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Adventurer II

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!

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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.

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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.  

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 ​.

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.

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

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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.


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.


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.

 @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?



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,  @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.