Monday, November 20, 2006

Late work policies

I'm getting a little tired of typing away about Vista, so how about something more interesting - late work policies. :^)

I began thinking about late work policies while reading the syllabi my high school daughter brought home this fall, many of which included policies which were simply unworkable. Shortly after that I read a post on Liz Kleinfield's revision-spiral blog discussing Liz's thoughts regarding her late work policy http://revisionspiral.blog-city.com/rethinking_my_late_work_policy.htm

We have late work policies that run the entire gamut from "No late work ever" to "whenever you want to get it in as long as the semester hasn't been over for more than 3 months." My own person late work policy tended towards a fairly relaxed "I do accept late work, however you need to let me know when you will be able to get the work in. I do not accept work which has missed a deadline that you set. If the deadline you set falls in a busy period for me grading may be substantially delayed." I felt like learners who set their own deadlines (preferrably while feeling guilty for missing a deadline) were more careful to meet the next deadline and less likely to ask to have it moved a second time.

I tend to feel that we have adult learners in most of our classes who do have very busy and complex lives. Flexibility on our part tends to make the semesters run more smoothly and help keep the learning experiences positive. Most students appear to try very hard to meet all deadlines. On the other hand, our lives are equally complex and careful planning and adherance to schedules is the only way we can assure our students prompt feedback. I try to remind my students of that and let them know that if they help me I will in turn help them.

An interesting variation on the no late work policy is the "only if scheduled in advance" policy. This one appears to me to be particularly problematic, since it is at the root of many faculty/learner complaints. It can be hard to decide what sorts of problems qualify for late work and whether or not the learner can have known about the problem in advance. Say their mother goes into the hospital for surgery - they may have known, but possibly hadn't figured out how much it would disrupt their life. Did you really want them to schedule late work on the theory they might be late? And would you have told this student "No way" if faced with a question in class ahead of time?

Common advice for helping students meet deadlines is to break large projects up into smaller bites through the creative use of deadlines (this is good anti-plagiarism advice also) and to avoid deadlines during times when you know learners will be busy (Thanksgiving). Many of our math faculty drop one of the exams when calculating the final grade, thus allowing learners to miss an exam if needed. From the perspective of the dean, I like all of these suggestions.

Last, there is the fairness to all learners issue. If you let someone turn work in late how does that affect the learner who turned in a less than perfect paper, but got it in on time? My experience has been that late assignments tend to be of lower quality than timely assignments, but that is really just begging the question, not responding to it. It is important to remember that learning is not a zero sum game, so raising one person's learning, doesn't lower another. And as long as you are not grading on a curve it doesn't change their grade either.

If you have a creative and successful late work policy go ahead and post it in the comment section of this post so we can all see it.

best, Lisa

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Part one of this (now lengthy) comment addresses milestones, and Part 2 addresses the fairness issue mentioned at the end of your post.
First, I want to wholeheartedly agree that milestone-setting is essential for any large (points exceed 15% of the course) project or paper, regardless of subject. I've taught math for 20+ years, playing with long-term projects with a nontrivial writing component in classes ranging from algebra through senior math majors' courses; it was essential to set intermediate deadlines.
Why? Because this process mimics real life, not because I was hand-holding the students. Any project of value to a boss or potential patron generally requires the project manager to keep key people informed (usually in regular accountability meetings) and to complete intermediate stages by dates certain for executive review. Missed milestones are both indicators of potential trouble and opportunities for timely corrective actions. Shall we agree that this process also constitutes a "best practice" in academia?
I learned that the best milestones account for 75% of the work (and 50%-60% of the points) so that the final submission is a less labor-intensive process for the student (or team) and MUCH easier to grade. Reducing the late-submission problem by active management of milestones is more effective and stable in the long run than episodically dealing with large numbers of deadline offenders.
Now as to the matter of fairness to those "playing by the rules", it is my view that a student should be granted the privilege of an extension only by turning in existing work on the due date for grading. Any re-submission can earn up to one-half (I've also heard of one-third) of the points missed for the final phase of the project, it must be resubmitted by the agreed-to extended deadline, and and it must meet high standards of quality to be regraded.
What of the student to whom Life Happens? Crises indeed evoke sympathy, and for those rare life-and-limb cases, a full-credit extension would be warranted. The vast majority of cases arise, however, because some students overestimate how many courses he or they can handle given their current life stage, and have yet to master the art of time management, so that when a bit of adversity strikes, they "need" an extension. An instructor can usually judge accurately how much tenderheartedness is in order. My heart's pretty thick, though I can fake empathy as needed.
An important part of education is enabling students to learn from mistakes as quickly as they are ready to learn from them. Half-back strategies are effective opportunities to hold a student accountable and yet offer an incentive to repair the mistakes while they are still fresh in his or her mind. The real purpose behind half-backs on tests is to incentivize the process of creating CORRECT work to increase the quality of a student's preparation for the Final Exam. For projects, the real purpose of half-backs would be to reward sincere effort to produce work of high quality. I use half-backs after all tests up to, but not including, the Final Exam, and I would offer them after any projects. You, as an instructor, will want to think through the ultimate purpose of every reward structure built into your course, and as you do, it will govern policies about extensions, earn-back opportunities, points for routine HW, etc.
At PPCC my chair let me offer half-backs on condition that the total points earned back not be excessive and thus distort the higher letter grades. I set the maximum at about 8% of the course points; the math works out so that students can't fake their way to a "B" or "A"--the Final Exam has enough weight to require performance at that level.
Feel free to split this post in two.

