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Some students have been asking that I release all the assignments and their due dates at the beginning of the course. I suppose that I could create some estimates, but I suspect that we will end up moving slower that I would hope (this seems to always be the case) and may even have to drop an assignment or two. I'd prefer to release the deadlines and assignments as we approach them, but the students allege that knowing this information ahead of time will help them manage their schedule.

  • @gnometorule Can you please turn this comment into an answer so that I can vote you points? – jakebeal Oct 16 '15 at 15:51
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    What kind of assignments? As a student I always appreciated a regular schedule for problem sets - it gave a rhythm to the week, and I didn't have to scramble when several fell due at once all of a sudden. Research papers tended to clump near midterm and finals (usually in lieu of). The weekly assignments can always be tweaked as the pace of the class varies. – Jon Custer Oct 16 '15 at 16:04
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    I find the premise of this question really odd. Where I studied, it was a university requirement that all assessment dates be locked in by about a week into semester. I can't imagine how students could be expected to juggle four or five courses if things could be sprung on them at the last minute... – sapi Oct 16 '15 at 23:25
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    I can't imagine how students who haven't learned to juggle unexpected demands on their time could be effective working outside of academia - but whether learning useful life-skills is part of the purpose of an academic education is another question, of course. – alephzero Oct 16 '15 at 23:42
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    You should make every assignment due on the first day of school, then grant extensions as time goes on. :-) – Mehrdad Oct 17 '15 at 9:34
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I see no problem in releasing your estimate of related dates "as you've been asked to help some students schedule," with the same caveats you give here (which I would highlight). It's always good to be responsive to fairly easy requests by students, but it would be unreasonable for students to expect a schedule to be set in stone.

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    It might be useful to say that assignment about X will be given out once you finish the lectures on X and due one week after that (or whatever your standard time for assignments is). If you can also say that you expect X to take 1 week to cover, then that will probably ease people's nerves. You can also say that you reserve the right to go slower or faster depending on how you think things are going, but that the assignment will definitely be given out when you finish your lectures on the topic. – Bill Barth Oct 16 '15 at 16:50
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the students allege that knowing this information ahead of time will help them manage their schedule.

The students will have to cope with knowing that there will be an assignment every x days/weeks. Even if you can, most courses probably cannot provide any more precise information, even if they wanted to:

  • Assignments often get defined only a short time before they are needed. Partly, this is to match them with current progress in class, but also because there is always something to change, refine, or downright replace in the assignments from last year and no-one has the time to do that en bloc for all assignments before the semester.
  • Assignments might be incremental (one assignment using solutions by all students from the previous assignment).

Sure, you might decide to skip one of x assignments, but I doubt that temporary lack of an assignment will ruin anyone's planning. No-one plans that precisely a semester in advance.

With that said, it might not be desirable to hand out assignments so early:

  • Having only one or two weeks to solve a task can be by design.
  • You don't want students to prematurely try and solve something with a complicated method just because they do not realize the easier method will still be taught later.
  • Re: your last point - Prematurely trying to solve using a more difficult method can be resolved easily by specifying the method to use in the assignment. – CoatedMoose Oct 16 '15 at 17:11
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    @CoatedMoose: Often enough, methods have no clearly-defined name. At least none that isn't used differently by different authors, so searching on the web will bring up all kinds of different methods. As a result, it is often "the method discussed in the lecture", which is of little use to the student before the lecture has taken place. Also, choosing an appropriate method can easily be a part of the task, in which case indicating a particular method would be counterproductive. – O. R. Mapper Oct 16 '15 at 17:35
  • Specifying a method does not need a clearly defined name. In such cases you can say things like "Using method discussed in lecture _" or "Using the [index] method discussed chapter _". I concede that, where choosing the most appropriate method is part of the task, you are more limited in releasing ahead of time. (In those cases, you still may be able to list all the methods, but I can see that still not being good enough.) – CoatedMoose Oct 16 '15 at 18:03
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    I expect there are cases where it is no help, however having the assignment available before the lecture means that when the lecture occurs, the assignment can make the purpose of the lecture/method/etc more apparent. While this doesn't necessarily help with planning, it may help with understanding, and is still worthwhile IMO. – CoatedMoose Oct 16 '15 at 18:12
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    Of course, care must be taken in either case. If an industrious student works ahead of the lectures and does something the harder way, only to find out the easier way the next lecture, the lesson learned is "Don't complete assignments early." This is among the worst scenarios. – CoatedMoose Oct 16 '15 at 18:15
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It is extremely helpful for students to have a decent idea of when projects are due, especially major projects. They may be balancing multiple classes, jobs, have family situations that require them to travel, etc.

Given that, I'd try to release anticipated due dates as soon as possible, with the caveat that they may slide. Realistically, that's the best you can do, and it at least helps with some planning.

If you decide not to do this, I'd probably have a somewhat more flexible policy regarding extensions and the like.

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    This is the humane approach. I would add, re the separate question of whether to release the assignments themselves -- in general this would not be such a good idea. – aparente001 Oct 17 '15 at 19:48

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