Success with Assignment Grace Periods

I have had a consistent late policy since I began teaching: no late assignments accepted. It seems harsh, but I believed I was teaching my students responsibility, promptness, structure, and other life skills to help them be successful in their future careers. Teaching in the Health Sciences, after all, my students will be working in healthcare, a field where such traits are desirable.

There are other faculty, I know, who agree with that policy. I have heard the same arguments about students needing to be prepared for the “real world” from faculty in other disciplines. It is true, to an extent, that college is different than career life. The university environment is probably a little more protective and safer than most work environments.

Other faculty, though, have told me I was being unreasonable. They said that I was not taking into consideration the many other responsibilities some of our students are juggling. My response was, though, that their boss would not care about those other responsibilities; their work must be done!

The pandemic forced me to be more flexible, as I am sure most faculty were. I abandoned my late policy. If anything, I became too flexible, allowing opportunities for students who tend to procrastinate to dig themselves into a hole that was too deep to get out of by the end of the semester.

Then, when completing a faculty development course outside of CSU Channel Islands, the topic of the late assignment was fiercely debated. One faculty participant reminded us of cultural differences with the concept of time and timeliness. With CSUCI, they argued, being a Hispanic Serving Institution, there may be fundamental equity issues with my late policy.

The experience of abandoning my late policy, being more flexible during our times of mandated virtual instruction, and the eye-opening interactions with other faculty during the aforementioned course led me to reflect on how I should move forward.

Last semester, I decided to try something new: each assignment had a due date and a grace period, ranging from two days to one week later (the grace period was consistent within a single course; the grace period varied from course to course, based on the number of assignments and difficulty). Students were strongly encouraged to submit by the due date but could submit through the end of the grace period without needing advanced approval. I stressed on the first day of class, that students should not procrastinate and use the grace period when not needed…and that the grace period would be strictly enforced.

This is how the policy read in the syllabus:

My priority is for you to learn but, sometimes, life gets in the way. However, there are some due dates that must be taken into consideration within the confines of a structured university environment. Each assignment for this course has a due date, with a grace period to allow for those times when life does get in the way. Students may submit assignments up through the grace period date without penalty and without requesting an extension. After the grace period, no assignments will be accepted without prior approval. Please plan on submitting assignments on the initial due date and save the grace period for when it is truly needed. Communicating with me as soon as an issue arises is key!

This was surprisingly successful! The overwhelming majority of students submitted by the due date (though, this percentage did decrease as the semester continued and students had increasing assignment loads in other courses). Nearly all students submitted by the end of the grace period (usually, I have a handful of students who did not submit). One unanticipated benefit, too, was that this significantly decreased my administrative burden; students were not emailing me asking for an extension.

My new late policy is something that I am keeping in place. It still teaches students time management, and other relevant workplace skills, while also respecting their need to balance schoolwork with other responsibilities.

One thought on “Success with Assignment Grace Periods

  1. If we do not adjust our attendance and participation policies we are literally setting up our students to fail. How can we expect students to gain a quality education while creating a system that penalizes them for being who they are, which is taking 5 classes per semester and also working class and have jobs, family caretakers, first generation college students, in need of support for academic success, and dealing with the challenges brought by an ongoing pandemic. I refuse to penalize students for not being able to maintain the pace that we have created for them, instead I practice and promote advisement and using soft deadlines for assignments, which allows students to submit work past due date with no penalty. The benefits of offering flexibility and humanity in the classroom are noted by Clobes in his post.

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