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Reimagining Deadlines

In the good old days, you gave an assignment, said when it was due, possibly the next class or in a few weeks. You collected the papers and noted the students who didn’t turn them in. If they came to class, you would ask them why, they might offer an excuse and you would have them bring it in the next day or the next class. Depending on the students, you might plan something for the next class using that assignment, but if there were a lot of students who didn’t submit, you might design your assignments to be self-contained.

Changing the rules

The addition of remote submission changed this. Teachers could set deadlines before the class to ensure that students completed it and were able to build on their submission in the next class. Many computer systems allow a deadline, followed by a closing date of submissions because of problems with computer systems or internet access. An absence of submissions along with absence from class, and a student turning up at the last class generally couldn’t turn in the submissions, which had been closed. Students attending the class but not submitting could speak to you and give you a hard copy, a fail-safe for both technical problems and a lack of technical ability but attendance without assignments generally resulted in a failing grade.

This worked pretty well, though it did have the teacher managing the assignments and often timing them to the speed of the slowest student. Great for organizational purposes, but often slowed better students. This is an issue when many university classes are ‘false beginners’, going over basics because slower students didn’t acquire them. A textbook provides some framework, ideally providing weaker students with support while allowing stronger students to skip ahead, but with corona, many textbooks, especially those which relied on in-class activities were difficult to use.

Going to online, that backup of f2f was lost, yet many of us wrestled with deadlines. Some, new to internet submission, would choose submission dates and times that were highly unrealistic. They would then revise them, confusing students. Others would use their established submission dates, but in a COVID world, students schedules were far different from when they had a framework of classes. Students, not to see the need of doing assignments and thinking that the work was only for them, often put off assignments to the last minute, turning to computer translation/plagiarism. Other students, robbed of the regular schedule, would use the deadlines as a schedule, turning in substandard work. Like teachers who realized that online meant time spent commuting was gained, many students during the pandemic began to create their own individual schedules, so the teacher set deadlines because problematic. Discovering that the bulk of the students were doing work at 3 or 4 am was probably one of the more surprising discoveries of the move to online.

Rethinking deadlines

However, with a new focus on deadlines, we may wish to reconsider how we conceptualize them. For example, imagine a class with a series of assignments that are to be done in order, but rather than trying to time them so they would work with the majority of students, opening all the assignments at the beginning of the course and then encouraging students to work at their own pace, assigning submission deadlines to organize the term but leaving the assignment open to the end of the term. Failure to turn in earlier assignments could mean a lack of ability, a lack of infrastructure or laziness, but identifying these groups and providing appropriate help could change the class in many ways.

If this sounds interesting, modern LMS usually have a similar three date set up. For Manaba, you enter the start date and time (which will make the assignment ‘visible’ to students), and end date and time, and an option to put a third date and time when the opportunity to do submissions is not possible.

For Microsoft Teams, when you make the assignment it appears, and you choose to post information about the assignment in a channel as well as choose a due date (the Manaba end date) and close date.

For Google classroom, you can’t close submissions, so students can submit at any time, you can only give a submission time and assignments submitted after that are marked late. This can lead to problems, especially in the Japanese classroom, with how to interpret deadlines.

Moodle, as might be expected, offers a range of options, Allow submissions stops students from submitting before the shown date but it doesn't hide the assignment and any included instructions or materials. The Due date is like Manaba’s end date or Teams’ close date, an option disabled by ticking a checkbox.

You still need to keep track of students, and many students, when confronted with this situation, may leave everything to the end. Some teachers give grades to assignments turned in on time, but still accept late assignments, which allows the teacher to work with students interested in learning and identify students who are just looking to get a credit.

In an ideal world, students would look at the assignments, plan ahead and explore them in order to prepare for the class. However most students take things as they come. Encouraging students to work ahead could provide students with a better chance to develop their autonomy as well as offering you an opportunity to lay out the whole class at the outset.

Photo Credit: Photo by form PxHere,


Joseph Tomei has taught EFL in France, Spain, and Japan at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. In addition to his interest in computer-mediated communication, he also is interested in the application of functional/typological grammar to language teaching, practical activities in the language classroom, and writing instruction, and his doctorate is on the use of metaphor by EFL writers. Contact:

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