When I first started teaching, I just had due dates for papers and found that students would often turn papers in late. To deter this, I added a penalty to late papers. Then, in a bout of altruism, I decided to try rewarding students for turning papers in on time with a small grade bonus. Interestingly, a reward worked far less effectively than a penalty.
Eventually I switched to having a due date for the paper draft and then a deadline for the revision of the paper. The due date for the draft comes with no rewards or penalties. I set the date mainly to motivate students to at least start on the paper within the first month of the semester. I also have the draft so that the students will have a paper grade in place, just in case something goes wrong. Not surprisingly, a significant number of students do not bother with the draft.
The deadline is different in that I do not accept a paper after the deadline. The deadline is, of course, near the end of the semester. While most students do make the deadline, some do not. Some do attempt to turn in something a week or two after the deadline, but I do not accept those papers. In such cases, the student gets the draft grade (even if it is a zero).
On one hand, I might be seen as cruel and unfair for setting a deadline. After all, students can run into problems and, of course, getting a zero on the paper will cerainly result in a rather bad grade in the class. It might also be argued that deadlines are arbitrary-why that day and not another?
On the other hand, a good case can be made for having a deadline and not alowing exceptions. First, the deadline is fair as I use it. It is clearly noted on the syllabus and I announce it in class everyday. As such, it is not something that simply sneaks up to kill a student’s grade.
Second, the students have most of the semester to work on the paper and turn in drafts for grades. As such, it is very poor planning on a student’s part to do nothing until after the deadline. Third, since most of the students stick to the deadline it would be unfair to them to allow people to simply turn in papers late.
Fourth, allowing students to ignore deadlines teaches bad habits. While the deadline is a date I set, life is full of deadlines and it is both important and useful to get into the habit of meeting those deadlines. I do not do a student any service by helping train him/her that deadlines can be safely ignored and bypassed. After all, when the student runs into that deadline that cannot be ignored or bypassed and ends up in dire straits, then I would have to accept some tiny measure of the blame for encouraging that bad habit.
Finally, I meet the deadlines that I am required to meet as a professor (such as recording attendance so the students can get their financial aid and entering grades on time so they can graduate). As such, it hardly seems unreasonable for me to expect the same of my students. Naturally, I also have a selfish reason for he deadline-I want to be able to get all the papers at once so I can grade them and be done with my work. Having papers trickle in after a deadline is like doing the dishes after dinner, asking in there is anything left to be cleaned, draining the sink, putting away the soap, towel and sponge…and then having one person after another drift by to throw in a dirty cup or plate and demand that it be washed.
Fortunately, most of the students do meet the deadline and have thus learned a valuable lesson.