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Professors should reconsider the purpose of due dates

Elyse Grothaus, Copy Editor

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“I do not accept late work. You are adults and need to be responsible.” I have listened to this speech more times than I can count on syllabus day and I recently began to question the reasoning behind this.

My time in college is supposed to prepare me for the “real world” and this goal is best achieved when professors set expectations that replicate those in the workforce. However, in many cases I see due dates as an antiquated pedagogical approach that benefits professors more than it does students.

If professors focused less on the due date of an assignment and more on the quality of the product, college students would in turn learn to value quality over completion. This is how to best prepare students to be successful in life.

After all, is it really true that bosses don’t accept late work in the “real world?” I am pretty sure that if someone worked on a project for two months and needed one more day than anticipated to finish it, their boss would not fire them on the spot or say “Nah, I don’t want the project anymore since it is a day late.”

In fact, most people would prefer that someone take a little extra time to improve the quality of their project instead of turning in work that is incomplete or rushed through. Sure, some due dates need to be strict in the workplace and college alike, and professors could easily reflect this in their syllabus. But is it really necessary for students to receive a zero for a homework assignment that they forgot in their room?

There is one particularly important factor and argument in favor of due dates: the professor’s time. Professors’ schedules need to be respected and they should not have to grade every assignment from every student at the end of the semester.

Perhaps you are wondering how due dates could go away without causing catastrophic consequences. Fear not! I have a few solutions — and they don’t involve getting rid of due dates completely, but rather rethinking their purpose.

First, students could come up with their own due dates for big projects. Time management means more than managing things around another person’s schedule. College students should learn how to manage their own time. For flexible assignments, students could propose their own due dates and then be expected to stick to those dates.

Second, professors could include “soft” and “hard” due dates. The “soft” dates would be suggestions of the best time to turn an assignment in so as not to get behind in the course. By turning things in late, students are only putting themselves at a disadvantage and they would face a more drastic natural consequence if they chose to procrastinate until the “hard” due date at midterm or the end of the semester. It would be a learning curve, but eventually students would become more intrinsically motivated to complete assignments in a timely manner rather than relying on the extrinsic motivation of grades to keep them on top of assignments. This would better prepare people for the workforce as well.

Third, instead of taking off a portion of the assignment’s grade, professors could lower the student’s participation or attendance portion of the grade. After all, grades are meant to reflect the quality of the project, paper, etc., not when it was completed. This would help students stay accountable and still give them an accurate grade for the work they submitted.

I understand that this approach would be a paradigm shift for students and professors alike and that some form of due dates are still necessary in the college setting. If professors refuse to accept late work, that is their choice. However, professors should think about why they are making this choice: Is it really to prepare students for the “real world” or is it simply to make their own lives easier?

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