PAPERS” right up front at the beginning of the semester and all over the syllabus and assignments. Of course, I’ll be a big softie if someone comes to me; but I don’t want them all thinking at the outset that extensions are an option because, as I said, they will take them.


  27. I want to thank Ann for posting a link to my post, and I want to think everyone for their comments. Maybe I should write a longer article on this for a pedagogy journal. There seems to be a lot of passion behind something that I once thought wasn’t a big deal.

    It all leaves me with a nagging concern, though, and it’s going to sound more pointed than I intend. But it seems unfair to me to say that late assignments are not accepted and then say that people will grant extensions if asked. That means that students who know to ask will be given an opportunity that those who do not will not get. And that feels unfair to me. See my example in my last comment of when my grandmother died and I turned in an essay late. I failed, and she later expressed surprise that I didn’t ask for an extension. And I didn’t ask because she said no late papers ever. I believed her and found out later that I was wrong.

    I’m missing something in the thought process here that I’d like to understand. How is it fair to go against a stated policy when not all students know the option is available?


  28. (Postscript: I want to add that I never actually had to apply my “funeral director” policy. Doctors’ notes, yes, but that’s different. I would have felt just like Nels’ teacher in that situation, and until I read your comment, I’d never really thought about the potential for that situation. I just assumed that everyone would know that *real* reasons were accepted. Live and learn!)


  29. Nels, well, it isn’t fair, which bothers me; but it also bothers me that I often have to make policies that are akin to high school crowd control. That’s what you have to do with a 5/5 load of 30-35 student freshman-level classes. I will say that I do have a statement in my syllabus that says that, in the case of emergencies, we can talk about other options on late papers and make-up exams.

    Still, my class is the absolute last thing on most of my students’ list of priorities. That means that at least half of the students will take any possibility of an extension as an opportunity to ignore the deadline, or make the extended deadline the real deadline, and I don’t want to deal with that many late papers unless there is a good reason.

    I’m still trying to find the right policies to work with this particular student group fairly. I started out being too lenient 2 years ago, and now I’m in the phase in which I’m too rigid. Neither has produced as satisfying sense of equality.


  30. It feels a little bit grade-school, but for funerals I ask students to have a parent e-mail me with the details of the student’s absence needs. I know that this opens up the door to overly indulgent parents, but I find that relatively few students tell me that they have to miss class for a funeral. I am a grad-student at a large private school, so relying on student services to inform me of things like deaths in the family would mean that I would get notifications weeks after the actual absence.
    On a related note, many students have been missing class because they /may/ have ‘flu-like symptoms’ and the school has said that, in the time of Swine Flu, all students who feel even a little under the weather should stay home. Is anyone else experiencing this?


  31. Speaking from the perspective of a student, I actually had a major shift in whether I was likely to speak deadlines as I got older. As an undergraduate, I treated them with some respect, but also needed extensions (or simply didn’t turn an assignment in) in at least one assignment in probably every class I took. However, I then entered the “real world”, and the idea of getting an extension on “real work” is simply laughable. (How’s it going getting that critical component ordered, we need it tomorrow! Oh, sorry, [blah blah excuse blah blah], it won’t be here until next month… I’m SURE that would go well.) As a result, I have never missed an assignment in graduate school; apparently this attention to deadlines is absolutely shocking to professors when they find out I have a part-time job teaching, and two kids at home.

    PorJ mentioned a “sense of entitlement that some students have”, and I completely agree. They are shocked/angry when their request doesn’t result in an extension (and I’m talking about science/math homework here, not something that typically needs inspiration or refinement like a humanities essay might). I sit around listening to undergrads in classes discussing how they were “totally wasted last night”, then directly connect that to “I am going to ask Dr. Whoever for an extension on the homework” — these are obstacles that the student created, not an illness or family problem or outside interference of any kind.

    When/if I turn into a professor, I’m not likely to be very generous with extensions, and it’s entirely a result of watching children (myself-10-years-ago included) waste their time and then try to half-ass their way out of the problem they created.


