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dhulsey
Community Champion

Due Dates in online classes

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I have always distributed due dates in online classes across the week. For instance, I might have something due on Monday, something due on Wednesday, and something due on Friday. My theory has always been that I want the students to engage with the class on multiple days, believing that distributed due dates would increase engagement, success, and retention. However, when looking at classes by my colleagues, I see many of them will have everything due for a week on one day; Sunday seems popular for some reason.

Having no formal training as an instructional designer, I was wondering if anyone had thoughts on best practices or could direct me to relevant research on managing due dates in one line classes. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and help!

1 Solution
brendaa
Community Contributor

I was just reading about this in "Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology" by Michelle Miller which I would highly recommend.  She discusses the "spacing effect" or distributed practice which refers to the increased payoff from spreading review sessions over time rather than in one large session.  The idea is to introduce smaller, low-stakes assignments throughout the week to keep students engaged and allow students repeated opportunities to go over the material.  She cites research from 2011 by G. Xue, L. Mei, C. Chen, Z. Lu, R. Poldrack, and Q. Dong in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

23( 7): 1624– 1633, doi: 10.1162/ jocn. 2010.21532.

I agree with several of the previous posts that you have to balance this with the online students' desire to work on a more flexible schedule.  It would definitely be important to make very clear these are low-stakes assignments, and maybe make the high stakes assignments due on a specific day of the week for consistency.  If there are going to be many assignments on different days of the week, the students need to clearly understand the expectations. I love the way Canvas allows faculty to set up these assignments one time and make them available to students in many ways -- the Calendar, Syllabus, Assignments, as well as modules and pages.

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27 Replies
morris_admin
Community Contributor

Hi  @dhulsey ,

I can't speak to any research on this, but I can share my experiences as an online student in addition to what I experience as an instructional designer.

Since I work full time, have a family, and all the other normal life balance stuff online students deal with, my best time for completing my schoolwork will vary each week, with a lot of it being done on the weekends when my time can be a little more flexible. So having due date throughout the week might be problematic for me, especially for assignments that would require me to really dive in. I prefer to figure out my own intermediate goals for the week's work.

But as an instructional designer, I understand the value of a lot of interaction with the instructor and peers and also the need to guide students along so they don't wait until the last minute. I think it's good to have a due date for discussions mid-week to encourage that conversation to begin early and to encourage students to start any group work early. But for individual assignments, I think flexibility is appreciated (though it never hurts to provide recommendations about breaking down activities into smaller chunks since not all learners, especially undergrads and k-12 students, are good at that).

I hope this helps!

Hey  @dhulsey ​ and morris_admin​,

While I have some background in instructional design, I cannot immediately put my finger on research around retention and online discussion design.   @Renee_Carney ​ focused on course design in her masters program and might have more to go on there.

Going on my own experiences as a working adult/continuing student and working with educators at community colleges, like, Jessica, I appreciate flexibility in when I need to deliver in an online class but I also know that students will put off what isn't required in favor of more immediate demands on their time.  Maybe the best strategy is is to try to chunk requirements, again as Jessica suggests, and also be more flexible with larger deliverables or demands on people's time.  Maybe make relatively small requirements on Monday and Wednesday, say, and have the bigger tasks due by the end of the week.

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

 @dhulsey ​, as someone who has taken online courses, is teaching an online course, and helps instructors build online courses, I tend to gravitate towards having a set schedule of when assignments are normally due.

That being said, the set schedule could be initial discussion posts are due Wednesday and replies/follow-up and other quizzes/papers are due Sunday. So not that everything has to be due on one day, but that each week due dates are on the same day/days.

I think this works because it allows people some flexibility - which is normally an advantage of online courses - as well as being easy to remember. When we've had instructors use different days of the week and had this vary each week, students were often confused and it seemed to throw off the flow of the course.

Hope this helps!

hmelander
Instructure
Instructure

It appears that you are trying to do two things by having distributed due dates in your course. You are trying to increase / manage engagement and help students keep on track. While I am not aware of research that addresses this specifically, it does remind me of a conference session I attended at L@S 2015. Justin Reich’s team (HarvardX) explained how they researched staggered content release vs. content released all at once influenced “ontrackness” and completion rates.

He found that students in courses where content is released all at once had 2x’s lower the “ontrackness” than students in courses where the content release was staggered.

