Jul 14, 2009

On Academic Procrastination

Pictured on your left is a screen image of the gradebook for one of my distance learning classes in world history, and the pen-and-paper icons in the column "Exam 3" represent students in the process of completing the exam. What is interesting in this particular class is that 16 of 20 students are still taking (or have yet to sign on for) the exam within 90 minutes of the time when it will be automatically closed.

I am not complaining, mind you, as I have the luxury of working from home as a distance learning instructor. True, I will be hanging around the computer at midnight when the exam locks out to be a problem-solver for the procrastinators, but this work sure beats any of the factory or restaurant jobs I found myself working over the years.

I typically provide a three-day window to take the exam, giving students 72 hours to fit the exam into their schedules, yet 80 percent of my students in this class procrastinated to the point where they risk running short of time to complete the exam. Inevitably there will be at least two students in this bunch who will send me a panicky email because the software booted them fro the exam before they could finish.

Luckily for them I am a patient and forgiving person, and I will make accommodations to let them finish via email. However, it never ceases to amaze me how folks will put of until the last possible minute the work that they need to do. I just refreshed the screen, and I noticed that since I posted, two students signed on after 10:45 pm for an exam that ends at midnight.

THAT is some serious additional stress these students self-inflict: not only are they on the clock, but they voluntarily said to themselves "heck, why not give myself only 75 percent of the allotted time!" Ah, the youthful impulsivity and distractability; I just hope these folks are better organized in a few decades when I need assistance with my paltry Social Security check.


steve said...

OMG, last summer I took a couple of online courses and I was NOTORIOUS for waiting till the very last minute to take the exam. I don't know why it works out that way, examitis when the choice is yours for the specific time to take it?

Anonymous said...

As an adjunct University professor with very few moments of extra time, I have to say that I am dismayed that you don't stick to your own deadline! I continually have a handful of students every semester that ask for forgiveness and expect that I will give them more time; I don't. I know that this makes me "mean," but the real world rarely works this way. I now have proof via your essay that students expect to be rewarded for procrastination. Sorry for the negativity, but you're definitely making my job more difficult and setting up some students for future disappointment.

historymike said...


So in a face-to-face class, if a student had car trouble the day a paper was due, am I to assume that you would say something like this: "Too bad, the deadline has passed." Or how about this student excuse on an exam? She took a picture of the flat tire and the tow truck bill, and then emailed me the documentation via Blackberry before the class was even over.

Also, I do not "reward" students for procrastination. They earn whatever grade their work merits. If I bail out someone who was 10 minutes late for a midnight deadline, that is no different than sticking around a few extra minutes for someone to finsih a test in a face-to-face classroom.

Finally, in the "real" world deadlines are negotiable. This is especially true if the person needing extra time communicates along the way with those who set up the schedule.

I do not think that strict deadlines makes you "mean," just "inflexible." Most of my students are working full-time, and many of them have families. Being flexible is not "setting them up for disappointment," but making accommodations for the inevitable life events that can interfere with coursework.