Procrastination, Late Days, Special Exceptions – Dog Ate My Homework

My Coursera class has started a thread about wanting extensions on assignments. I don’t have complex late day policies- I publish a deadline and don’t move it.

Here is my post to the thread:

I will be honest and tell you that there is no policy that I can come up with that will make everyone happy. Last summer I taught the class and had late days. People would use up all the late days in the first two weeks and then threads like this would start about “we need more late days”, “the software is broken and misleading” , or “late days are a mess – can I have four more?” etc etc. I have agonized over this a lot and this is what I conclude:

Some people procrastinate and some people do not procrastinate. Procrastinating is not bad (I do it all the time). But when you procrastinate – you add risk. The only way anyone misses a deadline by 10 minutes is to have carefully calculated the latest possible time to do the quiz and then something turned out wrong. If the student did the work a day earlier – the time zone or a small network failure or the need to go pick the kids up from day care does not lead to a late assignment.

Those who procrastinate will take any late days and just add that to the deadline and start working right before the deadline + late days – and then some thing goes wrong and they still need an extension.

People who don’t procrastinate – don’t need late days. They have a little extra time built in to cover for little things in the software or important things that take priority in their life.

But I am not 100% anti-procrastination – as I said I do it all the time. If you miss the deadline on a quiz or two – just let it go and keep up from that point on. In the previous three times I have taught the course, one or two late quizzes has *never* been the reason that folks don’t earn a certificate. Those that don’t earn a certificate – miss 50% of the class usually.

At the end of the class I do several pre-calculations of the overall grades and look at those who are “close” – sometimes I adjust the grading if it appeared that a bunch of students who worked hard during the entire class and missed a few points – I will change the grading scheme a bit.

So instead of advocating for adjustments – just make sure the rest of the quizzes are done on time. I assure you things will work out.

I have learned a few things in 30 years of teaching and one of them is that if I start giving individual students exceptions, then it simply means that those students will need even more exceptions in the future. If you can tell me a story about the dog chewing on your cable modem and get an extra week and then word gets around the class – you would be surprised at how many dogs all of a sudden start eating cable modems.

So I just keep it simple with no exceptions and then take a close look at all before I award grades at end of the semester.

Comments welcome.

2 Comments

  1. I completely agree. In your course the lessons are available the Friday before the end of the current week, hard deadlines covers 2 weekends and I’m pretty sure everyone can arrange to find the time to see lessons and take quizzes. I’m aware that someone could arrive in late due to major forces and I’m truly sorry for this. Even in those cases there are plenty of opportunities to be successful and get the certificate. Not to mention, as you pointed out several times, the aim of the course is to learn.

    In my opinion it is not just about procrastinating. We all have jobs, families and are elsewhere engaged in different activities and we have to take this into account when we enroll. We must make a choice and very often we have to give up something. It depends from how much we find the course important for us. This learning experience is disintermediated, meaning that there isn’t anything or anyone between us and the lessons but ourselves. It is up to us being successful or not.

    Even if it is free, the course has a high value. Every single time I took this course I found people putting great efforts in getting the most out of the lessons, doing their homework on time despite the difficulties they could have. And is the same for me.

    Given that, I think fixed deadlines are a real, good incentive for us as students. They give us a reliable target and enhance the educational system.

    Thank you Dr. Chuck!

  2. Alison Bowles says:

    You are so right about this HOWEVER I’ve been taking the Rice University python course (and I am an absolute beginner) and I do want to make a couple of comments. The course is supposedly designed for those with no previous computing experience and while, in theory, someone like me could complete the course, it would take MUCH longer than the 7-10 hours they estimate the course takes weekly.

    This is the second time I tried taking a Coursera course supposedly geared towards beginners only to find that many people in the course are quite advanced and that they have the taken the course at least two times. And that the course is not even understandable to me at a certain point. I’m not a dummy. I’ve been a straight-A student all my life and have two degrees so….it’s not an IQ thing!!!

    What Coursera does owes student who intend to invest in these courses is a realistic assessment of just how “beginning” a course is as some folks, like me, actually work, and while I’d be happy to do the 14 – 20 hours of work the Rice University class would actually take me, I can’t because I have to earn a living. I invested in this emotionally and it was upsetting to find that the mini-projects involved so much more material than was in the video lectures.

    That said, I agree that deadlines matter and they did motivate me. But when I couldn’t do the work in time despite putting a lot of effort into the course, I was motivated to tears. But, no matter. Life goes on.

    I still love those instructors and their TAs and will go back to the course in the fall. I am looking forward to taking your python course hoping that it is better paced for a beginner (it was recommended to me by another more advanced student in the Rice University class) and perhaps it will help prep me for my second go round with Rice’s class.

    I am so impressed by the hard work people put into teaching young people around the world skills they can use to work. I’m not so young, 50 years, but I may even use these skills for a career change. Why not?

    Thank you for what looks like loving dedication and generosity towards others.

    And cool, motocross, very cool.

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