  32. I’ve only just skimmed the preceding 30 comments, so forgive me if I’m not responding directly or if I’m repeating.

    I do one letter grade per calendar day off for late papers. To my mind, this is not about preparing students for the work world so much as about having a clear policy in place that applies to all, which I suppose Nels’ policy does, too. The thing that’s good about both policies is that they stop the necessity of adjudicating a lot of excuses. The thing for me, in teaching four courses (no sections), is it’s pretty important to *my* well-being that I know when I’m getting a stack of papers in and I know when I need to get them graded by. Because I don’t teach sections, and because the range of courses that I teach varies widely in terms of content/audience, it’s not realistic for me to stick all papers due at the same time across all of my courses. If I did the thing where I allowed a week leeway for assignments, I’d have papers coming in about every single week of the semester. And I would die. Or if I didn’t die, I’d definitely lose at least 20% of the papers that came in. I’m scattered like that.

    So my reasons for this are more pragmatic/selfish than about student learning. Except: I kind of think that any course policy is about learning to understand what is necessary for dealing with anybody who has power over you. This means that it’s *good* for different folks to have different policies, as far as student learning goes, at least as far as they’re learning people skills. I’d also say that deadlines for short response-type assignments are good for keeping students on track in a course. I really don’t want students doing every entry in a reading journal, say, the night before one big deadline. Why? Because that was the kind of crap I pulled as a student, and I didn’t learn anything when I did that. So while the deadline itself may not be teaching a lesson, having the deadline meant that I completed the assignment as it was intended, rather than procrastinating (as is my natural mode of being). I think this is often a problem, by the by, not with students who are struggling, but rather with strong students who have the innate abilities/talent or preparedness to fake it. I do think we do those students a disservice when we let them rely on what they bring to a course rather than pushing them further.

    Also, though, and this makes me more comfortable with the policy, I assign a LOT of writing across my courses, and earlier assignments are weighted less than later ones. And assignments that are weighted heavily have more steps to them, which means that students get a lot of feedback throughout a 4-6 week period prior to the deadline – in other words, there shouldn’t be a situation where a student has an assignment worth more than 5-10% that catches them by surprise in which they’ll be docked if they turn it in late.

    I personally would have a very hard time with not giving a student feedback if they got something in after the original deadline. Especially if the student could whip up a B paper and be happy with the grade. I’m not sure why that bothers me so much, but it does.


  33. I’m not really in a position to come down on either side of this issue since I haven’t done enough teaching to be justifiably annoyed at a rolling stream of papers that come in weeks after the fact. (It also strikes me that some of this depends on the number of students and maybe even the type of class. I could see being much more lenient with a student who’s majoring in the field than 1 out of 100 in an intro survey.) What I will say, though, is that in my experience, some of the students who are struggling the most might be the least likely to say anything. The genius of the policy outlined above is that it doesn’t require any conversation with the professor, a conversation that’s not very likely to happen if the student feels for whatever reason like they cannot talk to the professor about what’s going on. For example, people who grew up in families where talking about what was going on inside the family was strictly forbidden aren’t suddenly going to be extremely forthcoming with details when there’s some family emergency. Also, requiring that people provide verification from parents/family members can be dicey. Not everybody has a good relationship with their parents; some people might not even bother getting the extension they really need if it requires wading back into a toxic situation that they likely went to college to escape. I get that Highberg’s solution won’t work for everyone but at the same time, students who are floundering often won’t reach out for the help that may be implicit in the “no extension unless its serious” policy.


  34. “How does this work exactly?”

    gross simplification by someone who quit C++ after the first two semesters:

    Step one: plagiarize everything on the internet and turn it into a number so you don’t get into trouble for plagiarizing yourself by creating a quasi legal derivative work.

    Step two: break up a paper into micro phrases (probably weighted by proper names, things not in the standard dictionary), which is the equivalent of googling separately:

    “I’m interested to know more about”

    “to know more about the “in-house”

    “the “in-house electronic plagiarism detector system.””

    “plagiarism detector system.” How does”

    “How does this work exactly?”

    Step three: generate probability matches of some sort.


  35. I also find it interesting that it can be assumed that there are ‘parents’ to ask. What about mature students- or even someone like me at u/grad who was typical age but married? Should I have got a note from my husband (who was also a student)? To be honest, even at 19 if a university lecturer required this of me, I would have told them to run and jump. But, then in the UK, we are legally adults at 16 or 18, depending on the part of the UK and what particular law you are referring to- and nobody here likes the idea of parents being involved in university education. That seems like a nightmare waiting to happen.


