Thursday, June 07, 2007

Going Schedule Free Part 2

Hi All-

I was interested in Al's experience for a couple of reasons. The first is the potential conflict in what the grade is measuring I mentioned in the last email. In theory our goal as faculty is to make sure students are able to meet the official course outcomes as defined in the common course numbering system, plus whatever else we think is important in our field. The final grade ought to reflect our opinion of what percentage of the outcomes the student has met. Unfortunately life sometimes intervenes in the measuring process and we are left with a set of graded assessments that may or may not add up to a good measure of learning outcomes.

As dean, I tend to face that at the end of the semester when I get the students' complaints. That makes me interested in ways to avoid the mis-match up front, or at least to make it less likely. I also don't really like to be the person who has to arbitrate between the student who thought her child's pre-school graduation was more important that the deadline for an exam. She thought she'd be able to get the exam in earlier, but of course the car broke, the cat threw up, .....

On the other hand, we all want to control our lives also. We want to know when we need to set aside time for grading and we know the end of the term is a hard deadline.

How do you balance those conflicts? The math department includes an extra exam, so the lowest score is automatically dropped from consideration. That was when a student misses an exam it doesn't affect his grade. It does probably affect his learning -- we would hope to the degree it does, that is captured in the following exams.

At the end of the term when you are reviewing your grades do you look at the overall picture and think about what you really believe in terms of learning outcomes? (And just to complicate things, some outcomes are probably more important than others....)

Al's solution was interesting. What is yours?



Richard Thomas said...

Greetings Lisa and Fellow Readers:

Reply to Lisa’s question: “How do you balance those conflicts?”

In an attempt to balance such conflicts in Interpersonal Communication classes, a compensatory method using available technology is the inclusion of flexibility in the scheduling of all unit exams.

Students receive proactive, concise communication via course schedule, calendar, email messages and announcements.

For example, “The Unit #1 exam will open on Thursday at 4:00 am and will close on Sunday at 10:00 pm.”

While maintaining adherence to a schedule the inclusion of exam flexibility is simple and effective. Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Best regards,

Richard Thomas

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I teach web design for CCConline and other Adobe products for a different college system. At CCConline the students work through their textbook building web pages. There is also a Final Project wherein the students create a web site of their own. Over time, I have tried different methods of motivation to get students to complete their work before the end date. For my classes, a schedule has been the key to their success. "Life" does get in the way, sometimes, and I make accommodations for those students that alert me ahead of time for potential late work. In other words, I am flexible, but there are NO extensions for my classes.

Procrastination seems to be a common condition with human beings. I believe this necessitates a need for a schedule, however flexible.

We do what works for our discipline and I think there is no "one size fits all" to teaching.

Sincerely, Mary O'Brien

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi Everyone,
I do accept late work in my History courses. I inform the students
assignments can be one week late without penalty or explanation saving me a
great deal of correspondence about why ect. I also hated being in the
position of deciding whose life crisis warranted an extension and whose
didn't. After the one week extension, I deduct points on each assignment
for being late. Discussions posts however are never accepted after closing.
Karen Kaemmerling

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I have been teaching Nursing students on-line for 2+ years. One course, Pharmacology Calculations involves math expertise, which we start with the basics, quickly building to calculations and equivalents. Most of the time the students seem to work within the given time-frames. There have been occasions when a student will ask me in advance for leniency on timing for completion of an exam, for example. I am short on accepting 'excuses' after the fact... Once Finals are over, when providing the final grade, I review each student's over-all activity in Discussions, as well as their grade average to determine their Final course grade. In the long run, I want to feel comfortable that each person receiving a passing grade would theoretically be able to correctly calculate medication dosages for me or a family member. If not, they will have to re-do the course.

