Deadlines on a Course

This post is about deadlines for written assignments on a course for teachers: are they necessary? Can they be flexible?

Background 

An intensive teacher training certificate course lasts about 4-6 weeks, has specific objectives, standards, requirements and competencies. Formally graded written assignment are (almost?) always a part of such courses. The nature and content of these written tasks, as well as their grading/assessment system and/or feedback provided by trainers may differ depending on a type of courses. What stays similar for course participants, in my experience, is the need to add or ‘squeeze’ some assignment writing time into the daily/weekly routine, already full of lesson planning, materials preparation, observations (in addition to taking care of the family and kids at home, for those participants who are taking the course in their own cities, etc.)

Definitions

So… deadlines. I personally don’t like the word (especially its ‘dead’ part). A quick etymology check shows that historically and literally it described a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot. Well, yes, not a very positive one. In a the modern dictionary it simply means a date or time when something must be finished, or the last day, hour, or minute that something will be accepted.

The relationships in the triangle ‘trainer — participant — assignment’ might depend on the trainer style and habits, and perhaps on the beliefs about deadlines. Those beliefs might come from the culture (of a participant and trainer’s culture), institutional context, and many other factors. It might get even more interesting when the group is multi-cultural/multi-national!

Example from my own experience: there was a deadline to complete a written reflective paper by Monday. Participant 1 submits his completed work by the time the course day begins in the morning. Participant 2 asks if it would be okay to bring his paper after lunch (needed more time to edit the work, etc.) Trainer (me) says ‘OK’. Participant 1 overhears the conversation and does not approve this permission. He explains that he had spent the entire Sunday evening working on his paper. Had he known that there would be some time at lunch, it would have changed his plans and went out, etc. My learning (perhaps obvious for many readers) was to specify the exact time for submitting assignments, e.g. Monday 8.30 a.m. (which I have been doing since the incident above happened)

Solutions and Thoughts

Another solution, which I have not tried yet myself, would be to set ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ deadlines for submitting papers. The idea comes from an article by John Warner When Students Won’t Do the Reading I recently read. As the title suggests, the main focus of the article was about motivating/focusing students to develop in-depth reading skills, and ways to do so in a university setting with a number of deadlines to meet. I loved the idea about ‘treating’ deadlines differently, and started thinking how it might be applied to a TT course.

‘Each week I have a combination of work with “hard” deadlines, “firm” deadlines, “floating” deadlines, and “non-deadlines.’

hard deadlines = those we can’t change, e.g. written lesson plan forms for Practice Teaching slots need to be submitted before the lesson so that the comments and feedback could be made based on the lesson planning process ‘in the real time’

firm deadlines = important for a certain reason, e.g. Extended/in-depth reflective papers on the lessons taught, etc.

floating deadlines = flexible, e.g. weekly reading/watching log for portfolio (Portfolio itself has a hard deadline towards the end of the course)

I am a little less sure about ‘non-deadline’ tasks on a course. A quote from the author:

Example of non-deadlined work: primarily my long-term writing projects that are neither promised to, nor explicitly requested by anyone: short stories, a novel, a book that draws on the material in this column, a couple of other things.

Related Thoughts

  1. from my own experience of being a student on CourseEra online courses, having a soft due date in addition to hard deadlines made it look friendly and feel comfortable. These are things I value as a learner, and they are being transferred into my training role.
  2. if deadlines are built into a course for a certain reason, this reason needs to be explicit for the course participants (otherwise, it may look as a mere formality, or ‘paperwork’ which teachers have in their schools)
  3. in order to explain the reason clearly to the participants, the trainer needs to genuinely believe that the assignment has to take place in this part of the course/week, etc. If there are doubts about this, then maybe the deadline is not ‘hard’?
  4. if the reasons are clear and the decision is made, it needs to be ‘presented’ to the participants (the ‘calendar’ in the image below is one way to do it, which I tried on one of the recent courses)
Hand-made calendar to show what needs to get done, and when.

Hand-made calendar to show what needs to get done, and when.

Based on my experience, the ‘presenting’ stage for this calendar works well at the end of week 2, or at the beginning of week 3: participants already got in the routine of preparing and teaching their lessons, getting on with the peers, and start to pay more attention to the course assignments. Please note that the ‘calendar’ was created in addition to the folder with all the formal documentation about the course and its requirements, etc. My personal experience shows that the ‘folder’ information often ‘sits there’ unnoticed as a lot is going on and the time on an intensive course flies (even faster than usual!)

