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By Melissa Hills, MacEwan University, and Kim Peacock, NorQuest College,

We define flexible deadline policies as those that allow all students in a course some degree of freedom over when they submit an assignment, without consequences that could negatively impact the students’ learning or grade.

Melissa: As the first person in my family to go to university, I would have never thought to ask for an extension. Fortunately, I was privileged enough to be able to meet deadlines without major hardship. Through my experience teaching, I know this is not the reality for all students.

Kim: I had a serious medical condition in university but still rarely asked for extensions. Instead, I often completed assignments while in significant pain or took the penalty. Despite my own experiences, I used “normal” deadline practices when I started teaching. I never declined an extension request, so it never occurred to me that those practices were problematic.

Melissa: I started to scrutinize many of my “normal” teaching practices. I used to give students short late-work windows with deductions, but I began to feel that was punitive and discouraged the completion of work important to learning. Some students would disclose personal crises and I would offer penalty-free extensions; however, it never seemed fair to students who might have needed those extensions but never asked.

Kim: Students like I was. After reflecting on our first conversation about flexible deadlines, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered changing my policies. I didn’t recognize the power imbalance they perpetuate. Our discussion about replacing that power imbalance with inclusive structures changed my perspective and practice. It has also made me reflect further on what other “normal” classroom practices I need to problematize and interrogate for the sake of my students.

Melissa: I consider flexible deadline policies to be part of my Universal Design for Learning approach. The data we collected shows that flexible deadlines have allowed my students to become more empowered learners. They have also benefited me by reducing the need to navigate individual requests and improving student satisfaction. These types of flexible practices also require me to be more creative when I design my courses—a challenge I enjoy!

Read the full TLI article here.

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