Kathy Kohler

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hello Kathy,
Boy, I hear you on that one. If they can't calculate dosages for class, we certainly wouldn't want them practicing on patients.
Thank you for sharing. Mary

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi Everyone,
I also accept late work without penalty in Humanities,
for there is so much writing, almost everyone needs a
little flexibility. At the end of the semester,
however, I cannot accept any late work because of time
constraints. I find that most students meet the
assignment schedule consistently; few ask for more
time. I escape the dreaded judging, too (thank you
for explaining that well, Karen), which has always
been my least favorite part of teaching.

Discussion posts cannot be made up or extra credit
substituted in Humanities; nothing replaces

Thank you for this discussion. We all struggle with
grading, but we don't get to see how others have
figured out the knotty problem of lateness and


Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Comment from Lisa -

The one piece that most thoroughly irritates students is when the faculty does not apply the late work policy to themselves as well. So a "no late work" policy is frustrating to students when the faculty consistently is late with grading and gives the "I'm busy" excuse. So you do have to keep an eye on that. :^)


Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi all,

Wow - I like the discussion going on here. So, a few additions:

First to Jesse H: Jesse, I always love reading your stuff and hearing from you - a man of wisdom in my view: ("As long as we deal with people, we must interact with people. No sterile profile and inflexible set of requirements will ever be succesful.") Yes.

Secondly, to Al T: I admire the way you shifted gears from what you were accustomed to (strict deadline requirements) to testing out a new format with students, to see if a more flexible pattern of relationship was possible. And it appears to have worked beautifully. Congrats on getting this ball rolling, not only within your own classes, but within faculty minds and discussion.

Thirdly - I've appreciated all the comments submitted so far. What a great interactive team we have as the basis for the organization we are a part of.

Fourth - Even when I taught first grade I found that the students (except for one who was "developmentally delayed") were capable of learning to manage their own schedules, both individually and as a group. The first graders were not only allowed to do so, they were expected to do so (and of course that involved a learning process. So what else is it about than that?) Seems like we could expect the same of college level students, and Al's experience seems to be a case in point to say "yes".

Lastly - This question pertains as much to ourselves in training as it does to students we work with: In our training courses for faculty, in an effort to provide and live by rubrics about how to get credit for the training, I've felt a bit uncomfortable that we are creeping more and more towards requiring too strict a meeting of deadlines (and other "concrete sequential**" criteria) by faculty for them to receive certification for a training. (**Tony Gregorc - learning styles).

It's just been a swing of the pendulum, no doubt, as we are working toward use of rubrics and schedules, and will not doubt swing back in time. So for setting deadlines I prefer to remember that in learning we engage in teamwork (between teacher and students, student and student, ed institution and ed institution), and for effective teamwork we need some degree of structure to work coherently together. So I like to work from the idea of Jesse's comment (quoted above) and just follow the guidelines of providing a schedule the new way Al did, reminding students if needed about the purpose of the schedule, negotiating deadline changes when authentically necessary, and keeping learning and the process of learning as the constant target for what to do about deadlines.

Dinah K. / ProfHelp
ProfHelp replies Monday-Friday
within 2-24 hours of receiving mail.
Dinah Kennedy: 303-475-2790

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

This is a great discussion. The topic of flexibility in accepting assignments is an important one.
I believe that one of the things you are supposed to learn in college is how to manage your time and meet deadlines (even if the fish died). The real world isn't going to care if the fish died and the dog ate your computer so you won't get any breaks there. So, being too flexible with deadlines and grading is only going to encourage sloppiness and mediocrity. I don't want a student graduating from a college I taught at to have that reputation in the workplace.

Thus said, I do respond much more favorably to someone who emails me in advance that they are going to have a potential problem. I assess how well the student has been doing so far. I look at their involvement in the discussions and their grades. Based on that I determine my leniency in any given situation.

I also don't believe in open ended schedules because cramming and throwing together a ton of assignments at the last minute (even if they are done well) does not mean that the student learned anything. I do want the students to learn Nutrition and not just get a grade. That takes time and study to digest the material and doesn't happen last minute.
That's my nickel's worth.

Laura H Hatton
University of Phoenix Online Faculty

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I just read Dinah's comments, very interesting.

