Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Re-thinking assignment late penalties in distance courses? Is it time to think outside the box or not?

David Truss recently posted a fantastic commentary on a blog post by Tom Schimmer entitled: Enough with the Late Penalties. The subject is about late penalties in school. Essentially the argument they both make is that if you examine the objectives of most courses, rarely is there an objective that relates to punctuality or ability to meet deadlines. If this is the case then why do the large majority of courses issue marks (i.e. penalties!) to students based on when they hand in their work? It's a fantastic argument that I feel is very thought provoking.

I can think of three reasons for late penalties in distance courses:
  1. Most assignments are formative assessments and in order for them to have a chance to function as such they need to be submitted and graded prior to the student beginning work on subsequent assignments. Removing late penalties and theoretically allowing students to hand in their material anytime during the course may circumvent the benefits of the formative assessment-feedback cycle.

  2. Cheating. Students that hand their assignments in ‘early’ and receive their feedback can share the feedback with other students who have not yet submitted their work. For assignments that have specific answers (unlike large essay assignments) this opens a large potential avenue for cheating. Some people may argue that the instructor could simply delay giving feedback on this assignment until all submissions have been received but I think that’s equally dangerous. Students these days want prompt feedback – not delayed feedback.

  3. How about instructor marking? As an instructor I can be more efficient, objective and consistent if I mark all related assignments in the same condensed timeframe (preferably on the same day). By allowing students to hand in their material anytime, then the instructor will be marking the same assignments on various days and consistency may falter.

Are there more reasons that I have missed? While I like the noble idea of not penalizing students for the date at which they submit their assignments if the course objectives do not address aspects related to punctuality, etc., I think the three reasons I have presented above are important enough that I would not want to ignore them.

What do you think about late penalties? Should they be abolished or not? Why? Is the only possible penalty 'marks'? Leave a comment below.