However, his team also found that the completion rate for both types of courses were the same.

Application: We might be able to compare your due dates to staggered content release dates. I think it would be reasonable to conclude that it would help learners stay “on track” in the course. However, I don’t know if it will help increase grades or completion rates in the course.


Hope this is helpful.

DaleDrees
Community Champion

Hi  @dhulsey ​

Like everyone else I don’t have any research but some personal insight on due dates, specifically discussion boards.

We have experimented with moving due dates around in discussion boards at our school and I think you can make the due dates on any day of the week as long as you keep it consistent throughout the whole course.

Now having all the due dates (original post and replies) the same in discussion boards has been problematic for me. When I say that I mean having the original post and then your replies all due at the same time (say Sunday night). What I have encountered is you normally get 1 or 2 people who will post their original post early in the week and then nobody else goes into the discussion board until the Sunday night because that is when it is due. Then if both the original and replies are due by that Sunday night then most of the students will go in to the discussion board an hour before the time expires. I did part of my master degree online and this happened to me every week. So I learned as a student not to go into the discussion board until the last minute so I could quickly respond to someone (this quickly became a check in the box approach). I found this not be a very engaging discussion and it did not give me time to really think about someone’s post and possibly do some research on their response. Then If I posted to someone’s post on Sunday with a question I usually did not get a response because they were busy posting their original response and responding to two other people and then the discussion board was closed.

Then when I was studying for my Instructional Technology degree the professors throughout the department used the best practice of having the original post due mid-week and then the replies a few days later. This practice allowed me to read everyone’s original posting and then allowed me to think about their responses before responding and sometimes this could be a day or later. This practice also allows the students who are really motivated to finish early to respond to two other postings right away due to all the original responses due mid-week and not have to wait till the last minute for someone to post their original posting.

Hope this helps,

Dale

dhulsey
Community Champion

Thanks for all of the thoughtful replies!  It makes sense that an online class needs to balance flexibility for student schedules, predictability, and engagement.

I get that once a week deadlines are likely convenient for students, but that definitely limits interaction.

Predictability makes sense, but it seems to become a tedious grind for some students if the assignments have the same form and schedule for the whole term. On the other hand, changing things up every week seems cruel.

It is a balancing act for sure!

As for the research, perhaps an enterprising instructional designer is in need of a thesis or dissertation topic. Smiley Happy

kmeeusen
Community Coach
Community Coach

Dallas:

I do the same thing in my courses and for the same reasons. Students, like most humans, will save everything to the last. Doing this encourages lack of interaction of course materials, with a limited focus on graded content - they pop in on the due date and just do their assignments. By staggering due days, it better encourages students to engage in the content.

That being said, I always use the same days of the week. For example: original topic replies in discussions on Wednesday and classmate replies due Sunday, assignments due Fridays, and module exam Sundays. This provides consistency so that there is less chance of missing a due date, and also helps students plan their own hectic schedules.

I make all due time midnight to accommodate my work students or those with family obligations.

I hope this helps.

dhulsey
Community Champion

Thanks,  @kmeeusen ​! It absolutely sounds like you and I have similar approaches and rationales, and, yeah, I find that validating. Smiley Happy

I also allow students to work ahead if they need to and only lock content with view and submission requirements in modules. I tell my students that due dates on online classes are the last opportunity to do the assignment, but they are not the first opportunity and that they should always try to work a few days ahead of deadlines. Some of them actually do work a bit ahead.

seanmichaelmorr
Instructure
Instructure

Hi  @dhulsey ​,

This is a good question, and one that my department battled with quite a lot when I chaired the English department at CCCOnline. I had a regular practice of mid- and end-of-week due dates for discussions, and a regular schedule for weekly assignments (usually due by Sunday night to accommodate weekend-only students). My biggest concern was always for the students. As a few folks have pointed out here, online students aren't always on the kind of regular weekly schedule on-ground students are, so leaving flexibility in the week was important to student success.

That said, I think it's important to take a step back and ask about whether we believe that due dates and deadlines are going to increase authentic engagement. For me, the biggest challenge was not getting students to participate, but giving them something to participate in. The success of my discussions I judged on the replies those discussions received well before the due date, consistently throughout the week. Those discussions that seemed to draw a natural response from students were the ones I paid closest attention to, the ones I worked to understand and mimic in other discussion assignments.

