Providing Flexibility with Course Deadlines

by Jackie Wickham Smith

"I take every missed assignment as an opportunity to invite students back in, not weed them out." Quote by Meghan Dougherty, Program Director, Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Loyola University Chicago

I recently attended Loyola University Chicago’s January 2022 Focus on Teaching and Learning Conference. The conference, held via Zoom, focused on the theme “Expanding Our Toolkits: Innovation, Creativity, Equity, and Student Learning.” In the opening panel, Meghan Dougherty, Program Director and Assistant Professor in the School of Communication, shared a perspective that could be especially useful for School of Professional Studies faculty.  

Dougherty has experimented with flexibility in her courses, with the goal of implementing flexibility in a fair and just way, avoiding a “shadow syllabus” where only students who ask for flexibility receive it. She recognizes that students are overwhelmed and wants to mitigate that when possible by removing the worry about the pace of the course so students can focus on the content, critical thinking, and creativity. My favorite quote from her presentation was: “I’m tired of running, and I don’t want to hit the ground. I’d like to notice what’s around me and maybe stretch for a few minutes.” Dougherty’s method of providing flexibility with course deadlines would transfer well to a fully online course at SPS.  

Dougherty designates the last week of each of her courses as “catch-up week” and allows students to revise and resubmit any assignment or submit any assignment they missed during the semester. Although she mentioned that she has had a few students complete the entirety of the course within the final week, she said that overall, only about 10% of her students submit work during catch-up week.  

The success of “catch-up week” is partially due to frequent reminders: not only is it explained in the syllabus and at the first class session, but Dougherty references it in her feedback on graded assignments as well as reaching out every time a student misses an assignment. She said, “I take every missed assignment as an opportunity to invite students back in, not weed them out.”  

In a fully online course at SPS, instructors might implement “catch-up week” in week 10. Dougherty’s policy extends to all her assignments, but SPS instructors could designate specific assignments for re-submission. Discussion assignments may not be good candidates for late submissions as timely interaction with classmates and the instructor is crucial to student learning in discussions.  

Dougherty’s attitude towards missed assignments – an opportunity to invite students back in – would be especially supportive towards students in an online class. A survey of over 1,000 undergraduate students conducted in 2020 by Digital Promise showed that the biggest challenge to online students, maintaining motivation, was mitigated by personalized messages from the instructor.  

If you are an SPS instructor who would like to build more flexibility for students into your course, please book a 30 or 60 minute consultation with a Distance Learning Team member. 

3 responses to “Providing Flexibility with Course Deadlines

  1. Thank you for these thoughtful comments, Leslie and Seth!

    Leslie, I love your method of incorporating flexibility and keeping your students on track. And Seth, I agree that it would be interesting to discuss implementing flexible deadlines early in the course development process.

  2. Yeah, I like this for a lot of reasons. It shows some understanding that our students need some flexibility.  It provides a way for students to take stock of how they are doing and try to improve performance at the end.  It give students a way to improve their grade w/o having to negotiate with the instructor (much less hassle for instructor).

    It could be interesting to pitch this idea during a course development workshop and see what instructors think about it as a practice.  workable?  fair?

  3. I also reach out to students who miss assignments; my first priority is that students learn the material. In my writing courses, students can complete missed assignments or revise completed assignments two weeks after the original is due. This gives those who have completed the assignment a chance to get feedback from peer review and the professor before revising. Those who missed the original due date still have a chance to complete the assignment and to learn from it.

    I try to scaffold learning, so having graduated due dates to make up assignments or revise ensures that students learn from their assignments close to the time when it is most helpful to them. Also, students do a more careful job rather than hurrying through multiple assignments at the end of the term. Finally, graduated opportunities keep me from being bombarded with extra grading at the end.

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