Spotlight on SOTL: Flexible deadlines – Do they work in teaching?
This article is based on the following research article:
Hills, Melissa, and Kim Peacock. 2022. “Replacing Power with Flexible Structure: Implementing Flexible Deadlines to Improve Student Learning Experiences.” Teaching & Learning Inquiry 10. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.10.26
As the Fall 2023 semester draws to a close, what initially seemed like distant and manageable deadlines for numerous students soon turn into daunting challenges. While some professors readily grant extension requests with compassion, others may adopt a more stringent approach. Yet, what if there was a way to alleviate the stress for both students and educators? In their research paper, Melissa Hills and Kim Peacock from MacEwan University and NorQuest College, respectively, discusses the concept of flexible deadline policies in higher education, which allow students some degree of freedom over when they submit an assignment without negative consequences.
What did the researchers do and find?
The researchers examined the use of proactive extensions by students and their perceptions on the usefulness and impact of a flexible deadline policy. They gathered data on extension use in low-stake, high-stake, individual, and team assignments, observed how extension use changed over the term, and examined student self-reported responses about the policy.
The results of the paper showed that students unanimously agreed that the proactive extension policy was valuable to their learning. They reported that the proactive extensions enabled them to improve the quality of their work and to better manage their academic workloads, acting as self-regulated learners. They also frequently described reduced stress as a benefit. Extensions generally appeared to be used as needed rather than encouraging procrastination. Students also identified that the need to request extensions in other courses was a barrier. They also found that extensions were more commonly used for team assessments, with 60% of students using at least one extension for a team assignment during the term, compared to 30% using at least one extension for an individual low-stake assignment.
How might you use this research in your teaching?
Instructors can consider building proactive extensions into their courses to enable students to better manage their academic workloads, improve the quality of their work, and reduce stress. The study suggests that flexible deadline policies can be implemented without disrupting the instructor’s grading workflow or resulting in an assignment “free-for-all.”
It is also encouraged that instructors consider broader implementation of flexible deadline policies built into the structure of courses to contribute to a more equitable and inclusive learning environment. This can be done by setting clear expectations and guidelines for students, communicating the policy clearly, and providing support and resources to students who may need additional assistance.
Instructors may also reflect upon how their current course management practices may prioritize instructor power over student learning and exacerbate existing inequities- implementing flexible deadlines transfer some decision-making power from themselves and empower the students while maintaining structure.Spotlight on SOTL