Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Grace Period

I've mentioned the "grace period" in a few posts so far, so I definitely need to explain what that is all about!

Brief Description: The grace period is a no-questions-asked extension for any due date that lasts until noon of the following day. So, for example, if the Storybook blog post is due "on Wednesday," then there is a grace period on Thursday morning until noon for anybody who did not get that in on time. Accordingly, the first thing I do when I get to work on Thursday morning is to send an email to all the students who have not done the Storytelling assignment, reminding them that the grace period lasts until noon.

Details: The Orientation Week for the class begins with students reading this page: Assignments, Due Dates, and Declarations. There is also a page specifically dedicated to the grace period: Making Good Use of the Grace Period.

Of course, the "grace period" is really just a kind of gimmick, something to encourage students not to put off the assignments until literally the last minute, as so many people are prone to do. In terms of the Desire2Learn, the end of the grace period is the only deadline that there is; unlike other course management systems, there is no accommodation in D2L for a "soft deadline" and a "hard deadline" (which is I think how this system is referred to in other systems - Moodle? I'm not sure). So, I make sure to include the due date in the title of the assignment, even though that due date does not match the D2L deadline. Here's a screenshot:

The essay blog post that is "due Thursday" has a deadline of September 12, which is actually a Friday. Luckily for me, Desire2Learn does not display the day of the week with the calendar date. Of course, D2L absolutely SHOULD display the day of the week (just another communication failure by D2L, one of many) . . . but it works to my advantage that the only reference to the day of the week that my students see here is the due date, with the actual D2L deadline being the end of the grace period.

Some students, unfortunately, realize this right away and simply ignore the due date, treating the grace period as the only deadline, turning in every assignment during the grace period. It's a bad strategy, of course, because when they actually DO need an extension as a result of something unexpected (and life is full of unexpected surprises, both good and bad), they have no room to maneuver.

At the other end of the spectrum, some students have taken the "ask for an extension" culture so much to heart that they write to ask me for permission to use the grace period and/or they write me to apologize for using the grace period. I always make sure to write them back and explain that there is no need to ask and certainly no need to apologize: they are using the grace period exactly as it was intended!

History: I used to have midnight deadlines, and that clearly did not work well because pretty much every morning I would come to work to find two or three (or more) emails from students explaining about how they had to stay at work late, or how there had been a problem with their computer, etc. etc. — a whole litany of excuses that I really didn't need or want to know about. Plus, there are plenty of students just hitting their stride right at midnight, so the midnight deadline was a bad choice that reason too. I pondered the problem and came up with the grace period solution maybe five or six years ago. It's worked out great; I just wish I had thought of it sooner!

Goals: Some of these goals are for me; some are for my students!
  • Better time management. I want to encourage my students not to put their work off until literally the last minute.
  • Fair accommodation. I also want to accommodate the unexpected problems that can come up beyond anyone's control; the grace period is one way to do that, and extra credit is another.
  • Reduce email and increase autonomy. I don't want students to have to ask for this extension. It is available to all, no questions asked, and no email required.

General Thoughts

This is just one of the various time management strategies I rely on for my classes. For a general discussion, see this post: Self-Scheduled, Not Self-Paced.

I am happy with how the grace period works, but I am discouraged that the students who are really struggling are often the same students who quickly get in the habit of turning in every assignment during the grace period. D2L, unfortunately, does not give me an easy way to track that, but my anecdotal impression is that I send grace period reminders to the same people constantly. I was going to set up a tracking system for that this semester, but with all the other changes I've made to the class this semester, I decided to wait. Next semester, though, I want to do a better job of tracking just who gets repeated grace period emails so that I can think of some additional intervention to do in order to try to help students from falling into that last-minute trap. People do not do their best work at the last minute, and it adds unnecessary stress to the class. So, that is on the agenda for next semester; I will need to be consistent in the subject lines I use for the grace period emails, and then I should be able to harvest the names as needed and throw them in a spreadsheet without too much trouble (but, I hasten to point out, I will be doing that data collection with absolutely no help from D2L, despite its grandiose claims to big data — more on the absurd hyperbole of D2L in a separate post).

~ ~ ~

Of course, we are all procrastinators in one way or another... so we all need some procrastination humor too! For a full-size view of Sylvia Liu's flowchart, visit her blog: SylviaLiuLand:

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