Anonymous said...

I find that a late policy -- not taking late work -- helps me keep my students motivated and organized. I am flexible with this...that is, if someone has a real problem then I can help them through it...and often I will allow rewrites that compensate for this.

This allows me to rarely take work late. I don't reopen quizzes and I encourage students to hand in work a few days early...this also seems to help them get work in on time.

I see this from the perspective of business (I used to teach career development)--if our students don't learn to follow deadlines, they will be unsuccessful in business and in a 4 year college (many of mine go on). Also, if they are going into Nursing, they are going to be in trouble if they don't meet their deadlines.

This policy seems to work well for me.

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

My students have three weeks per unit, and I tell them that the course is not self-paced, as much of life is not, and so they need to get the work in by the end of the unit. I tell them to let me know if there are problems, preferably before the due date, and that I will be fair if they will be responsible. Is this unreasonable? Unworkable? If so, I'm not sure why? Also, the world is filled with different companies that will employ our students, all with different policies. Just as well get used to it now by noting the differences between courses and teachers, al

Lisa note: I think Al's last point is particularly important for me as the dean to pass on to students. It is reasonable for learners to have to manage different policies for classes taught by different faculty. Of course you all should expect a little tension there when faced with a student grade appeal. :^)

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Lisa

I am one of the people who will not accept work late.

I have found that the work gets done with the schedule established, and knowledge that work is not taken late.. In the past, I have had people who were collaborating on assignments - it was apparent from the writings - and simply decided to wait for someone else to get comments before turning in their work. This adds a new dimension to cheating. In addition, I have had one person simply write that he was going to do it when he got back from a weekend camping.

The class gets the work done with deadlines. There is also a correlation for assignment grades completed by good to bad students. The good students get the work done, and are consistently good. The bad students have their own correlation.

When I send assignments back, I add answers and comments. If this is common knowledge, there is an incentive to do the work late.

Bob

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Here's my late work policy: I don't accept late discussions, because it doesn't do much good if the student has no one to converse with because everyone else is off on another chapter. Since each discussion is only worth 10 points, I reassure students that if they miss one, they can either do extra credit, or just work harder on other things--10 points in my course is only 1% of their grade. I sometimes will open up exams late, but I don't like that in webct because opening up a test for one meant that no one else had access to their exams (I'm not in Vista yet). So, I try not to, but I usually give in if a students asks/pleads. As for labs, I do accept those late, with the understanding that it's a certain number of points off for each week late.

Ciao,

Trina

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Lisa and all, Since life is full of due dates and deadlines in any work force...I stick with my due dates for the most part carefully paced for student success, however, I often give Bonus assignments; unexpected "gifts" during busy times like mid-semester , around holidays, at the end of the semester; the students get the pts without having to do the work...they, of course, love this Becky

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi Lisa and everyone.

