In a recent post, I shared some of the chaos that I experienced as an educator with a highly flexible and customized approach to assignment submission. While today’s 9x9x25 reflection is about another failure, I don’t want you to think the entire course was a flop. There were a lot of successes – I have just chosen to blog about the failures first in case I run out of time. I think we can learn more by Failing Forward than simply sharing successes. Before you run to Google to see what I mean, I simply made the term up based on the “Feed Forward” approach we use with students.

Today’s topic: Deadlines. I failed to set deadlines (on purpose).

geralt / Pixabay


This class wasn’t the first one I have taught without deadlines. Last year in the same course when College faculty returned from an extended work stoppage I removed deadlines in the same course. I told students that I understood that clinical hours were a priority and they knew their schedules best. Last year it worked. I had to do some gentle reminding a few times but students submitted their work throughout the term. I did not end up too swamped by marking and only had one student who completed her work too late in my opinion. There were a few that cut it kind of close, but overall it worked.

This year as I was totally embracing the philosophy of an open, flexible, empowering class I did not set deadlines. Instead, I told students that I needed to negotiate midterm grades around October 22. the requirement of meeting to discuss grades complicated this process but that is another post. I shared the truth about my administration wanting student grades in by around then so students could withdraw if they choose to by November 5. I repeatedly stated that I wanted to have grades entered in October.

What Happened?

Today is past that due date and there are a small number of students without grades entered. Did I fail? Well, to be quite honest I am not 100% sure. The students without official marks are in that position by choice and have indicated that they do not want to drop the course. I entered a 0 in the grade book for anyone who did not communicate why work had not been submitted just after October 22 (which sparked more meetings being booked for grade negotiation). Because students are able to resubmit their work and negotiate grades some students decided to re-do work based on the initial feedback and partial grade negotiation meeting before assigning a number to their work. There did not seem to be a point in assigning a low mark to work when the student clearly wanted to re-do it (except on November 1 when I said let us estimate for administration).

darkmoon1968 / Pixabay

However, this year … I suspect that it did not work for some of my students to have such flexible deadlines. This observation was supported by some of my student’s comments during their still ongoing midterm grade negotiation meetings. To fix this for the final project I have negotiated individual deadlines with each student. My deadlines are still flexible but because I am tracking them students feel more accountable to meet that date and have indicated it will be helpful for their organization. As long as the date they pick is in November they can email me to change the date.

Interesting fact: Some of these students actually had already written down due dates in their calendar. When I asked them when they would like to hand their work in htey responded by saying “I thought it was due on ___.”

The circumstances and tone of the course last year and this year were quite different. I was the kind of educator with a reputation of giving a 0 to papers that were late because that was what our policy said. No resubmissions. No second chances. That is what our program is like.

geralt / Pixabay

Maybe that is why no deadlines worked last year but not this year. Last year we were pretty good at negotiating an absolute final date for submission of each graded component. Although deadlines were flexible, I suspect that students took me more “seriously” in a classroom where the expectation was that a late paper could result in a course failure. When I told them I would like all presentations submitted by a certain date it happened.

PS: It is worth noting that last year since I gave feedback to students right way some students finished the course within a week of returning from the work stoppage.

The Conclusion

I have been thinking about deadlines a lot. Based on my experiences I would say that some students are intrinsically motivated and do not require deadlines. These students seem to be the ones that have essays done early when due dates are set. For students that need due dates to plan their lives, we should set them. They can be set collaboratively. Making deadlines flexible is more work but it is better for both parties than not having any. Deadlines help both students and educators plan for workload management. If you want to be flexible make it clear that you are open to extension requests or negotiating flexible deadlines in the syllabus.

Set deadlines!



Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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