 

Negotiating Deadlines

On a 4-6 week course I have delivered, there are usually possible flexible ways to ‘shift’ deadlines (e.g. Friday before the weekend, or Monday after the weekend). It is often a trainer who creates the final schedule and therefore, the decisions might differ, depending on a group/culture, etc. Sometimes participants asks to have more written work for the weekend (they have more time to focus and reflect, etc.). Sometimes, the opposite is true: family and household chores ‘wait’ the participants during the weekdays so there would be no way to do the writing on the course days off. [Note: if there is a mix of contexts in one group on a course there is a different level of negotiation/explanation/compromise that needs to happen, and my favorite argument would be that ‘everyone wants a certificate at the end of this course, so the requirements need to be met’, or something similar]

This brings me to another question: is there a motivation to complete the course, to receive the certificate, to become a better teacher? Do the participants see the value of the assignments the course asks them to do? From my experience, the priorities can be shifted as a course progress: teachers see the rationale behind the tasks and assignments, and they make sure there is time in their daily (well, often, night-y) routines to get things done. It is another huge question though, perhaps for another post.

What deadlines do you set to the course participants on an intensive course? What is your attitude to meeting deadlines if you are a learner/student? Does it become different if you are setting them for others? In what way?

Thank you for reading 🙂

About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Deadlines on a Course

  1. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    Me again. 🙂 I don’t run intensive courses, but my online course is full of deadlines. I love the etymology of the word!
    I’d like to share my (recent) thoughts on the topic. My course runs for a semester and has 8… okay, let’s call them units. There’s a final deadline for the whole course, and a deadline for each unit. Apart from that, the students are pretty much free to organize their time as they like, which I consider a huge advantage of working online.
    The course guidelines – which may possibly be taken more seriously if they were called ‘the syllabus’ – say that there is some flexibility regarding (unit) deadlines, but students should not expect to join the course in January/May and still be able to take the exam.
    Now, I really like the idea of being a flexible instructor, taking into account that students have lives and do not live for my course. But this term ‘some flexibility’ has often generated more work for me. In previous semesters I accepted a lot of work which seriously tested the definition of ‘some flexibility’ at the time of submission.
    Somewhat disappointingly, I have found that the more rules there are about when tasks gets submitted, the less work there is for me (freeing me up to concentrate on those aspects that are more useful to students who are genuinely interested in the course, like giving feedback).
    Next semester I plan to finally go beyond ‘some flexibility will be permitted’. Right now I think it’ll be something like this: this is the deadline. If you submit past the deadline but by another deadline (a week or so later), you will get a lower grade, but your work will be accepted. If you submit past that second deadline, your work will not be accepted. Period. Of course, I will be that flexible instructor if a student has a really good reason for not being able to meet the second deadline. Good reasons do not include: I couldn’t go online, I’m an exchange student so I’m trying to get in a bit of sightseeing, I’m very busy studying for other subjects (but haven’t thought of asking other instructors if they might extend my deadline!)… you get the idea.
    Sorry! This has turned into a rant. Please feel free to unapprove the post if you think it isn’t appropriate. Let me try to sum up: I wish I didn’t have to have deadlines. But I don’t think that is possible. I like the idea of different degrees of deadline firmness.

    Like

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana
      Thank you for the comment – I don’t see it as a rant – it sounds like the topic is somewhat important to you right now! Sharing your thoughts in this case is even more needed (after all, what is blogging for?)

      Yes, in my ideal world there are no deadlines. Agree with you. Well, in my ideal world students are motivated to be in class, to learn, and naturally, to meet the deadlines with the tasks to help them progress, etc. 🙂

      I see the big difference between an intensive course (lots of work for several weeks) and a course at university, one of the many courses students need to take, one of the many deadlines to meet. In that article the author is also writing about this challenge: the students’ lives are prioritized by ‘grade’ and the rest (the depth, the learning) is pushed back. Sadly, in this case, being more flexible means (a) doing more work for the instructor and (b) as you said, having less time for those who really learn and would benefit from feedback, etc.
      I like the idea for the new semester being very clear what is deadline, what impacts their grade, and what is a ‘no’. If their work is not accepted, what happens next (I mean, is this ‘the end’ or they need to re-take the exam, repeat the course, etc.?)

      Another thing I am wondering about is that (at least in some cultures) students sometimes ‘test’ the teacher to see how ‘far’ they can go in stretching flexibility, following their own rules, etc. I find consistency helpful (the old idea of ‘say what you do, do what you said, check that you are doing what you said’) 🙂

      Thank you for the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ven_vve says:

        I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the thoughtful response. Re your two questions towards the end – if their work is not accepted, I will need to decide how many assignments they can skip before they need to retake the course. I have generally turned a blind eye to 1-2 because if they get an F on these it drags their grade average down, and they probably won’t be able to get a good grade at the end, which means the work of those students who put in the effort to submit things on time will be recognized. On the other hand, if it’s more than 2 assignments, I could ask them to hand these in regardless of the fact that they’ll be getting an F. I could also ask them to do another, extra, assignment. If they really have only just woken up to the fact that they’re taking a course a month before the exam, they’ll need to retake the course.
        I agree that consistency is something to strive for. I try to be consistent, and always hope that this year’s students will have taken the trouble to find out from older ones if I am consistent or not. I am always let down. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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