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Late work that actually works

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How to approach late work with students in online classes is a topic I’ve discussed many times with my colleagues. My own thoughts and practices around late work have changed significantly over the years.

What have I tried?

  • No late work unless extenuating circumstances (this hurt completion and morale).
  • 50% deduction for work submitted up to a week late (students seemed to think it wasn’t worth doing the late work).
  • 10% deduction for work submitted up to a week late (this did work better because a 90% was still possible).
  • No due dates at all, but I kept suggested due dates (this worked for some students, but many students fell really far behind and tried to do seven weeks of work in the last two weeks of the term).

One of the questions that has guided my thinking is this: “is submitting the work ‘on time’ more important than submitting the work?” I teach because I love to see students learn and grow, not because I like to micromanage due dates.

I understand the argument of teaching students to manage their time and be accountable for deadlines because that’s an important workplace skill. But I’m a professional in the workplace, and I don’t get everything done by every deadline all the time.

As an instructor I had to ask myself, do I always return grades and provide feedback by the time I say I will? Honestly, no. Sometimes my daughter gets sick and my schedule is thrown by a day or two. Sometimes an unexpected need for a committee or project pops up and I fall a little behind on grading. In these situations I expect grace from my students. So I believe that I should extend grace to students who also need it.

I’m going to share the most current iteration of my late work policy. And I invite you to share yours in the comments, and offer me some new ways of thinking about my policy.

What does my syllabus say?

Unit reflections and homework assignments can be submitted up to one week late without any deduction- no questions asked and no judgment given! Assignment folders close at 11:59pm one week after the due date. Discussions must be completed on time, and the final reflection cannot be submitted late because it’s due in finals week.

What does my policy look like in practice?

The day after an assignment was due (Monday morning), I go into the grade book and enter a 0 (or the word “Ignored” because I use contract grading). I then add a note like this:

“Oops- looks like you didn’t get a chance to submit this assignment. But don’t worry! You have until 4/24 at 11:59pm to submit this assignment- no questions asked! Let me know if I can do anything to help.”

What if a student needs even more time? I extend extra grace when needed. Sometimes a student needs an extra day or two, and that’s okay with me. If a student wants to do the work, and I think that the assignment deepens their learning, then a little extra time seems like a valuable way to support learning and equitable student success.

I do have a creative (unadvertised) way for students to make up a missed discussion, and I offer that to any student who needs to get caught up as we enter the last third of the term. Most students take me up on it, which means they got yet another important opportunity to engage with our course content.

How has this approach been working?

Really well! Most students end up submitting their work within just a couple of days after I notify them via the grade book that they can still submit an assignment. Completion is up – I see students persisting in the class more than I did with my previous policies.

I also have received notes from students thanking me for the reminder and ability to submit the assignment late. And overall, I find that students are more likely to reach out via email when they have a question about completing their late work. That open dialogue between us makes such a difference.

I’m happy with my current policy because I can be empathic and show grace while having a schedule and structure for completing coursework. But will I change my late work policy in the future? Probably. I’m always looking for ways to grow and do better for my students.

About Stacie Williams

I'm the Faculty Department Chair for Communication Studies at the Rock Creek Campus, and I also serve as an Online Faculty Mentor for Communication Studies and Journalism. I love learning new things about teaching online, and seeing student... more »

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There are 12 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x (Comment #45953) by Jamee Kristen 3 months ago (Comment #45953)

Stacie, how do you handle making up a missed discussion?

x (Comment #45954) by Jan 3 months ago (Comment #45954)

I have to admit I struggle with late homework, I really like this approach. I am going to try it! I didn’t see what the reduction is once the end of the “late week” ended. I would put it at 15% meaning they could not achieve an A on that particular assignment.

x (Comment #45955) by Heather Griffo 3 months ago (Comment #45955)

Hi Stacie –
I have implemented a similar policy in my courses and have found a lot of success with it! I am passing along your post to our SAC as we are implementing and studying some grading policy changes next year!

x (Comment #45956) by Amanda Bird 3 months ago (Comment #45956)

Great post. I’d love to hear more about your creative way to make up discussion posts. Those are tricky as timely engagement is so important to the learning. Thanks for sharing!

x (Comment #45957) by Judi Armstrong 3 months ago (Comment #45957)

We all fight the battle of “who’s getting trained” where homework is concerned.
Do students learn to turn it in by the due date or does the teacher use their personal time to review and give credit for late work.
My current policy for my remote classes is to have a due date with a 24 hour extension. If a student contacts me, I am happy to accept late assignments from them after that time, but there must be communication.
I do limit the homework to pre-midterm and post-midterm. I have spent too much time in my career going over a terms worth of homework at the end of the term. After the midterm I do not accept homework from the first half of the term.
The requests for submitting late homework come only from a few students each term. 80% submit their assignments on time but I believe homework is important and I don’t want my policy to hinder its submission. Students know that but respect my time as well.

