SIP 10.9 Flexibility with Deadlines

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Students in classroom listening to lecture.

Some students are driven by deadline pressure, but many find the stress of a looming deadline overwhelming. Additionally, our students are often juggling competing demands and deadlines from courses, jobs and their personal lives, and our assignment due dates may overlap with a big work-related deadline or an important life event. Ideally, students would be able to plan around these other occasions, but often that simply isn’t possible (and tell the truth: Have you ever put a conference talk together on the plane to the conference?). Then, instructors are in the unpleasant position of having to listen to and judge the validity of a student’s excuse for missing a deadline or grading work that was done in a slapdash fashion.

Another complicating factor is that some students feel comfortable asking for extensions when they need them, but others, particularly first-generation college students, may not know that extensions are possible and may never ask. Students of color experiencing stereotype threat may fear that asking for an extension will reflect badly upon an entire group of people.

Finally, strict policies around deadlines that result in grade penalties for students who turn work in late can take a harsher toll on students with complicated lives, contributing to equity gaps.

Take a SIP of this: building flexible deadlines into assignments

One way to address the anxiety inherent for some students in meeting deadlines, and at the same time bring more equity to requests for extensions, is to build options for deadline flexibility into your assignments. Flexible deadlines are also one way to practice compassion toward students (for more on practicing compassion at work, check out SIP 10.8). Here are three simple ways to give all students in a class equitable access to deadline extensions:

  1. Create passes that students can use to give themselves extensions when they need them. You can either give every student a certain number of passes to use throughout the semester or you can create a low-stakes assignment, such as a syllabus quiz, and award the passes in lieu of points for the low-stakes assignment.
  2. Have students sign up for deadlines. In this model, students choose their own deadlines and commit to them in writing. This allows you as the instructor to know when to expect assignments to be submitted, so you can plan your own workflow, and it gives students an opportunity to practice planning and accountability.
  3. Create a submission window. Instead of giving a firm deadline, you could say work will be accepted during a period of a few days or even weeks. To encourage students to submit near the beginning of the window, you could offer extra credit or some sort of incentive, such as dropping their lowest assignment grade if they turn in a certain percentage of assignments with the first three days of the window. Many instructors already incorporate submission windows into their online courses.

Looking for something more radical? Consider getting rid of deadlines altogether! Or have milestones during the semester relating to work turned in, such as requiring that at least half of all work must be submitted by midterm, another 25% before fall break and the last 25% before finals week ends. Or give students a portfolio option in which they submit evidence at the semester that shows they’ve attained all the class outcomes.

Still thirsty?  Take another SIP of this: building flexible deadlines into assignments

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