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Nonsense Teaching: Late Work Passes

I did a lot of nonsense teaching things this semester. Or rather, things that seem like nonsense, but that are grounded in my composition/creative and programmer/system-building tendencies. Some of these things worked. Part 1 in a multi-part series I will probably forget to update in about January.

I hate late work, but I’m no good at being mean. So I decided I needed to figure out some sort of system to get around both those things.

While I was in Oklahoma, I heard of a class–I think it was a gen-ed class, and I think it was economics, or poly sci, or some such thing–where you had to have something outrageous like 10,000 points worth of participation. Rather than keep track of this, the instructor would come to class every day with a fat stack of printed-off participation points in 100-point notes. He’d ask who had insights on the chapter, students would crawl over each other to answer the question, and he’d make it rain. Students then just had to turn in enough points they had gained through the semester.

As it turns out, people like stuff.

For the spring, I made two changes to my late work policy. The first was that most of my due dates were early in the week–Monday or Tuesday. But my late work policy was that I would accept all work through the end of the calendar week. If students wanted to think of the assignment as being due on Monday/Tuesday, that was fine, and that’s what Blackboard showed as the due date. If students wanted to think of the due date as being Saturday at 11:59, that’s fine too. Blackboard would show it as being late, but whatever; Blackboard has a tendency to do whatever it wants anyway.

The idea was and is that there’s a built-in cushion in case things come up. Because as music majors, things always come up.

The other thing I did was create physical late work passes (LWPs). Here’s what they look like.

I designed the front and back in Paint.net and had them printed up by Moo, using their Luxe business card template–32pt weight with a forest green color seam on the edge and rounded corners.

I designed the LWPs to be bearer instruments–I don’t track them, there are no serial numbers. If you physically have one, you can use it. The rules are pretty simple.

  • I can only say they’re usable in my classes.
  • It’s only good for one assignment.
  • You can’t use it outside of an academic term*
  • And some other stuff that might be on the syllabus (but currently isn’t).

I starred the academic term requirement. What I wanted to avoid is having students try to turn in late work after the end of the semester, so they go invalid at the end of finals week. But they reactivate at the beginning of the next term. Technically speaking, there’s no reason you couldn’t stockpile them.

I give one out to each student at the beginning of each course I teach. What I found myself doing in the Fall of 2020 was making the announcement that for every four COVID tests that students take, I would award them one LWP.

For Music Entrepreneurship in the Fall, I also included an optional project (more on the curriculum for that class later, it’s more nonsense) that was essentially an LWP buy-back. Turn in an LWP, get 250 points (repeatable).

What I expected to happen was that it would make my conversation with students easier–“Oh, you don’t have a late work pass? You can’t turn that in late.” What happened instead is far more interesting.

By and large, students just took ownership of keeping track of late work. Although I keep detailed records, it doesn’t really matter. Students didn’t even consider asking for an extension or if I’d accept late work. Although, this fell apart late in the Fall 2020 semester due to COVID and being online (especially with the freshmen), but in person, it has worked great.

If I were to do it again, I might go with wooden nickels–I think they’d be more durable, and in some cases, they’d also be cheaper.