Let’s Talk Assignment Schedules

At first glance, nothing seems quite as boring to talk about than assignment scheduling, right?  But the way you set assignments up says a lot about your attitude toward your students and your philosophy of education.

For a time I taught online for a Midwestern university where the policy was that all assignments were due Sunday midnight – no exceptions, because the program appealed to working adults.

While I adhered to the Sunday-midnight rule (of course!), I was relieved to come to Glendale and have more flexibility in my assignment scheduling.  While the “one-night” rule is perhaps convenient for student schedules, in reality it doesn’t work very well for overall assignment scheduling or learning:

  • When all assignments are due one night a week, some assignments are sitting in the submission “queue” a day or two or three while other assignments are sitting there more or less days.
  • The same thing happens in reverse on Sunday midnight: I consider myself a good instructor, but I still can’t grade all assignments from all my classes instantaneously – or usually even all assignments from any ONE class in one day.
  • So again, some assignments sit longer than others in my “grading” queue.
  • Now think about what all these delays look like to the students, who ALSO don’t do all assignments instantaneously or at once – how long has it been since they submitted their first assignment until they get feedback and a grade on it?

In manufacturing and computing, this “do it all at once” phenomenon is called “batch” processing.

So what is the better solution?  The answer is to maintain a regular schedule for assignments, but spread it out and do a little at a time versus one big “batch” each week.  I set up a 2x assignment schedule for my three classes as an adjunct.  It looks something like this (note that assignments are due at midnight — a student preference, I asked):

Class A:  Assignments due Monday and Thursday midnight

Class B: Assignments due Tuesday and Friday midnight

Class C: Assignments due Wednesday and Sunday midnight

No assignments due on Saturday (instructor gets Sunday “off” – yeah!)

What does a 2x, spread-out schedule do?

  • Students still have a regular assignment date – but now it is “dates,” i.e. twice a week, a schedule they can count on and get into a rhythm with
  • Students get more timely feedback from the instructor
  • Students are less likely to struggle or be confused long
  • Students get feedback on work done before more assignments are due
  • Instructors grade a little bit each day versus one grading “marathon” once a week
    • And probably do a better job
  • Instructors know almost immediately if a particular assignment is problematic or confusing to students, and can adjust as needed and more quickly.
  • The instructor and students now have twice the “touch” points – times when they are communicating with one another, providing feedback and reactions and questions and responses (essential in any online class)

One other thing to note about assignment scheduling: When I have a hybrid or FTF class, I do NOT have any assignments due from that class the day class meets.  Why not?  Because I want students to focus on the lesson, be engaged in our (short) time together, and not be so concerned about that assignment or wiped out from an all-nighter the day before.  I also want to go over that assignment with them before they do it – they do better and I get more of what I am looking for – which makes my grading easier as well.

The amount of work you do as an instructor in a 1x  or 2x assignment schedule is ultimately the same – but by making assignments due twice a week, you will give your students more timely feedback and a much better chance to succeed – and most of them will appreciate it.

You might even like the “every day but Sunday” regular schedule better yourself.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Assignment Schedules”

  1. OMG! That would kill me. It would make me feel like I always have something to grade, which is true anyway. But if I can just have all the other days free, and only stress on Sunday night when they’re all due, I feel much better. 🙂 But I see your point. Good suggestion.

  2. Thanks, Gary. In January I just changed by schedule to do this . . . only took three years! Ha! I am going to go back and look at the due dates for my FTF class meetings. Unless I’m using the assignment as a prep for the day’s collaboration activities, I agree with your point.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *