Last term I taught a large undergraduate course. I had assignments (online) due a week after we finish a chapter. There were two minor problems with this. The first was that I had to deal with students who enrolled one, two or even three weeks into the term and gave them extensions of the first several assignments, which involved logging into the website, finding the student, setting his/her new deadline and answering the student email. Secondly for some of the chapters that take more time than others, some students would bombard me with requests for extensions. So I am thinking of adopting a different method next time. Specifically, I plan to divide the 12 chapters into 4 modules with 3 chapters in each. Each module has a deadline for all 3 chapter assignments. I am hoping this would give students more flexibility on their time management, and have a little more time working on those long assignments. It also saves me from handling those extension requests because of late registration or others. The potential peril I can think of is that some students may not start on the assignments until the last minutes and it would be very difficult to crash 3 assignments within a short time. I would appreciate other thoughts on the pros and cons of this method.

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    I took a class this semester where the prof had 'slip days' where every student had the same number of 'slip days' that they could use on any of the assignments but there was the same number for the whole course. So if you have three slip days you could spend one on the first assignment and hand it in one day late with no penalty and still have 2 more to spend on future assignments. This helped take a lot of the pressure off of a hard deadline while letting you know that it still needs to get submitted as soon as possible.
    – GenericJam
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 20:39
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    @GenericJam: I tried "late says" for a year and found it impossible to manage, even for classes of 35-40. Except for the first assignment, you have to set due dates individually, depending upon how many late days have been used, or allow everyone to submit assignments late, but some won't get credit because their late days are gone. They'll whine. Now I say, "Due means due." The online system will not accept assignments after the due date, and I do not accept work by email or on paper.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:55
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    Don't slip on deadlines. Tell up front that due dates are unchangeable, and stick to it. In the rare case of death and other calamities, use the schools normal system for getting dispensations. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 0:07
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    It's been a while since I attended a university, but none of my professors were so liberal with extensions. One tactic that might reduce the number of extension requests you get would be to stop granting extensions except in the most extreme cases. Students will learn that there's no point in asking for an extension unless they really need one. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 11:57
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    @BobBrown Was thinking more of death in the family. You may want to add a note on becoming a zombie. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 13:36

5 Answers 5


I would recommend not batching up assignments to a common deadline, because that makes it even more challenging for students to manage their time properly. If someone waited to the last minute on an assignment in the prior regime, now they'll be waiting until the last minute on 3 assignments and be in even worse shape -- compounded by the mental effort in prioritizing which one they should work on first. Under the original regime, they have more opportunities to engage in this cycle and get feedback on how their study skills work for them.

My response to these types of problems is to have a blanket policy of dropping a certain number of grades from consideration; for example, in my classes, there are 12 weekly online quizzes, and the lowest 3 are dropped for each student at the end of the course. There are absolutely no makeups or past-due work allowed for any reason, which massively clears out my own time (absolutely no chasing students or managing late work after my grading process is completed). Plus, the "drop N grades" is automatically supported by the Blackboard management system.

In my classes, I don't give any special allowances to students who first show up later in the semester (but this may vary for your institution). I had a student join my class in the 2nd meeting last week, and he had already missed the first quiz submission; he asked "Can I make that up?", and the answer was simply, "No", and being pointed to the syllabus for the drop allowance, which in the years I've been using it has always been accepted quite gracefully. In my opinion, it's the most efficient use of your time as an academic.