I am a firm believer of STRICT SCHEDULE!! .. but this has me thinking.. always thinking how to make it better..

always in evolution!!

Shirley Stovall

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi, I have been teaching about 8 years on campus, 2 years online.


That is my opinion.. HA.. I am ruthless in the beginning. I have a strict schedule in class too, NO LATE WORK!! Obviously there are emergencies, most excuses are not emergencies. If given a chance, too many excuses come up. I teach human anatomy and physiology, it is very demanding, there is not one spare second, if they dont keep up, they can not finish.

My experience is usually that the weaker students ask for extensions.. and then they are behind on the new material, and then want extensions.

I agree with what someone said, we are evaluating what they learn in a certain period of time.

I would welcome work streaming in instead of the last minute bombardment, but for me, to keep track of several units of discussions, with 10-15 threads per unit, that would be a ton of work. It is very difficult to keep up with one unit (10-15 threads), cant immagine multiple units..

Anyway, if students have proven themselves, if they can do the work, and after a few weeks something comes up, I am a bit lenient, but it needs to be pretty emergent or at least very creative. I will give them an extra day or two, but anymore just makes them do a poor job on the next unit.

My opinion anyway. I know we have adult learners with jobs and families and such, if they decide to take 3 online classes, which many do, I guess they have a plan. In the beginning in intros I try to target these people and continually watch them more than ever the first few weeks, to make sure they know what they are getting into.....

Shirley Stovall

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I could see that…

I know when I consolidate the 15 wks to a 10 wk program it cuts out a lot of the fringe time.

“Your 1st project is due at the end week – there’s no extra week to review getting started;

The mid term is 4 wks into the program – there’s not an extra 5 days for reviewing review notes…”

I guess it’s a lot like jumping on a moving train – you either get on or you miss it.


Lisa Cheney-Steen said...


1) Not holding students to deadlines may well do them a disservice for both other classes and after they graduate (on the job). Students need to learn time management; to plan ahead and be organized. Allowing them to turn assignments in willy-nilly doesn't reinforce skills that they will need to be sucessful.

2) Instead of dropping an exam score, I give more frequent exams. Then no one exam score can make or break a student's grade.

- Paul

Paul E. Vorndam, Ph.D.
CCCOnLine Science Division Chair

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I teach CRJ classes for CCC as well as for another university. The other university has a strict policy that ALL faculty must adhere to that does not allow late work unless there is a death, hospitalization, etc. I have found that students know what to expect and do not ask to do extra credit or turn in late work since they know the policy (from other classes) and I, as an instructor, can point to the policy to let students know that I have no discretion. As for CCC, I am more flexible but wonder if having a policy that all instructors must follow is better?
Sheryl Prichard

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi everyone,

Great comments, I'll add what I do on late work as well...

I accept late written assignments (essays) but they are docked 10% per day regardless of the reason. This eliminates my having to decide if the "crisis" or "excuse" is valid. I do this in my land classes as well. If a student contacts me in advance of the due date, I am likely to cut them a break (perhaps only dock late one day or 5%, etc.) on the first late assignment. I will also make a note of a late submission so that I can check later in the semester to see if they are consistently late on other assignments. In those instances they won't get a second "break' from me and I'll go with the full 10% per day. And after 10 days they lose the full 100% so that's my cut-off.

I also use a publisher website for chapter quizzes and although I try to encourage students to submit them with each unit, I'll get a few that fall behind. This is no problem to me (I'm not grading them afterall; I just enter the scores) and I will accept those chapter quizzes late with no penalty. Sometimes it is the publisher website's problem they are late and the students shouldn't be punished for that.

As for discussion comments, those are scheduled and have to be completed as scheduled. I don't allow late posts. I don't believe that it's fair to the other students that are there and participating as scheduled and trying to learn the materials. As I explain to my students who always seem to schedule their vacations during the course, it's like missing a f2f miss out on what the students said that day.

Hope my comments are helpful. I appreciated reading everyone else's on the subject.

