Teaching Fashion: Better late than never?

One of the cardinal rules of syllabus writing is to be as clear as possible in what is presented to the students. This also holds true for assignment guides but for now, I would like to keep a focus on something that should be included in every syllabus, written as clearly as possible and read verbatim on the first day of class: The Late Policy.

To each their own but change can be good
Late policies are as varied as the people that write them. For some people if you are 1 minute past the deadline, it will not be accepted no matter what. For others, the attitude falls more towards if you get in before the end of the semester, I’ll accept it.

My late policy falls between those two but probably closer on the spectrum to the hard and fast deadline end of the spectrum. However, my policy has shifted over the years. The first course I ever taught (many moons ago) had this as the late policy: “Exams, projects, presentations and papers are due on the established dates. Late material will be marked down for each day that it is late.” Umm, OK. It’s a policy. But did I mean they were due in class? At the beginning of class? What if someone slipped it under my office door at 11:59 PM on the date it was due? Can’t you just hear it? “But you said it was due on that date. I swear it was in before midnight.” And what did I mean by marked down? How much? Percentages? Points? I’m confused and I wrote it!

From there, I went to no late assignments at all. End of story. If you didn’t have it in on time, you got a zero. As a graduate student instructor, I felt like I had to really let them know I meant business and that I was no push over.

No pushovers allowed
I am still no push over, especially when it comes to the late policy. But I have flushed it out and clarified it a lot. I did this through discussion with others in my department but mainly it was based on what I felt would set up students for the real world. No one in the real world (boss or potential client) cares if your printer ran out of ink as you were trying to print your presentation at the last minute or if you forgot your project was due and didn’t start the research until the day before. You will not be given extra time.

Currently my late policy reads:
Project assignments are due at the beginning of the designated class. Late assignments will receive an automatic 20% percent reduction and will only be accepted in hard copy within 24 hours of the due date and time. This only pertains to class assignments NOT exams. You will receive a zero on any assignment not received within 24 hours of due date and time. E-mailed assignments will not be accepted unless prior permission from instructor is given. All work completed outside class time must be typed. Handwritten work will not be accepted. In-class assignments/activities cannot be completed at a later date.

There are no make-up exams or assignments without documentation of excused illness, family crisis, or university accepted absence.

Why the change
Why the swing from not at all to a little leeway you may ask? Well,mainly because I don’t just assign things for no intended purpose. There are skills I want them to get from the assignment. If a student is willing to put forth the effort to get it in within the 24 hour period, I feel they deserve the opportunity for learning – and for the associated points. I do not feel they should receive the same points consideration as students who made the effort to turn it in on time. There is a level of reality in this. I have had students in car accidents or with a family emergency on the date a big assignment is due. Hence the caveat of “excused illness, family, crisis, or university accepted absence.”

What works for one may not work for all
This is my policy and it works for my classes. I teach history and retail classes, not design classes. Late policies may need to be very different for those classes – or for different bodies of students. Late policies within my own department are VERY varied – from “I’ll take it until I start grading” to “no, I won’t take it at all.” I think the most important aspect, as I said above, is clarity. Students need to know what is expected, what the consequences are AND that the policy is uniformly applied. This has really cut down on the “dog ate my homework” excuses for me.

What about you
What is your late policy? How have you changed it over the years? What issues have you encountered with students based on you late policies? Remember, it’s never too late for any of us to change.

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