Thursday, June 07, 2007

Going Schedule Free

Hi Everyone-

Many of you know Al Turner already as he has been teaching Political Science for CCCOnline since the very beginning. For years he was the poster faculty for strict deadlines in classes. Al never let a deadline slide and yet his students always seem to love him -- there's a fine line in there somewhere that Al has managed to walk semester after semester, student after student.

This past spring he decided to try a complete change in policy -- essentially no deadlines. Here is his description of that experience:

I just completed one of my online classes that had only two deadlines for all assignments-Recommended Due Dates and a Final Due date. I decided to try this based on previous observations from Dean Lisa’s Blog. She said, "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."

Also, before the semester started, it was necessary for me to make several changes to my Schedule, Syllabus and Assignment Due Dates about the two due dates (Recommended Due Dates and the Final Due Date). Yes, it required a little extra work. But I had the time.

On the first day of class, I had posted all 21 essays questions and encouraged students to work ahead of our Schedule. And, I opened all five Unit Discussions too. I normally had only one Unit open at a time based on our Schedule. I also encouraged them to do their best by honoring our Recommended Due Dates. And if this was not possible, then to be aware of the Final Due Date when “everything” was due.

Throughout the semester, I used the Announcement, Calendar and Email tools to let students know of our two Due Dates (Recommended and Final). I was like “in-your-face” everyday. Since this was the first time, I found myself posting more Announcements then I normally do during a 16-week class. I was OK with this.

And here’s what I learned.

Students did their best to honor the Recommended Due Dates for our discussions and assignments. And if they were not able to, I was OK with that.

The rest of their work (21 essays, 42 quizzes, Semester project, extra credit and other assignments) constantly flowed in throughout the semester. I was OK with this. Why? Because I had a chance to “even out” grading their work. That is, all the assignments were not dropped on me all at once at the end of each Unit.

Another reason was that I received only one, that’s right, one excuse for the entire semester. Yes! So, I didn’t have deal with “those creative and imaginative excuses.”

Doing this for the first time also got me outside of my “normal way of doing things online.” One of my biggest concerns was being “dumped on” with all the assignments on our Final Due Date. Never happened.

Next, I think “flexible due dates” would work best for our 16 week classes. It may work in our Session two too. That would be my next attempt.

Did the students like it? I had only three positive responses and one of those made it to the Student Survey. And, it seemed the semester ran smoother because of the "accommodating due dates."

I’m sure many of you have already tried something similar to what I’ve already done. And I’d like to hear how it worked for you here in our Blog.

Would I do it again? Yes.


I don't know that I would recommend this approach for everyone, but I do think it begins to get at the conflict between the grade as a measurement of the student's understanding of the learning outcomes and the grade as a measurement of the student's ability to meet the course schedule. :^)



Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

That is definitely food for thought! I'm running a mini-experiment of my own this semester. Usually, I like to have only one chapter's discussion open at a time. That means locking and unlocking, and grading. However, this semester I'm testing that approach vs. leaving all the chapters in a unit open for the entire unit period. I'll let you know the results, and ask the students also. This is sort of a baby steps towards going schedule free, but after reading about Al's experience, I'm more game to give that a try next!
Trina Riegel

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Hi Lisa-- for whatever it is worth, my solution has normally been fairly
simple and obvious. A student can ask for an extension on their assignments
and I grant it. In most circumstances I give them as long as they need and
don't take off any points. This seems to work out pretty well. Students
appreciate the flexiblity and can get the extra time that they sometimes
need to produce a quality product (and, of course, to learn). In connection
with this, I am a proponent of not overburdening the students with too many
assignments. My assumption here has always been that the long tradition of
F2F learning is instructive when it comes to discerning what is an
appropriate amount of written work for a particular class.


Lisa Cheney-Steen said...


Thanks for sharing Al Turner's observations on relaxing strict deadlines! I very much like his recommended due date and final due date! It is too late for me to try this summer, but I will try it in the fall. Thanks again!

Kindest Regards,
Tom Nielsen, Instructor

Lisa Cheney-Steen said...

Thanks for passing this on, Lisa. We have several psychology instructors at PPCC that do something similar. Once in awhile a class includes too many "last minute" types, but overall the instructors have had experiences similar to Al's. I have noticed in my Eng 090 classes that, even though I do have specific due dates for assignments, many students turn in their papers early anyway. This has been consistent in every section I have taught, and I really like it. I would much rather sit down to comment upon or grade six essays than twenty!