Holly Dershem-Bruce
POS 111

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Has anyone considered the University of Phoenix and their philosophy? They cost a LOT of money and yet are increasing their enrollment all the time. Why? They offer 5 week, intensive classes. You take one class (one subject) for 5 weeks then move onto the next subject.

My daughter is a mother of three and her husband is a stay at home dad. She is taking classes for a degree in accounting. The last time she was pregnant, she planned for the time off for the delivery and then got back to classes for the next session she needed to take. She can handle a class that lasts 5 weeks and meets once a week on Wed. evenings.

I am not saying we need to follow exactly what they are doing, but what a concept? I understand they were discounted when they began their program years ago and were told their model would not work. Well, guess what? They are beating the pants off community colleges, at least in AZ.

Food for thought at least. Mary

Chris said...

I tend toward the strict schedule side of things myself for the History classes I teach, although I am flexible when students contact me in advance or during an emergency. Like many other faculty members, I am much less likely to be flexible if not contacted until after an assignment is missed unless there is an obvious reason why it couldn't happen - the student is in the hospital is a good example.

Unless the excuse for late work meets the traditional "emergency" situation, they can turn assignments or assessments in late for a letter grade penalty. Discussions are a bit different - because they are designed to require interaction between students and focus on a specific era or theme, I infrequently allow makeups. In the cases that I do allow a makeup for discussions, it usually requires the student to summarize the entire discussion that they are making up. This not only ensures that they gain familiarity with the material, but gives them practice with citations and writing.

Why? Not only do students of traditional age seem to need the negative reinforcement of late penalties as an example of what the real world is like, but adult students already understand that there are repercussions for the decisions they make. If they wait until the last minute to work on a paper or exam, despite knowing the schedule several weeks in advance, who is to blame? If a student determines that spending extra time on a baby shower or other event is more important than a quiz, exam, or paper, they are making that decision with the knowledge that they may earn a lower grade on that assignment.

The assignments are designed with time built-in to allow several days to complete, and can be done at any time of day. Exams (2 @ 15% of the grade each) are essays that students have three days to complete (Friday-Sunday), Quizzes (6 @ 5% of the grade each), are the same. The Research Assignment (10% of the final grade) isn't due until Week 11 of the 15 week course.

I'm sure this sounds harsh, but part of it comes from the fact that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible to take 2 minutes to send an email during an emergency. This knowledge comes from personal experience.

In February, 2004, when I was finishing my M.A., my wife was pregnant with our first child. I was working full time and taking two seminar classes each semester. My wife was a full time student at CU. I came home from work to find her confused and feverish, so I took her to the Emergency Room. during the course of the next few hours, we learned that she had lost the baby and she was admitted to the ICU. Her condition deteriorated the next day, and she ultimately spent 19 days in the hospital - 9 in the ICU, 5 on a ventilator. The ER doctors told our family doctor that she might not still be alive by the time her got to the hospital.

While this was going on I contacted my two instructors via email to let them know what was going on, contacted her academic adviser at CU, and after she was out of ICU did my best to get back on track with school and work. The first month of her recovery, we had to arrange for friends or family to be with her 24 hours a day, and I had to juggle work, school, and responsibilities as her primary caregiver.

Do I expect students to do all this? No. I do however take any claims that they can't spend 60 seconds on an email or voice mail with a wheelbarrow of salt.

Just my two cents,

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I build some flexibility into my schedules, about like Karen K. I have deadlines for assignments submitted to the drop box, but set the parameters to accept late papers for three days. Beyond three days, students have to fax me their medical records (or whatever precipitated the crisis). I don’t allow late discussion postings because they’re meaningless—it’s no longer a discussion after it closes.

As for faculty training, I would vote for more flexibility. There would still have to be a deadline at some point, but practicing as we teach could provide more application level learning. As an instructor, I understand that greater flexibility for students means more tracking for the teacher. I sympathize with instructors needing closure so they can focus on other projects. Maybe students could contract for a time-frame?