I have also begun to think about a late policy change in my classes. I don't currently allow late work because it "bit me" real hard when I first started teaching online. However, I do understand that life sometimes gets in the way of a productive learning experience. In that regard, I'm considering changing my policy to one in which the student starts with an "A" and for each period of time (a week, a unit, etc.) that the assignment is late, the grade drops to a "B" to begin with. It is from that initial grade that I will begin to review the work. If the paper is perfect and is a week late, the student still gets a "B." If it goes beyond that, it's a "C" and so forth.

I think WebCT Vista's assignment date functionality would lend itself nicely to this type of late policy.

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

HI Lisa,

My late work policy is this, students can turn in homework assignments( but not quizzes and exams) up to one week late without penalty or explanation. Following one week, students are assessed a penalty knocking them down down a letter grade. This semester, however, no real deductions for lateness due to way too many issues I can or can not substantiate.



Karen

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Being my first semester, I was all geared up to hold the students to the wall regarding on time work. Once I got to know my students I learned a lot about some of their personal lives. When some of these people came to me to turn in late work, I did not hedge to allow that. I have military who go off to train; single mothers embroiled in custody battles; adults who are trying to recover from traumatic abuses from childhood; single fathers juggling careers and spending time with children that still live with ex's and many people who are in internships or who work 2-3 jobs WHILE raising families and balancing school. I gave everyone until the day after T-Day to turn in late work and make up quizzes. After that, there will not be an offer to make up work. Many who needed this chance have been so appreciative. I am ALL ABOUT the learning piece, not punishment.
Vanessa Dahn M.A.

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi all,

The general rule/policy in my course is unless I’m contacted in advance about an alternative schedule, anything late is reduced by one letter grade (e.g., earn a 90% get 80%). For health or family related emergencies I usually let students slide if they make-up the work within one week. Only on a few occasions have I requested ‘proof’.

I’m not a fan of anytime due dates –for adult or younger learners- because interaction with other students / collaboration is supposed to be a large part of the “classroom” learning experience. If we’re moving toward a correspondence study model then, yes, I agree anytime due dates is the way to go. A lot of depends on the assignment type… in ANT101 we have the project set up to be due anytime up until a certain date. My experience there is that students generally wait until the last minute even though they are told if they submit early there will be a chance for revision and increased scores. Hence, my thought is a whole term with anytime due dates would lead to, as dean Lisa says, a dump at once at the end of the term/due date…. i.e., I say use the flexible due dates sparingly unless, again, the correspondence model is what we’re moving toward.

Lastly, in Vista, I set the assignments with a Cut Off date of one week before the end of the term. That allows me to accept things late without having to re-program the assignment’s availability dates. I wish the assessments/quizzes had that option!!!! I do not advertise the assignment settings though, but students can see the assignment with “late” next to it in their inboxes and then in their submitted tab as “missed” if they do miss it. I would like to see us move, in ANTs at least, away from quizzing and exams and toward projects only… at least one group endeavor per course (dyad, triad) ….anyway, off to the day job, catch up with everyone soon…

I’m curious to see your results as well, Al – keep us posted….

Happy turkey day to you all …

LM J

Alice said...

Hi All,

I thought I'd posted to this discussion, but I can't find evidence that I did!

Anyway, one practice that Phyllis and I have worked with is allowing learners some built-in misses. So instead of 8/10 discussions, 8 count for the full number of points in the discussions category.
The policy of giving people built-in "misses" is intended to give people control over their submission calendar to some degree. It is also intended to alleviate the need to negotiate late work (generally). This approach needs to be explained very early in the course and could be part of the welcome letter to learners.

Decisions about which assignments are absolutely required also need to be communicated.

For the achievers in the course --the ones who will complete all 10 out of 10 discussions, for example, the extra credit is already built in.

Best,

Alice

Alice said...

Hi All,

I thought I'd posted to this discussion, but I can't find evidence that I did!

Anyway, one practice that Phyllis and I have worked with is allowing learners some built-in misses. So instead of 8/10 discussions, 8 count for the full number of points in the discussions category.
The policy of giving people built-in "misses" is intended to give people control over their submission calendar to some degree. It is also intended to alleviate the need to negotiate late work (generally). This approach needs to be explained very early in the course and could be part of the welcome letter to learners.

Decisions about which assignments are absolutely required also need to be communicated.

For the achievers in the course --the ones who will complete all 10 out of 10 discussions, for example, the extra credit is already built in.

Best,

Alice