And we should be clear, too, on that point. Discussions are "assignments", they're not a natural free-form engagement with content. We are effectively asking the entire class a question and then going "around the room" and listening to each of them respond. I'm not sure if this is the kind of engagement we're looking for, really, except insofar as it allows for a kind of efficiency.

I would ask: what kind of engagement do we really want in our online classes? And how do we go about encouraging that kind of engagement?

Thanks,

Sean

 @seanmichaelmorr ​, thanks to the conversation and discussions during the instcon15​ uncon​ I've switched up the way I'm doing discussions and even though (yes) it's an assignment, I'm trying to let the students take the lead on what they discuss.

For example in recent discussions the only real directions I've given is to have students post about the current chapter - could be a question they have about something (this is a stats course so a lot of them do this), could be an external resource (video, handout, tutorial) they've found that is helping them to better understand the material, could be a trick or tip as to how they figured out how to better understand a difficult concept (ex: Type 1 or Type 2 errors), could just be commentary on the chapter (ex: I got a couple, "I hate how hard it is it upload pictures to discussions in Canvas.").

So far this is going pretty good and seems to be generating some decent discussion - is also a great way for me to collect new resources and ways to explain things. Yet, I'm still having trouble with the organic nature of what a discussion should/could be if everyone engaged because they wanted to share and learn from each other. I've seen this a lot in graduate level online courses, but don't see it much (if any) at the Community College level. It could be my topic (statistics) or it could be that I'm trying to switch things up in the middle of the semester (didn't set the right open/learning tone of the class from the very beginning), but I'd like to do it better next semester for my hybrid stats course. Do you have any recommendations for articles, books, web resources on how to encourage engagement and active learning in online discussions?

Thanks!

dhulsey
Community Champion

I always ask my students to ask an open-ended question at the end of their initial posts. This gives students something to reply to and seems to work pretty well.

Dallas:

This study: Engaging Online Learners: The Impact of Web-based Learning Technology on College Student Engagement, from Pu-Shih Daniel Chena, Amber D. Lambertb, , Kevin R. Guidryb, has some great information (Abstract below). It is published by Elsevier and available on Science Direct. I believe you can get guest access as a teacher if you are not a member.

Abstract

Widespread use of the Web and other Internet technologies in postsecondary education has exploded in the last 15 years. Using a set of items developed by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the researchers utilized the hierarchical linear model (HLM) and multiple regressions to investigate the impact of Web-based learning technology on student engagement and self-reported learning outcomes in face-to-face and online learning environments. The results show a general positive relationship between the use the learning technology and student engagement and learning outcomes. We also discuss the possible impact on minority and part-time students as they are more likely to enroll in online courses.

dhulsey
Community Champion

Thanks for that, Kelley! I will check that out.

Yes, genuine engagement can be difficult to achieve. Many of my students seem to be going through the motions with discussions. While a few always become involved and will post more than I ask for the assignment, many students seem to do the minimum and are motivated by points instead of curiosity or a desire to gain knowledge.

I keep trying new stuff though, and I will continue to do so. Thanks for your thoughts,  @seanmichaelmorr ​.

Cindy_Masek
Community Contributor

The following is also just an observation based on courses the last few semesters. I agree with what others have posted.  But in summary here are my two take-away points.

  • Scheduling due dates often to prevent procrastination seems to work well, but you have to balance it with the following two points.
  • Students can be scared off by too many assignments posted and you may see a high drop rate when the course first opens. It must be clear that these are small assignments.
  • Students do need flexibility and some students can only do course work on weekends and others only weekdays.  Ensuring that assignments are always open early enough to allow students to complete the work on either of these schedules seems to meet the most needs.
sujones
New Member

Justin Reich » Practical Guidance from MOOC Research: Flexibility and Stickiness   has Justin Reich's information about the advantages of being engaged more times.  

    Having due dates constantly can be a pretty serious burden for some students.  A student I worked with (I am in a walk-in computer lab) had time twice a week for a math class, working around job and her clinicals.   Had she had things due all the time she'd have been in trouble.

