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Can I be smarter about late policies?

Questions: Is my late policy reasonable? Are there diversity implications for smart late policies?

Robin DeRosa had an interesting tweet about late policies recently, and I posted my late policy in reply. Here’s a slightly expanded version:

In most of my classes, late work happens because students are really busy, not because they’re slackers. That means a late policy with percentage deductions kind of sucks, because my students will also be really busy the next week. Instead, I combine “no late work accepted” with dropping the equivalent of one week’s worth of each assignment time. E.g. in a class that meets three times a week, I throw out three of the daily assignments.

I make sure to frame this in a discussion with the students, where I explain that the policy is an explicit recognition of the fact that they’re busy. If you’re too busy to get the work done on time, JUST SKIP it, and get your life caught up.

So far, it has been working out really well. The students appreciate the extra lever for managing their schedules, and it’s clear from the beginning that there won’t need to be any exceptions. Note: every semester so far, students have managed to get confused early on … luckily, this comes up in terms of one of those low-weight daily assignments, so we clear it up before a high-stakes situation shows up).

I know this won’t work well for everyone, especially people whose course materials are quite different from mine. I’ve been able to use it well in both intro and upper-level classes, though. It has been easy to adapt to group work as well: groups always get to evaluate each other as part of the process, so they’re in charge of some of the enforcement.

I know other people who have similar policies, but with more bookkeeping. For example, people hand out “extensions” or “free passes” at the beginning of the term. It rewards organization, etc. I don’t think that serves my policy as well. For one thing, you have to have a good bookkeeping system; if you hand out literal extension passes, you have to either make sure students aren’t sharing them with each other, or be OK with that economy. For another thing, I like the raw simplicity of my policy, and I think that it might help in terms of normalizing things between students. I could be wrong!

After that twitter thread, I have some questions:

Are there diversity implications for smart late policies? One of the obvious things I know about supporting diverse groups of students is that you need to recognize the fact that there’s a whole world out there affecting in-class and out-of class performance. One of my hopes with my policy is that it’s explicitly good in this regard, but I’d love feedback here.

Should I add tiered deadlines? Matthew Cheney has a nice policy, where he distinguishes between “hard” and “soft” deadlines, explicitly telling the students which is which, and making that part of the late policy for grading. That seems honest and good, but I like the raw simplicity of my approach, so I’m nervous about adding more to it.

How does this affect colleagues? My department is young, so maybe this is a particular issue for us, but some of us tend to get more pushback from students than others (instead of young, you could probably insert all sorts of gender dynamics, etc. here). In several of our classes, we standardized on my above policy as the departmental policy. Being able to refer to it as The Departmental Policy seems to help those colleagues out.

Comments from Old Blog

3 Responses to Can I be smarter about late policies?

  1. Kat Bartlow says:

    Interesting take. In my classes, I usually have one set of low-stakes assignments (homework, quizzes on Moodle, etc.) My policy on this is to not accept late work, but to only require students to turn in 10 of 15 possible assignments. On the other hand, for major assignments like papers, I do deduct percentage points per day of lateness unless the student makes a case for an extension before the paper deadline. I think there's value in recognizing student busy-ness and not driving them to extremes (particularly on your pressure-cooker campus), but there's also value in reminding them that in order to achieve your goals, you have to set priorities and even (gasp!) work to deadlines.


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