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.