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    Thanks. Your comments are very helpful. I like your approach of writing the no-make-up policy into the syllabus combined with dropping some lowest scores. Believe it or not, I actually did think that it is my obligation (and to be fair) to give extension to students who join the class late because the university keeps registration open for the first several weeks and some students in the waiting list do not have chance to get in until someone withdraws.
    – sismin
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 18:30
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    "students who join the class 1-3 weeks into the semester (frankly, that's just crazy for a student to think that's feasible)" - the OP does not specify whether this is the case here, but especially in first semesters of admission-restricted majors, it is quite common for people to join only after the first few weeks because of the waiting list issue @sismin mentioned in their comment. I agree it is crazy, but it is rarely the student's fault in this situation, and rather that of uni administration. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:01
  • The enrollment 1-3 weeks into the semester happens in at least one of my classes (a semester) as well - particularly when I moved to graduate work. This is also due mostly to wait-lists and lab cancellations or other issues forcing class changes Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:53
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    @O.R.Mapper When my classes are full, I require students who cannot register but want to take the class to submit homework, just as if they were already registered. Even for students that add late, their first few homeworks count, they were still due on their original deadline, and I do not give extensions, ever. (But like Daniel, I drop each student's N lowest homework scores, for some small value of N.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 2:20
  • I lightly edited the 3rd paragraph to account for different institutional policies on late registrations. At our institution, there's only a 1-day period for possible added and dropped classes when the semester starts. It was good for me to see these comments about wait lists possibly being used as 3 weeks in (which itself seems crazy to me), as I was unfamiliar with policies like that. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 3:14

In your case, I'd try a larger number of smaller assignments, spreading the work out rather than bunching it up. Your grading load doesn't change, but the students can manage their time more easily. Put "due means due" in the syllabus and set a hard cut-off in the learning management system.

No matter what you do, the poor students will wait until the last minute, turn in rushed work, and earn poor grades. Like you, I have a desire to help such students, but I haven't found anything that works. By having more assignments, each one is worth less, and perhaps some students will learn after the first couple of rushed assignments earn bad grades.

For students registered late, which is really a different problem, set a time from registration date by which they must be caught up, put it in the syllabus, and set the LMS to enforce it, which you can probably do easily on an individual basis.

Be sure to see my comment on "late days." It's a comment to the original question.

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    Anecdote: Last semester I tried encouraging students not to procrastinate by allowing extra credit for assignments turned in six or more hours before the due date and time. Didn't work. The people who were going to earn grades of A anyway got the extra credit and a few others turned in hastily-completed work for which the extra credit was little help.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 23:53

As a current engineering student, third year, I would be rather wary of the idea of grouping all the assignments together under a common due date. Especially if, the course in which this takes place is a first or second year course. This is because younger students often manage their time rather poorly. As Daniel R. Collins noted, attempting 3 assignments the night before their due date can be a discouraging experience and yield dismal results. I would also add that, as a Prof, you should set the timetable and not the students. It is very annoying to see a lenient teacher extend a deadline because a student is not on time. Especially so, if said student is behind because they are not working on the assignment and is using their time for other activities. After all, part of the skills one is to develop through a bachelor degree is time management. Lastly, you should check either with your faculty or department if they have a late work policy, if so you should reference it in the syllabus, if not get them to establish one.


I've tried both methods for our introductory classes. To be honest, I haven't seen very much difference. The students who will wait until the end to do all three sections are going to be the ones that will wait until the end to do each individual section. In all cases, you're getting rushed work that they're likely to hand in late, except that they're spreading their work out (better learning, mayhaps) but sending you more e-mails, or they're cramming their work but sending you less e-mails.

To help them with time management, you could give them estimated completion times. Even if they're much faster or slower than the estimate, they can figure the others out relatively speaking after doing one or two ("Professor said section 2 takes two hours and section 3 takes four hours. I did section 2 in only an hour so I can probably do section 3 in two hours").

To avoid the e-mail bombardment, I'd consider instead just instituting a general late policy. It could be one that slowly penalizes more (so that one day late = 10/20% off, two days = 20/40%), or a one-off decrease (50% off), but they key is to balance it: too punitive, and they'll still e-mail you, too easy, and they'll take too much advantage of it. Or you could say "I will permit one module to be handed in up to X days late".


As others have already given good answers for the 1-3 week late admissions problem (dropping lowest grades and/or a blanket reduction of points for late work). I will offer another option for dealing with the problem of too many extension requests for homework assignments when dealing with online courses.

A policy which has seemed to work well during my studies was one where professors in common undergraduate requirement courses agreed on alternate due dates that mimicked the due dates of on campus courses or simply set their due dates to match on campus meetings of the same or a similar class. It seemed to help new students budget their time more effectively - keeping all the assignments from each class being due on the same day (Sunday) - and did not seem like a lenient policy as it was essentially the same amount of time to work on assignments as it would be for on campus students (may get an extra day or so depending on when one posts the assignments online).

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