Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Perspectives on Late point deductions

I guess is teaching preparation time!  These past few weekends I've been going through my online course, updating due dates for assignments, and slowly starting to make the changed to the various modules that I had scribbled down as the course was in progress last spring.  It's still up in the air as to whether or not the class will run so I am thinking of applying for an assistantship for this fall semester.

In any case, in preparation for this course (if it runs) I've signed up for a variety of MOOCs on Coursera and on Canvas.net that deal with the subject of teaching online. I figure that this is a good opportunity for me to get some professional development, but also to discover any materials that I was unaware of. This way I can share these materials with my students (the course is about course design and teaching online).  My Pocket reader had filled with a lot of reading to go through and evaluate.  As I was reading some of the materials this one stood out to me: Enough with the late penalties.

This is actually something I've struggled with in my (brief) career as a professor (still sounds weird to call myself that). In the first few semester of teaching I didn't really deduct points for lateness.  I had a clause in my syllabus, but I never really exercised it unless the late submission was egregious, like being a few late days without an excuse.  Last spring I decided that to be fair and equitable I needed to really apply the late penalty on assignments equally across the board.  Thus, if an assignment was a day late, it got 5-points shaved off the top. Two days late? Another 5-points off, and so on.  What I noticed was this: The percentage of students who were late remained the same, they were just getting points off now.  The percentage of people who were on time remained the same.  There was only one small group that was late by 30-minutes every now and again as most adults have competing deadlines and sometimes fall behind on some things.

Going back to the article†, I agree in principle.  When we assess our learners we ought to be assessing what they are producing.  Are they demonstrating that they've learned what we set out for them to learn at the beginning of the semester? We are not assessing their timeliness in submitting their materials, so why take off points?  I suppose that I can add an objective to my course indicating timeliness, but are we working with adults here or not?  In the grown-up world there are deadlines with consequences. If you are late with the submission of an RFP bid your company many not get the contract. If you are late with your deliverables at work it may cost the company money, or in academia if you are late in contacting perspective students, chances are that they go elsewhere and you miss out on some potentially brilliant scholars in the making. There are consequences in life to being late, so why not apply this toward grades?

The article has a few suggestions, such as having a due date window where students can submit their work.  I am curious to know how this is different from a due date.  At the end of that window you have a firm deadline.  If you have advertised that an assignment is due on August 15th, and it is now July 10th, doesn't this give the learner enough time to plan? I wouldn't give someone more points if they submitted early, but what I would give is more feedback so that they can improve their submission and resubmit (for a better grade if they wished).

Having seen students who submit stuff late I am wondering what the best approach is helping the learner, but still getting stuff in on time because that matters.  I am not convinced that deducting points for lateness is not a good idea, but I am interested in the debate. 

If you teach, or if you are a learner, what are your thoughts?


† I would say that the article deals with children in a K-12 environment, but someone might make the argument in adult learning situations as well.
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