Over the years, philosophies about imposing deadlines within ELI courses have changed. It's my understanding that in the early days, Incompletes were given quite freely and so students basically had two semesters to complete a course. More recently, we've had several deadline dates we've asked students to complete certain work by (the Inactive Students Dropped date and the Last Withdrawal Date), although each instructor chose how much to require at each date.
Even more recently, some faculty have made their courses much more like campus courses, with students required to meet much more frequent deadlines for submitting assignments (sometimes even more than one deadline per week). The idea with these changes is that given leeway, students (like most people!) will put their work off and end up not being successful (because they rush to get it all done at the end, or because they never manage to get caught up at all), so by imposing deadlines, we force them to move along and thereby increase student success. Forcing deadlines also means everyone in the class is at the same place in the course material, so that you can do synchronous activities if you choose to, and also means that asynchronous discussion forums are richer--students can actually interact with each other if they all participate in the discussion during the same week rather than spread over 3 months.
I know that some of you have very strong views on both sides of this issue. Laura Shulman (who teaches religion courses for ELI) has asked how many ELI courses use regular deadlines, and it's a question I can't answer except to say that we are moving toward more and more of them doing so. Please share what you do with regard to deadlines and why.
Some questions I'm pondering as I think about this issue: why should a distance course be different from a campus course? It is very rare for a campus course to allow students to be self-paced. Why would a distance course be so? Since most of us communicate with students electronically now, there's no mailing delay to work around. Is it because we believe distance students need more lenience? If so, is that fair to other students? Is it because distance students have busier lives than campus students? If so, do we really know that, or are we assuming it? (We certainly know they are busy--but many of our campus students are, too.) And more generally, what should our focus here be--flexibility, or student success? Do we necessarily sacrifice one to provide the other?
I'm looking forward to your comments, here--especially as I finish my course revisions for summer in the next few days. I know I'm adding some deadlines to my course beyond what I have now (just Inactive Students Dropped and LWD), but I am still making my final decisions about how many deadlines to add and where.
So--have at it! :)