  36. DV–my college subscribed to last year, but couldn’t afford to keep it up this year. The tech people added a program to our Blackboard program in which students submit digital copies of their essays, and they’re checked against each other as well as against the internets for plagiarism. I find it most useful when teaching a course with 100+ students and a T.A. and I are sharing the grading–I’ve had problems in other classes when students had different T.A.s and they were submitting the same essay twice. This system works against student temptations to do the same.

    Dr. Crazy & all: I’m very supportive of using deadlines to structure our own workload as well as that of our students. I agree with Crazy’s strategy of being strict about consistent, shorter-term deadlines. The point of journal entries/precis of the weekly readings is to get the students to do the work on a regular basis and be prepared to participate in class discussions.

    This discussion just goes to show us all that deadlines serve a variety of purposes–managing our workloads (which range from people teaching 5-5 loads to 2-2 or 2-1-0 loads), helping us deal with our particular students (from the bright but entitled to struggling first-generation college students), and serving some kind of thoughtful purpose in our pedagogy and disciplinary training. What I thought was valuable about Nels’s commentary wasn’t so much his particular decision about how to handle deadlines and late papers in his classes–although I think I’ll borrow them for my own classes next term–as his point that “policies need to align with pedagogies.” And it’s clear that most of you agree, across a variety of disciplines and pedagogies.

    thefrogprincess’s comments give me more inspiration for borrowing Nels’s particular deadline solutions. As others in this thread have suggested, the squeakiest wheels get the extensions, when there are probably other students whose lives are even more chaotic but for whatever reason–class background, ethnicity, shyness, not knowing how to approach a professor for a favor–they’ll suck it up and get the work done somehow or just take the penalty for missing the deadline.


  37. Janice, thanks for the rubric idea!

    Thanks also to Nels and Historiann. This has encouraged me to think more about how all the class policies fit with the pedagogy. Right now I have two pages of boiler plate in my syllabus on everything from academic honesty to how wide the margins of their papers should be. Its mostly reactive policy created to address a particular problem or CYA for specific university policies. This discussion and the comments from everyone have led me to think differently about what should go in that syllabus and how to make it align with pedagogy.


  38. Part of the problem with the issue of extensions and “real” emergencies – such as funerals, catastrophic illness of self or loved one, etc. – is that many students (and faculty) don’t properly understand the protocols in place at their universities – or the universities don’t have clear protocols in place. If a student must miss class, especially if it is a week or part of a week, for bereavement or illness then the student (or hir parents) should contact the university’s student liaison (often a dean). That office should then notify all the student’s professors of the situation (though they should do so without revealing any details; one of the big problems with the funeral scenario and asking for parental emails is that this requires the student to give confidential information about hir life to the professor, which ze shouldn’t have to, in my opinion) and that the student is excused. This is the *university’s* responsibility. And while some may disagree with me, I feel strongly that no one should be forbidden an extension or an excused late paper in a case of individual or family tragedy. When someone’s mother is dying of cancer, or someone else has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, the last thing the student should have to worry about is failing some (ultimately, let’s face it, kind of dumb) assignment. I had a disproportionate number of students with problems at my first uni – it felt like a constant parade of office crying about very serious problems. I always gently directed them to the proper university office if they had not done so, so they didn’t feel like they had to go to every professor’s office explaining “My mother’s dying.” or “I have a brain tumor.” (In addition to having students these students I also suffered a devastating personal loss in college, which makes me more sensitive to the needs to students facing real tragedy.) These types of situations are clearly distinguishable from “I have a cold,” or “My boyfriend broke up with me.” Or even a legitimate “My life is a complete mess right now.”

    Re: no late papers but do accept extensions – IMO the professor’s policies regarding BOTH should be listed clearly in the syllabus and gone over the first day of class, so there isn’t any confusion about what the professor means (going back to Nels’ comment on the subject). That’s why I put language explicitly stating that there will be no exceptions to the late policies, in case of officially documented emergencies. I understand prof’s concerns that opening a door to extensions will lead to a flood – I’m sure it depends on university culture, but I’ve never had significant problems since instituting my “official documentation” policy – the liars/fakers generally realize it’s not worth it (and this at a solidly 2nd or 3rd tier state school).


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