   Another teacher has a small percentage of the class grade based on attendance, and posts an "attendance code" several times a week.   That way a student just has to at least log in at some point between date/time X and Y.   THe code is the answer to a one-question quiz.  

mworden
New Member

Dallas,

I teach Instructional Design for the master's program at California State University, Fullerton, and I've been an online student, so I can understand the issue from both sides. Students take an online course partly for the flexibility, while an instructor wants to create a dynamic and valuable experience. There's no reason both of these can't be accommodated.

In a discussion about the week's reading for example, I instruct my students to scan or skim the weeks reading. I tell them to do this early in the week. They are to make note of anything that jumps out at them. They are to make their initial post early in the week, but no later than Wednesday. This should be doable for even the most inflexible student. They now have until Sunday evening to read in a more thorough manner, respond to other posts, and expand on their own earlier post.

Another thing that I do is start a week on Saturday morning, and I close it 9 days later on Sunday evening. This allows eager students to get a jump on the week, and it gives procrastinators a little extra time. There is an overlap where some students are moving on to the next topic, while others are finishing up.

I hope that helps.

dhulsey
Community Champion

Yes, that makes a lot of sense, Mark. Thank you for your thoughts. I have seen a similar approach where an instructor tells students to make three posts during the week anytime they like, but there has to be at least a twelve hour delay between each post.

I one took a class (in WSU's ID program) where the professor (Dr. David Cillay) had us post and reply by certain days and times within the week.  We also had to give hime two times during the week where we would be available by phone to chat about the week's topics.  He actually only called a couple of times per semester but it helped keep me on my toes knowing that I had to be ready all the time.  Obviously not a good solution for a large class without TAs but it worked in a smaller program.

When I was at USF, the Dean of Hospitality (DR. Cihan Cobanoglu) required something similar. He required contact information from the students too, such as a contact phone number. If you missed any deadlines he would call the student up and ask if everything was alright. He said he usually only had to do this once and it quickly reengaged the student back into the course. Again, might not work in all scenarios but he swore that it was an effective approach.

I'm proposing the creation of ahttps://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/9009-large-class-instruction-group" modifiedtitle="true" title... in the Canvas Community to gather and share discussions with a large class focus. Please consider voting the idea up! Thanks!

0 Kudos
Reply

The Canvas Network space could fulfill this need. Large enrollment courses

is all we do...all day long.

https://community.canvaslms.com/community/answers/network

We don't have many Canvas Network clients participating in this space.

Perhaps we should re-brand the space to focus on large enrollment courses.

This space would then be available for all Canvas users building large

enrollment courses, not just Canvas.net clients.

Let me know if this is desired in the community and I can start to initiate

plans to make that change if it will be helpful. Feel free to email the

Canvas.net team if you have any large enrollment questions.

coursedesign@canvas.net.

- Hilary

On Tue, Jul 11, 2017 at 12:52 PM, john.martin@wisc.edu <

seanmichaelmorr
Instructure
Instructure

A little unrelated, but maybe a little diverting...

brendaa
Community Contributor

I was just reading about this in "Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology" by Michelle Miller which I would highly recommend.  She discusses the "spacing effect" or distributed practice which refers to the increased payoff from spreading review sessions over time rather than in one large session.  The idea is to introduce smaller, low-stakes assignments throughout the week to keep students engaged and allow students repeated opportunities to go over the material.  She cites research from 2011 by G. Xue, L. Mei, C. Chen, Z. Lu, R. Poldrack, and Q. Dong in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

23( 7): 1624– 1633, doi: 10.1162/ jocn. 2010.21532.

I agree with several of the previous posts that you have to balance this with the online students' desire to work on a more flexible schedule.  It would definitely be important to make very clear these are low-stakes assignments, and maybe make the high stakes assignments due on a specific day of the week for consistency.  If there are going to be many assignments on different days of the week, the students need to clearly understand the expectations. I love the way Canvas allows faculty to set up these assignments one time and make them available to students in many ways -- the Calendar, Syllabus, Assignments, as well as modules and pages.

dhulsey
Community Champion

Oh, wow! Thanks,  @brendaa ​. I will absolutely read Miller's work. That sounds like exactly the kind of material I was hoping to read and compare to my current practices.

Awesome!  Thank you, Brenda.  Adding that to my wishlist on Amazon.

Also, I haven't listened yet but I found this interview with Dr Miller: Minds Online interview with Dr. Michelle Miller

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

Ordered it this afternoon! Thanks for the recommendation  @brendaa !