I wrote too soon.
As you may have surmised, time simply has no meaning anymore. Even self-selected due dates became meaningless when my classes moved to online-only, as most of our classes have done in the past month or so.
However, while I admit that I’ve been struggling really hard to keep up, I’m impressed at my students. Although I threw out the “due week,” I am pleased to report that flexible due dates are still working.
So, our pivot to online happened during a due week. Literally. I informed my students both in our last in-person meeting and via announcements on Canvas and emails clarifying the policies that the due dates would remain on Canvas, but all late work would be accepted indefinitely without penalty. That the due dates are now merely suggestions. Future due dates are due dates and they won’t have to sign up for due dates, but the flexibility remains.
As you might expect in a week when everything was rapidly changing and my students had to figure out how to suddenly vacate campus, almost every assignment was turned in late. That’s ok. Even so, most of them have turned something in. That’s remarkable, really!
Although I am personally struggling to keep my head above water right now (I know I’m in a good situation, but my depression doesn’t seem to understand that), I’m actually pleased at how well my policies have transferred to the online-only model. Attendance was not a part of my actual grade calculations previously, but rather required for administrative reasons (in accordance with my program’s policy at the time, which is likely to change soon anyway). So I don’t have to “replace” that part of it. But there are other, more important parts of how my class model is working that maybe will help with course design for future semesters.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the points are spread out evenly throughout the semester. If my university closed everything down right now, I could still report student progress in a way that, honestly, would accurately predict most students’ actual performance at the end of the semester if it had been uninterrupted. Students have already banked half of their semester’s points or more. Out of six core assignments, they’ve turned in three and have significant progress on the next two already. They’ve already read most of one of their two textbooks, and are fast catching up on the other. If everything shut down this week, I’d actually feel pretty good about marking them all as pass for my course and still feel confident that they had the fundamental skills that universities would expect them to have from my course description.
Sure, my motivation was to account for my own work load and spread out the labor for myself over the course of the semester. I selfishly designed my course to avoid a crunch at the end for myself. But in the process, I fortuitously managed to do the same for my students, I think.
The second thing that worked really, really well and made the pivot easier was the sequence of assignments. They’re scaffolded pretty well. I’m not just saying this for my own aggrandizement; I’m using the same model I used in previous semesters that students wrote in their evaluations was useful. Right now my students are finishing up their bibliography assignment, which is one of two core prescribed and required assignments for the course description. And while my heart stops at the concept of assigning an annotated bibliography without full library support, the fact is they’ve already done most of this assignment. I had them collecting sources for their previous assignments. I had them do their library work already. It’s just documenting what they have and filling in any cracks. That they can do with online-only resources.
The next assignment is the other required core assignment, the big research paper. They’ve also already written most of this assignment. The previous assignments—a literature review and a fieldwork report—make up over half of this. I’m encouraging them to just revise and stitch the material together. All they have to add is a discussion section, which is often the easiest part to put together because it’s most like what they’ve written before and it’s merely extending what they’ve already done.
Am I sad that they will lose some of the horizontal learning that came from classroom discussion? Yes. Am I missing the routine of regular classes? Absolutely. Am I really missing the support of a full library and other on-campus resources? Definitely. But will my students be fine, as far as my class is concerned? I feel pretty confident saying yes right now.