x (Comment #45958) by Ron Bekey 3 months ago (Comment #45958)

Thanks for sharing what works for you, Stacie! I’ve been doing something similar, but a bit differently, and it also seems to work fairly well. I advertise a due date and it shows as the due date on the Assignments page, but it isn’t enforced. They can still submit the assignment after the due date. I also put in a zero, which gets their attention, and in the comments I say that it is a temporary grade until I receive the assignment as well as encouraging them to contact me if they want help. I don’t actually block the assignment folders until a week before the end of the class. Most students submit the work on time, but some trickle in over a week or more afterwards. I haven’t tried a “no judgement given” message in the Syllabus and the grading comments, which I think is a good idea! I do think that some students feel embarrassed to contact the instructor if their work is late. I’m curious: what is your ‘creative (unadvertised) way for students to make up a missed discussion’?

x (Comment #45959) by Morgan Chase 3 months ago (Comment #45959)

I do some similar things as well, deducting 10% or 20% for late work so that students can still get an A or B.

Here’s how I handle weekly discussions in D2L, which are time-sensitive. I set a hard due date of Wednesday night at 11:59PM so that it appears in the D2L calendar. Then on Thursday morning, I go through and score the posts that were on time. I then reopen the discussion and post feedback for students who didn’t post: “I am putting zeros in the gradebook but have reopened the discussion if you would like to post for half credit.”

I usually have a hard deadline around midterm (say, Monday of Week 6) for any late work from weeks 1-4, then an absolute hard deadline at the end of the term (say, Monday of Week 11) for any late work from Weeks 6-9. It helps compartmentalize things.

x (Comment #45960) by Jessica Bernards 3 months ago (Comment #45960)

Thanks for sharing. I really like the method you’re using and plan on starting to emulate it next term! I wonder if there is a way to have D2L automatically send students that message you’re putting in the comment section of the gradebook to students as well. That way they’re seeing it twice.

x (Comment #45961) by D. Ramirez 3 months ago (Comment #45961)

Ron, I use pretty much exactly the same approach, and it works really well! The zero gets people’s attention, but I stress that this is only until the assignment is submitted. I never remove points for lateness. There is a hard deadline of Friday Week 9 for submissions and revisions, though, to avoid the folks who try to do a term of work in the last week.

Jessica, you can’t automate it, but there is a fairly painless way to send out the “You have a temporary 0 because you haven’t submitted X yet” message: when you’re viewing the submissions in the Assignments tab, there is a “Email Users Without Submissions” button right on top. It takes a minute to compose and send, but you can contact all these students with a single email. I usually get “Thank you so much for reminding me!” responses and good follow-up.

I worked more than half-time all through university and grad school, and I was not raised to have any time management awareness. The few times my own instructors extended me this grace back then were really crucial to keeping me going. I *so* appreciate hearing my colleagues rethinking this issue.

x (Comment #45962) by Holly Cullom 3 months ago (Comment #45962)

This is a really interesting read. I have suggested (but not enforced) deadlines. Like you, I have noticed that a significant number of students often put off their work until the last minute, then struggle to catch up. One term this resulted in me having the majority of students submitting all their work for the term pretty much on the last day of class, which was a grading nightmare, and I also don’t think this provides a good learning experience for students. This has definitely given me some food for thought!

x (Comment #45963) by Virginia Somes 3 months ago (Comment #45963)

Thanks for sharing your strategy. I do something similar with a due date and an end date in D2L. Instead of putting a zero in the gradebook, I use D2L’s Assignment folder feature that allows you to email all students who haven’t submitted an assignment. I do this just after the due date (the next morning if the assignment was due at 11:59pm). The email is just a short reminder that the assignment was due last night, but that they can still submit it within [time period] to get credit. I have had students email me back to thank me for the reminder, sometimes saying that they had completed the assignment by got side tracked and forgot to submit. So it has been very helpful. Of course, the email doesn’t do much in cases where students aren’t checking their PCC email accounts. I’ll consider trying your strategy of inserting a zero with a note in the gradebook as an attention grabber in the future in addition to the email.

x (Comment #46014) by Gail Martin 2 months ago (Comment #46014)

I am in complete support of this approach to teaching with compassion. I do the same thing, realizing that this is a very challenging time for most of our students, and they will benefit from the lessons learned and pass it on to others, in their own lives.

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