In some of my early blog posts, I let you all know that I was revising my ELI course for summer to use regular deadlines, and asked for your feedback on your experiences with using such deadlines. I thought I'd update you on how it's been going.
I ended up structuring the course quite rigidly--I have one or two deadlines each week. (When they are doing a project or paper, it's usually just one deadline, turning the paper in at the end of the week. When they are doing a discussion, there are usually two deadlines, one mid-week by which they have to have posted their main response to the prompt, and then one at the end of the week by which they must be done with their interaction with their classmates.) I gave them three "freebie" late assignments, and after that am taking a 10-point grade penalty for each late assignment (in a 1000-point total course).
I have been extremely pleased with the results so far (although we're only halfway through the semester, so the full verdict is not in). There were several students who dropped right away after my welcome message (which clearly explained that the course was not self-paced), but that is okay with me--not everyone is going to be able to follow a schedule that moves the whole class through the course at once. But for the remaining students, nearly every one is thriving. Work is high quality, and they are meeting the deadlines. And as a very wonderful side benefit, I do not have to spend so much time cajoling, and worrying about, students who are not making progress. I have put the deadlines in front of them, and by golly, they are doing what has been asked of them. Is this a case of high expectations producing better outcomes? Are we asking too little of our students when we allow so much leeway in deadlines and course progress? How can we structure our courses in a way that pushes those students who will thrive on structure while also creating enough flexibility for those students with legitimate needs for it (and who are actually able to complete courses without rigid structures)?
The real test will come with my fall group, since summer tends to bring more transient students who may have more college experience and therefore are better able to meet these expectations while producing quality work.