Saturday, October 14, 2006

Oh, the Innocence of Youth

I seem to have been gushing perhaps a bit too much about the intellectual maturity of the students in my upper level Renaissance poetry seminar. Let me rephrase that . . .

They may be able to think and articulate fairly complex ideas. They may be comfortable talking about sex and religious turmoil in the same sentence.

But when it comes time to turn in papers (their first batch this semester, only 8-10 pages), they don't seem to understand that a due date means that the paper is due on that day.

The night before the due date I received two e-mails. In the first, a student complained that her computer had been failing all week and finally crashed late at night, she was unable to access the paper she'd been writing and thus unable to complete it until she could talk to the computer repair service and get her information off her computer. She asked for an extension.

In the second, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper arrived home at 3am and was too exhausted to write his paper so he sent me an e-mail then asking for an extension.

Both of these requests came less than 8 hours before the paper was due.

I know college students typically write their papers the night before they're due. I did that too.

Call me mean, call me unsympathetic but to blatantly ask for extensions this late in the game and acknowledge you haven't started writing until after 9pm isn't just immature: it's wimpy! Don't beg for an extension, chug back some espresso and pull an all-nighter! That's what college is all about.

For the record, the freshmen in my Brit-Lit survey class all had papers due yesterday too. Every single student arrived in class on time, toting his or her paper.

Ah, the innocence of the young. I wonder how long it will take them to get corrupted.

So what did I do? I gave Mlle Ordinateur Brise an extention until midnight of that day, and I told M. Journal that for every 24 hours he didn't turn in his paper he would lose a letter grade (from A to B, from B to C, etc). So if his paper is 2 days late (it's already one and a half), whatever mark I give the paper will have to fall by 2 full letter grades.

Am I being too harsh? It's my first time at teaching an upper level seminar, so maybe I'm holding them to higher standards than I should be.


Flavia said...

The best advice I was ever given about syllabus creation is to think of it as a contract between you and your students--which means that all your important policies should be on it.

So, I have a late policy on my syllabus: for ever 24-hour-period that a paper is late, the grade will be automatically dropped by 1/3 of a grade. I think that's sufficiently harsh, especially since a paper written in a rush probably won't be an A paper anyway.

I also allow the students in my 2-paper classes one free 2-day extension, which they may take on either paper, for any reason--but they must let me know at least 24 hours in advance, and they only get the one, so they'd better budget their time.

Hilaire said...

Hi - delurking...have been enjoying your blog, by the way!

I have to second Flavia's commments about putting a late penalty in the syllabus. That way there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. I take off 5% for each day it is late.

Flavia said...

I should have added that, although it's best to have a policy stated up front, when students DO violate that policy (coming to me with a semi-convincing sob story like the ones you're getting, and begging me for an extension 2 hours before the paper is due), I'll usually do something similar to what you did: ya get 12 hours free, and after that you're subject to the usual penalties.

Contacting you 8 hours before a paper is due is not cool, but it's better than skipping class because it's not done, or telling you at the end of the class hour that it's not done.

muse said...

Yes, I do have a late paper policy: no extensions granted unless they approach me at least 5 days before the due date and then I'll grant them at my discretion.

But maybe I should emend my late paper policy, it seems harsh compared with others'. I think 5% is too little though, Hilaire (many thanks for de-lurking, I like your blog too). Maybe I should go down to 1/2 a grade at least.

toronto lurker said...

Hey -- delurking as well --

I think a whole letter grade per day is a little harsh, but they have to learn. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but it seems to me like the jounalism guy was a loser but honest, whereas the computer girl lied. They get _very_ creative -- I had one student who claimed she had emailed me her paper (I do allow that), and when I replied that I hadn't received it, _faked_ a bounce message...

Hilaire said...

I agree with what Toronto Lurker said - the journalism guy seems more trustworthy than the other. I think the actions you took were great.

Just wanted to comment that I am trying out a new scheme this year...flex due dates. This is in a full-year course...they have papers due in November and March...I give them a choice of two dates in November, and three in March. At the beginning of the term, when they have a sense of due dates in all their courses, they have to sign up for a date...I then hold them to that date, taking off the late penalty if they are late. I'm trying this because I recognize the huge crush of work at the end of term, and also because I'm trying to encourage good time management habits in them - and also want them to take responsibility for stuff...

Anyway, maybe it'll be a disaster - I'm sure I'll blog about it if it is! But I hope it'll help both them and I.

muse said...

Wow, flex due dates sounds like a great idea, but also a mindsore on your part-- you have to make sure everyone turns in his and her papers on exactly the right date.

How will you figure out how to return the papers? Will you stagger that as well?

We don't have year-long courses here in the states, so I'm not sure such a thing would work.

Ok, so I agree with toronto lurker too that 1 full grade a day is too harsh. But I also think that 1/3 a grade is too lenient. So I'm going to try 1/2 a grade next semester.

For the record, the newspaper guy was so relieved that I agreed to take his paper *at all* even though it would be late, that I realized there are some profs here even more draconian than moi, profs who *accept no late papers at all period.* How this can help students learn is beyond me.

Gil said...

More appreciative de-lurking here.

And let me speak in favor of a full letter grade per day penalty. That would be too harsh if it was a full letter grade for the course, but not so much for a single paper.

Some sample math: a student who's two days late on a paper worth 10% of their final grade has only amassed a 2% penalty for the course. There's just enough sting there to encourage students not to be very late and not to be late often. Not so much sting that a single moment of lateness really hurts anyone very much.

I also tend to use syllabus language that leaves me some discertionary wiggle-room on sympathetic cases. E.g., "I reserve the right to enact the following penalties..."

Hilaire said...

I think it'll be okay - I'll just check the stack of papers against the list of people who signed up for that due date. This is only really plausible because the course is relatively small. I teach one section with 26 students, and one with seven. I wouldn't do it with a huge course.

As for the returning the papers, I'm not exactly sure yet. I think I'm just going to return them all at the same time. This is fine with the November paper, when there are only two due dates - I will take two weeks to mark the first batch, which is acceptable, and one week for the second. It'll be trickier when there are the three choices in March.

Anyway, as I say, maybe it'll be ridiculous. We shall see!

I think half a letter grade sounds reasonable - this is 5%, right? And I totally agree that not accepting late papers at all is outrageous. Good lord!

Melanchthon said...

Don't relent on due dates! Tell them this is training for life. "Your application for a Fulbright is due when it's due, not later. Your income taxes are due when they're due, not later. Your spouse's birthday is on that date, not later. And on and on. Grow up kids." Or something like that. They'll get used to it and turn papers in to you on time ... giving their other professors the sob stories.