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Enhance Equity in your course: Part 6 – Create flexibility in your course

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Create Flexibility in your course

woman in a splits pose showing flexibility

Yoga Full Leg Split – Flexibility, Photograph by Sourav, CC0

Why flexibility?

Does the thought of giving a student a time extension cause you to bristle? How about allowing students to make revisions to work or retake exams? In higher education, we often associate the amount of time a student spends on schoolwork, performing well on a challenging, timed exam, or meeting strict deadlines with academic rigor (1). Academic rigor is often associated with rigid standards that can be unintentionally exclusionary. In fact, the core idea of academic rigor has even been argued to be exclusionary.

Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines rigor as “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment: severity.” This definition is fitting in higher education if we define academic rigor as getting it right the first time, figuring out how to learn on our own, doing it fast, or spending a lot of time doing it. In their article Reframing Rigor: A Modern Look at Challenge and Support in Higher Education, Campbell, Dortch, and Burt (1) propose that notions of equity and rigor are intersectional. They propose that academic challenges that do not contribute to learning and development have the potential to be exclusionary.

In this post we, propose ways you can introduce flexibility in your online course as a way to enhance equity by reducing exclusionary course requirements disguised as rigor. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain high academic standards for learning and student achievement.

Build flexibility into the course schedule
  • Have students complete 8 out of 10 weekly discussion posts during a term. To set this up in D2L, consider making all the discussion posts worth the same amount of points, and follow the instructions to drop the lowest score(s) in a group.
  • Drop the lowest grade in a set of repeated low-stakes assignments (e.g., weekly reading quizzes or problem sets).
  • Offer an “amnesty week” during which students may submit assignments they missed earlier. To do this in D2L, set a due date but leave the end date blank. D2L indicates that the submission is late but still allows students to submit. You can do this from the assignment or from the manage dates tool.
Build flexibility into graded assessments
  • Require students to write four essays but give them six or eight choices of subjects.
  • Allow students to choose what kind of artifact they will turn in. For example, an instructional video, PPT, or essay. This will require planning in advance, you will want a rubric or well-defined grading criteria for each type of artifact and you will want to make sure that the effort required to complete each artifact is roughly the same. D2L can handle a wide variety of file types as assignment submissions.
  • Provide opportunities for students to redo assignments. To do this in D2L, make sure the “All submissions are kept” radio button is selected from the Submission and Completion area of the assignment. This way students can submit multiple files. You may also want to consider whether you want a due date or end date on the assignment.
  • If you have a comprehensive final exam, allow students to replace a low or missing exam score with their score on the final. This way they have an opportunity to show that they have learned the required material.
Share your practice

Do you build flexibility into your course? We would love to hear what you do in your teaching practice. Please share your ideas, successes, or lessons learned in the comments below. Do you have strong feelings about academic rigor? Share your thoughts to get the conversation started!

  1. Campbell CM, Dortch D, Burt BA. Reframing Rigor: A Modern Look at Challenge and Support in Higher Education. New Directions for Higher Education. 2018;2018(181):11-23. doi:10.1002/he.20267
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x by bryan 2 years ago

You saved the best for last!
A very substantial post …

x by Debi 2 years ago

I enjoyed this post and was excited to see all these recommendations in one spot. I was wondering if some clarity around the amnesty week could be provided. Do you recommend extending the deadline one week for each assignment (so due Dec-01 but open until Dec-08) or do you recommend instead opening everything back up the week 10 of the term (so emailing students to let them know this week they can complete any assignments missed earlier in the term). The one obstacle I find with flexibility is its impact on grading turnaround. Is there any recommendations on how to best monitor late submissions to provide timely grading?

x by Michael Dawson 2 years ago

Academic rigor isn’t exclusionary. Saying _that_ is itself exclusionary, if you think it through. But our job as teachers is to do what it takes to move our students into position to gain rigor and mastery over the skills we teach about. So, yes, being flexible is an important way of helping people make progress toward that goal.

x by Alyson Day 2 years ago

Hi Debi!

Great questions around amnesty week. I have seen instructors provide a “grace period” on all assignments of one type. For example, one writing instructor gave a 5 day grace period for weekly writing assignments that students were encouraged to do revisions on after seeing feedback. The instructor did not offer the revision opportunity to students who turned in the assignment outside of the grace period, but did give the student credit for the assignment.

Another idea was that students could turn in any assignments of a certain type during an amnesty week. One instructor had weekly problem sets for a math class and students were allowed to turn in missing problem sets during amnesty week.

In terms of monitoring late submissions in D2L, if you have the “Updates” widget on your homepage you can see when you have new submissions for assignments, discussions, and quizzes that require your attention.

Here is a link to instructions on how to add a widget to your homepage.

Thanks for your comment!

x by Morgan Chase 2 years ago

I have built in different deadline policies for different types of assignments in D2L, and I recently realized that I should make a spreadsheet for students so they understand how the different deadlines work. For a Math 95 example, a pre-work quiz is due right before class but is available through Saturday night; after that, a student can ask me to reopen it (for full credit because it’s low-stakes). For a graded problem set, I’ll give feedback that doesn’t give away the answers and encourage students to resubmit for a higher (possibly perfect) score. If your first submission was late, you lose 10%, but there is no penalty applied to resubmissions. This has a due date in D2L but is available through the end of the course. For an exam, I’ll accept late submissions with a 20% penalty for a few days; once I have published everyone’s feedback, which usually includes the correct answers, I can no longer accept submissions. I suppose it all comes down to low-stakes vs. high-stakes and formative vs. summative.