Even though I got my grades filed last Friday (hours before the midnight deadline), this week I kept encountering colleagues for whom the grading drama Would. Not. End. As you might imagine, this led to some discussions about what one should do when the grade-filing deadline approaches and you are still waiting for students to cough up the work that needs grading.
I’d like to tell you that this is a rare occurrence. Sadly, it is not. Before we get into speculation about why students may be failing to deliver the deliverables, a quick poll on your preferred professorial response:
I go back and forth on this one, in part because of my uncertainty as far as what’s going on in the heads of students who neglect (for example) to turn in a final paper. Maybe in the sensory overload that is the end of the semester they completely overlooked on the syllabus (and on the announcements page on the course website, and in my reminders in the classroom) that this particular assignment even existed, so it didn’t ever get onto their to-do list, and so didn’t get done. On the other hand, maybe, in the crush of work needing to be done, the students do a little triage and decide that they can live with the final grade they’ll end up with even if they blow off the assignment altogether.
In the first case, getting an incomplete rather than a final grade nearly two letter-grades lower than one might have earned if one noticed that this assignment existed and did a good job on it might be a relief. In the second case, it might be an annoyance. (Why an annoyance? At least at my university, an “I” starts the clock for the student to complete and submit the work, or at least to contact the instructor to say “Please assign me the grade I would have earned having blown off the assignment I blew off.” If the student does nothing at all, 12 months later the “I” magically transforms to an “F”.)
You might think that new learning management systems with their electronic dropboxes for assignment might ensure that students reliably turn in the required work. If only! For the first few assignments, anyway, as much as 10% of a class may end up not clicking on the necessary buttons (like “Upload” or “Submit”). Or they may upload assignments in an unreadable format. Or they may upload what is (or looks like) the wrong version of a given assignment.
Every now and then the “wrong version” that is uploaded is the smoking gun that helps you detect plagiarism. (Once the boyfriend uploaded a paper that differed from the paper his girlfriend had uploaded an hour earlier only by two words — his name at the top instead of hers. Oops.)
But sometimes you may end up with a situation where it looks like what has been uploaded is an earlier draft of the assignment — for example, because there are headers included for pieces of the assignment that are missing. How should a professorial type proceed? Is the right thing to do to ask the student whether the version that was uploaded was the version that was intended for submission? Or is it better to assume that the student made the time-management call and submitted as much as was ready by the deadline? Does assuming uploading mistakes or other technical glitches unfairly give these students extra time after the deadline to “find” the “right version” and upload it for more points?
I guess this boils down to the eternal question for those who wield the red pen, which is how best to balance justice and mercy.