Late Work

Posted on by Brooke

I am changing my "late work policy"...again.

My policies go through stages: I slash-and-burn down to apodictic simplicity ("Thou shalt not kill"). Then over the years, as "edge cases" or unforeseen scenarios stack up, the policy grows to resemble the casuistic laws of Exodus or Deuteronomy ("...but if…then…").

The Old

I had had my late work policy leveled to an elegant simplicity:

No late work shall be accepted (except in the case of emergency or disability documented with the office of the Dean of Students, and then at the discretion of the instructor).

Problem One: Volume.

Way, way more students than you think will turn in late work anyway. Distressingly often, they will acknowledge that they had read the policy, but assume nonetheless that there is a grace period. ("Well I just thought….," they begin. In the immortal words from Bull Durham's Crash Davis, "Don't think, Meat; just throw.") Either I cave, and that's it for my policies from then on; or I stick, and it takes only a very few of these episodes to add up to a huge overhead in time-consuming administrative fiddle-faddle. And all this time, what I want to be doing is attend to students accomplishing their work outside the blast zone of "Well I just thought..."

Problem Two: What about us oh-so-hip instructors who assign significant amounts of collaborative projects?

Late collaborative work is a nightmare. It is THE nightmare of us oh-so-hip instructors who assign these projects. The AWOL student's peers are thrown into a tailspin and have to be reassured that they won't be "dinged" for lost productivity. Then, late in the game, the slacker wants to suddenly show up and pitch in...creating more chaos than if they just stayed away from the project altogether, since they have no idea what's going on.

So. Casuistic law: Let there be separate policies for individual work and collaborative work. ("…but if the attacker did not lay in wait for him, but God let him fall into the attacker's hand…").

The New

This is what my new attempt at a late work policy might look like:

Late or Missing Work:

Tip: plan your progress in such a way that you will have something to submit on time, even if it isn't perfect. (Fact: work drafted at the last minute is imperfect anyway.)

Individual Work: Except where noted elsewhere in the syllabus, late individual work will be penalized at a rate of one letter grade during the first 24 hours, and one letter grade during each additional interval of 24 hours.

Collaborative Work: This includes any writing to which peers are expected to reply. When somebody fails to accomplish collaborative work on time, she prevents her peers from succeeding. Penalties for late collaborative work will be assessed at the sole discretion of the teaching staff. Possible penalties include:

  • a score of zero (0): this is the default penalty;
  • a non-zero failing score (for example, 60%);
  • score reduction at some rate based on how late the work arrives;
  • loss of later opportunities for participation (for example, if the project has "moved on" without the late participant).

Learners will not be offered "make up work" to compensate for late or missing work.

The You

So tell me: what improvements can you offer, or what experiences do you have with a late work policy?

[Late Work was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/24. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]