Gather a group of faculty and mention the perennial problem of students turning in assigned work late, and you will often encounter a range of emotional responses, recitations of policies and, perhaps, even blame-placing. Yet, some faculty experience the late work phenomenon to a lesser extent. While there is nothing that we can do to mitigate the significant life events that happen to students each semester (e.g. death in the family, significant illness, car accidents), we can take steps to ensure that students stay on track with assigned course work and progress through the development of our content in a meaningful manner by taking actions to be a student success-supporting instructor (Kumar & Skrocki, 2016).
Learning to manage course expectations and juggle deadlines at the university level is a developmental skill that successful students continuously work on to strengthen and refine. Students are entering the post-secondary environment with mixed experiences managing independent work. While most faculty are accustomed to managing projects and meeting deadlines, our current students may be developmentally emerging in their related abilities. Students often benefit from direct instruction on managing deadlines and instructional supports to ensure that they are successful with assignments completed on their own.
One such instructional support is a clear, accurate, and predictable course schedule of assignment due dates. Often shared with students at the beginning of the semester, a course schedule provides a table or list of assignment information such as the name of the assignment, the assignment due date/time, and where the assignment should be submitted. This tool can be shared with a student electronically, posted in an LMS, provided in a printable document, or handed out in class. Students often request that schedules be available in multiple formats for ease of access in varied situations. In the authors’ experience, many students value having a physical copy of the schedule as a tangible reminder of upcoming work.
In online courses, instructors can provide multiple ways for students to interact with class information, such as course schedules. One fundamental way to set students up for success is to ensure students know when assignments are due in multiple, easily accessible formats. Below are six approaches for sharing due dates with students in online courses:
- Table: This approach can involve designing a table, made in any number of available document and spreadsheet programs, that provides multiple points of information in a single space. Tables might include week numbers in the first column and headings across the first row. Headings could include the week start date, topic(s) to be addressed that week, assignments to be submitted that week, possible points, and due dates for those assignments.
Alternatively, a table approach can be utilized to share information on a weekly or unit basis depending on the nature of assignments associated with the course. For students in the early stages of developing their management skills, small units of information are often more easily managed than the whole-semester-at-once approach.
- Calendar: To share due dates in this format, create a calendar document in a program or website that has space to type assignment due dates on the calendar boxes for the corresponding date. The resulting calendar can be shared as a PDF or image file with other course documents such as syllabi.
- List: This approach includes weekly blocks of bulleted lists of assignment due dates in a text document. If the course does not involve many weekly assignments, the blocks of assignments could alternatively be grouped by topics or units. This list can be posted on its own or in conjunction with a more detailed course schedule, such as in the Table format. Smaller lists might be used in weekly modules as reminders of assignments due that week or upcoming weeks. A listed course schedule that spans the duration of the course and all the assignment due dates within it can also be used (Revak, 2020).
- LMS calendar: Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) will provide an in-site calendar for student use. Instructors can usually indicate a due date when creating an assignment within the LMS, and by including the due date with the assignment, the LMS will automatically populate those due dates in the LMS calendar feature. Dues dates posted on the LMS calendar can then be easily exported to the student’s preferred calendar program.
- Announcements: Share approaching due dates with students in the context of weekly announcements. Announcements may already be utilized in online courses, and adding a short list or table of approaching due dates at the end of the announcement provides a quick reminder to students of looming deadlines without needing to check the semester-long version of the course schedule. In addition, a specific announcement can be scheduled to launch 24 hours prior to an assignment due date to prompt students to complete the assignment.
- Send reminder feature: Most LMS offer a “send reminder” feature associated with individual assignments. This is a targeted approach that can be utilized either prior to the assignment deadline or immediately after the assignment deadline passes. This student-specific reminder helps to focus and target information to students who are emerging in their date management skills.
Whichever approach or approaches are used to share due dates with students, there are some considerations to keep in mind. First, ensure that the published due dates for all methods of sharing those due dates are aligned to avoid the confusion of one due date in the Table and another for the same assignment shared in a weekly announcement. Building the course schedule so assignments are due the same day of the week each week provides consistency and repetition for students (Shipp, 2020). Second, one method approach might work better with a particular course than another, or instructors might prefer one approach over another. It can often be beneficial to ask a class of students about their preferred method at the start of the semester. We can help students developmentally progress by initially meeting them where they are at. Whichever approach works for the instructor to share information and for the students to receive clear and accurate due dates might be the “best” approach.
Laura Schisler, PhD, is an assistant professor and program coordinator for the master of arts in teaching program in the Teacher Education Department at Missouri Southern State University. Following a career teaching junior high and high school science, she now instructs science methods and general teacher education courses in a variety of instructional formats.
Melissa Locher, EdD, is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Missouri Southern State University. She has over 15 years of experience in online instruction in both general education and Special Education course content.
Kumar, Poonam and Marilyn Skrocki (2016). Ensuring Student Success in Online Courses. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/online-course-design-and-preparation/ensuring-student-success-online-courses/
Revak, Marie A (2020). When the Tide Goes Out: Identifying and Supporting Struggling Students in Online Courses. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/identifying-and-supporting-struggling-students-in-online-courses/
Shipp, Jeremiah E (2020). Back to the Basics: Revisiting the ABCs of Teaching Online Courses. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/back-to-the-basics-revisiting-the-abcs-of-teaching-online-courses/