Kathy Rousset

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I have a similar policy and interestingly, most students work hard to meet the suggested dates and submit their assignments on time. I feel as you do; I do not want to decide whose life crisis is bad enough to warrant and extension.

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

You noted: “I also don't really like to be the person who has to arbitrate between the student who thought her child's pre-school graduation was more important that the deadline for an exam.”

My response: well, of course. However, if the class has emphasized in the Course Information module and elsewhere that schedule concessions will be considered with 24 hours or more advance notice, then a graduation date, such as you describe, should have been planned for well in advance. It is my firm belief that we must (hidden curriculum) instruct learners on responsibility, time-management, and communication skills. Any learner who contacts me about such an event in advance is given an alternative schedule. If I were contacted AFTER the date, the penalty would be the late grade reduction based on the student’s failure to notify in advance.

Where unexpected events occur, as long as the individual is not unable to reach a PC or phone to contact me directly or CCCOnline (e.g., incarcerated, unconscious, otherwise detained for an extended period), then I expect s/he to be a responsible adult college learner and follow the guidelines of the course they and I have contracted for the term…. To contact me as soon as possible through one of the many means given (Skype, email, phone, in-class, etc). Even in these instances, depending on the severity of the issue, I am likely to give a concession of schedule (later due date) with or without point loss.

You noted: “On the other hand, we all want to control our lives also. We want to know when we need to set aside time for grading and we know the end of the term is a hard deadline.”

My response: true, this is important. More so, however, I feel that the courses I instruct are meant to establish a learning community and for learners to be passing in and out of the assignments and activities at their own schedule (rushed in early term, or end of term, I predict) then we lose that critical element of online learning. IF the course is purely skills based (e.g., outcome is to design a web site) that can be different. But where it is an undergraduate course in the social sciences, humanities, or other ‘liberal arts’ discipline, I am strongly against correspondence self-paced learning.

You noted: “At the end of the term when you are reviewing your grades do you look at the overall picture and think about what you really believe in terms of learning outcomes? (And just to complicate things, some outcomes are probably more important than others....)”

My response: I try not to evaluate the worth of the outcomes … I personally think they could use far more actionable language and are poorly written in many ways (for the classes I’ve been exposed to at least: ANT101, ANT111, HIS101, HIS102). But, yes, at the end of the term I have been known to raise a learner’s grade a few points as needed to pass or pass at a higher grade IF s/he genuinely showed learning during the term across the board… even if in a haphazard scheduling kind of way. E.g., I had a student last term that was on a professional hockey team and the first part of the term was the end of the season. The student contacted me to note a lot of travel would take place and deadlines would not work well. I compromised and let a lot of things be due late with no point loss because I was contacted so early about the situation. Do I think the student lost some of the ‘value’ in the class (community, etc). Yes, but in the end the student did show responsibility, self-directed learning skills of an adult, and excellence in the tasks for the term I used to evaluate summatively the learning on all units.

I applaud Al for trying new methods. :)

Hope my comments have been helpful in some way.

:) LM

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Just to add to the growing list...I do not have heartburn over late
assignments. I generally have a deduct system and discuss this with
students. It seems to work just fine. I find that being available,
open and honest when discussing these things with students is the
best way and works OK.

Chuck Percival

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi All,
It's great to hear what everyone else does in their courses! My policy is
similar to Holly's: late work is docked 10% per day, regardless of the
reason and discussions aren't accepted late. Whether students are 17 years
old or working adults, I truly believe that in addition to the academic
content, it is critical to teach them the importance of adhering to
deadlines and how to manage time. Life is full of externally imposed

Just my two cents; thanks to everyone for contributing!

Kyla Hammond

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I typically leave discussions open-ended to facilitate more robust threads, but have found that if I leave most other tasks open, they will get done at the last minute and not be of very good quality. I notice that students who turn in their term papers earliest tend to score better than those during the last week(s). Part of this is because I offer a review before their final paper grade, and that typically results in A papers if not high B’s. Those who don’t take advantage of that review tend to score lower. Basic logic I know, but that’s my 2 cents!

