Over at Twitter and Facebook, I made comments about students not getting work to me by the noon deadline I'd set up for today, and a few people asked questions about the policies I'd mentioned in brief. So, a blog entry seemed to be in order.
First, electronic sumbissions. For my first-year seminar this semester, all major essays are due as an attachment to an email message by noon on Sundays. I've been doing electronic submission for a few years now because 1) I like to have the ability to type longer comments in the margins and 2) I like to be able to keep copies of each and every essay I receive and grade. I think my comments are much clearer than before. Also, I can highlight sentences with errors or glitches in them, showing students that there is a problem and encouraging them to find the solution on their own (or come to me later so we can discuss it in person). Sure, I could do that with a regular highlighter, but doing it on the computer feels smoother to me. And having the essays on hand has worked for me and my students. More than once, I've received an email from a student who had a computer crash and needed a writing sample for a job or scholarship application. I'm able to forward their previous work to them in just a few seconds. Gmail makes storage really easy; in twenty-nine months of doing this, I have used only seventeen percent of my storage capacity (yeah, I keep just about every email I receive and/or send).
Second, deadlines. When I switched to electronic submission, it didn't make sense to have the deadline be the start of class. Also, I always hated how, the day an essay was due, it was pointless to have students do any serious reading. When I was an undergrad, I never read what was assigned the day an essay was due. Sometimes, I would cancel class and wait in my office for students to turn things in, but that felt like too many lost days. Having the deadline on a weekend made sense because I would never start grading until the weekend. Why have them turn in work when I know I'm not going to touch it until Saturday or Sunday? I used to make the deadlines noon on Saturday, but several evaluations last year recommended pushing them to Sunday. That sounded fine to me, so I made the change. I'm thinking of revising how I talk about deadlines, though, to say that essays are due within a time frame, like from noon on Thursday to noon on Sunday. Students used to turn in essays early, but now they seem to wait until the last minute. Some have told me that they do not want to turn things in early because they don't want to look like a suck-up.
Third, late policies. I do not dock students who turn in late work as long as they turn it in within a week after the deadline (I won't take work at all when it's more than a week late). Why no penalty? Well, I read What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain, and he argues that everthing we do in class should be motivated by pedagogy and not punishment. That got me thinking how, for me, grade penalties were done more to punish and less to teach. So, I tried to create a situation where students would be motivated to stick to deadlines because it would improve their learning. Therefore, I take work up to a week past a deadline, but I don't comment on it. I email them with a grade and nothing else. Since I usually allow revision on major assignments, this really hurts them. Of course, I offer to meet with them in my office. I'm not going to leave them stranded. But I think they lose out when they get no comments from me at all, just an email with a C+ on it. It usually works, too. Some students panic more about deadlines than before. It also helps good students make choices. I had an honors student who had the proverbial hell week. For me, she put off the essay by a few days and concentrated on her exams. She still earned an A from me. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Now, these strategies work only for me. I'm not advocating them for everyone. I do think some people follow some policies more out of habit. I've had colleagues say that they never thought it was possible to do anything other than decrease the grade on late assignments. Not all of them have switched to my style, but I hope people think a bit more about why they do what they do. Da Man has now been teaching for a couple of years, and he does the exact opposite of me. He forbids electronic submissions and decreases the grade on all late assignments. To meet his class objectives, these guidelines work best for him. These strategies I describe here fit my goals more fully. Frankly, I think students need to be exposed to as many techniques and "rules" as possible. I think they learn more by having to negotiate different expecations for different people. That seems to be one of the greatest life lessons we can offer them.
As for my first-year studens who led to this particular discussion on this particualr day, ten out of fifteen have not turned in their essays yet, and the deadline was over five hours ago. I've never had more than a couple miss before, and many of them did get their first essays to me on time last month. There are many reasons why this could be happening, and I'll ask them about it on Tuesday. The first essay was an narrative portrait, and this essay is a standard interpretive analysis. This essay is harder, and some of them have be struggling. Some did not keep up with the reading and realized that mistake too late. Some may be struggling with college and deadlines in general. It is midterm season, after all! And some might be truly apathetic.
I've been teaching long enough not to be upset about it. Hey, I've graded the five essays that came in on time and have returned them already. A few hours have now opened up for me this week! It's annoying, but I know I did a lot to help them get this essay done, including a week of in-class writing workshops. I've posted information about revisions, so they know they have to get something to me in the next week. After all, you can't revise what you never wrote in the first place. There are a few things I can still do to help them complete the next essay more easily. They still have to write it and get it to me on time, though!
I'd love to hear what people think about these strategies and what works for them. The more ideas and options we have circulating, the better for our students, I think.