Rethinking Assignment Deadlines

Instead of defaulting to midnight deadlines, the use of online submissions offers us a chance to think about deadlines in new ways and to reflect on our deadline policies.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

Prior to the use of online tools and learning management systems like Canvas, assignment deadlines were determined by the shared schedule of instructors and students.  Assignments were turned in at the beginning or the end of class.  Some instructors may have even allowed students to turn in assignments during office hours or by the end of the work day.

Today, with the use of electronic communication and instructional technologies, the vast majority of instructors accept assignments through tools like email, dropboxes, discussion boards, and learning management systems.  Canvas Assignments and Discussions provide a convenient way for instructors to collect assignment submissions, give feedback, and enter grades. However, Canvas, like other online tools, has a default assignment deadline of 11:59pm.  Many instructors don’t bother changing this midnight deadline perhaps because it is easier to leave it as is, have become accustomed to this widely accepted deadline, or want to be generous by allowing students to have the entire day to submit their assignment.  These midnight deadlines do not promote a professional awareness of business hours or reasonable working conditions. Rather, they encourage burning the midnight oil as an acceptable model of time management and an ethical boundary to allow in future work settings.

Instead of defaulting to midnight deadlines, the use of online submissions should offer us a chance to think about deadlines in new ways and to reflect on our deadline policies. It’s useful to look at the policies as a whole and ask what kind of climate they collectively create. What’s their relationship to learning? How do they promote it, individually and collectively (Weimer, 2018). Additional questions we could ask ourselves about deadlines include:

  • Does this deadline align with my professional standards?
  • What messages, stated or unstated, am I conveying to my students about work ethic and effective time management? 
  • And perhaps most importantly, does the policy relate to my teaching philosophy or does it simply “promote the power and position of the professor?”

When implementing a clear deadline policy, we should also consider the ways in which we can communicate these new deadlines to students, using meaningful rationales for why we’ve mandated them. We can have students post or turn in their assignments at times that make sense for the nature of the assignment and our own schedules while at the same time showing respect for their time (Spangler, 2020). Some examples include the following:

  • This assignment should be turned in no later than 2:00 p.m. on Thursday because I’m leaving for a conference and want to take the papers with me.
  • This assignment is due by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday because I need to check your understanding of the topic before we move on to the next unit that begins on Tuesday.
  • This assignment is due [at the official time break begins according to the campus calendar] so that I have time to read your papers over break.
  • This assignment is due at 1:00 on Wednesday because I’ve scheduled time to look at your work after my department meeting and respond to you by the end of the day.
  • This assignment is due at 5:00 p.m. on Friday [the end of the work day/week] because I am preparing you for the business world.

There are a great deal of deadlines and rationals to accompany them, from the start of the workday to a scheduled class time to the end of business hours.  All instructors should review their course goals and core values to determine which deadlines best suit their own needs and the needs of their students. 

If you would like to talk in more detail about rethinking your assignment deadlines, complete this consultation request form and we will schedule a time to meet with you. We are always happy to help. 


Spangler, S. (2020) Cinderella Deadlines: Reconsidering Timelines for Student Work. Faculty Focus.

Weimer, M. (2018) Examining Our Course Policies. Faculty Focus.






Release Date: 11/17/2022
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services
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