Diane van Os

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi Jeanne, I am interested in having this conversation at CCD. As a matter of fact, I'll even start.

My late policy does allow for some flexibility. When students contact me ahead of time I'm usually pretty lenient. I do a verbal contract with the student by asking "When do you think you can get it done by." If I think the student's time frame is too long, then we renegotiate. Most students do pick a reasonable time frame. Since the student set the deadline them self, 99% of the time, the work is handed in within that time frame. I have a 5% deduction per day for late work. If it's more than 10 days late, they get a zero but still have to hand in the work. If the student has a documentable reason for the work being late, I don't deduct from the grade. By documentable I mean they were sick and provide me with a doctor's note or if their kid(s) were sick and they can again provide a note. For family deaths, they can bring me the obituary with their name in it, or a note from the Funeral Director. Now if the cat throws up and the student can provide a vet bill that has that date on it, okay. That hasn't happened- yet. That way I am not in the position of deciding if a particular student's reason is "valid" or not.

Trisha Barber, MSN, FNP

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

I build some flexibility into my schedules, about like Karen K. I have deadlines for assignments submitted to the drop box, but set the parameters to accept late papers for three days. Beyond three days, students have to fax me their medical records (or whatever precipitated the crisis). I don’t allow late discussion postings because they’re meaningless—it’s no longer a discussion after it closes.

As for faculty training, I would vote for more flexibility. There would still have to be a deadline at some point, but practicing as we teach could provide more application level learning. As an instructor, I understand that greater flexibility for students means more tracking for the teacher. I sympathize with instructors needing closure so they can focus on other projects. Maybe students could contract for a time-frame?

Kathy Rousset

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

These are all good points to consider. While I prefer strict deadlines to be applied to myself (else I would likely not finish, as things get pushed lower on the list!), I have had some faculty who expressed difficulty with this, and it seems that in some cases particular faculty would have been able to complete a training session if the strict deadlines were removed (or were more flexible), rather than failing to complete a session and having to take it over (perhaps several times). This is just something that might be considered. In terms of sequential workshops, I would think that this is a good idea if the content builds upon earlier workshops, yet if there is only an incidental connection, it would seem that faculty may have more motivation to take more development workshops if they could choose some independently according to interest.

Just my two bits. Thanks,


Laurie said...

I have found your comments interesting! After teaching online for 5 years, I would fall into the group that adheres to the schedule! I agree with most that the students that ask for extensions are usually the same ones with excuses over and over. What they really want is an "A" with no work!

But, that being said, I do not have many assignments due, it is mostly discussions and work on the research paper. Neither one of these can be "late." Most students that do not do well also don't participate in the discussions. If the student has a really good excuse and can document it - then I allow late submissions. I also am flexible - so when students ask to turn in something late before the assignment is actually due, I allow it. But, when a student tells me that they missed assignments because they just delivered their new baby, or went to their friends wedding, their child's pre-school graduation, or had a vacation - then I don't accept it, b/c these were all planned ahead of time! All of my assignments are open for at least a week, and several for 3 weeks. A studnet can complete it anytime at their own pace. Exams are opened for a week. The research paper is worked on all throughout the course. With "selective release" you can open and close even exams for individuals, but not after the fact!

None of my assignments are "grade killers" except exams and the research paper. I purposely don't put big points on assignments. If they loose 25 points because they mixed up a due date, it won't kill their grade. They will be on time with the next assignment. But for the big point assignments, the student is preparing for weeks.

I also have "extra credit" built into the class, starting with the very first assignment (open for 2 weeks) the orientation quiz. I make a couple more discussions extra credit in the 10 week sessions.

This reminds me of when I taught high school. The students always asked for extra credit assignments to bring up their grades. So, one semester I decided to not have any assignments. The entire class would be "extra credit!" You know, the same kids got "A's" and the same ones failed. We can only "hand-hold" so much. At some point they have to become responsible college students!