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Missing Assignments: Exhaustion & Procrastinationå

In the last few days, several colleagues have mentioned that more students than usual have been missing class or not turning in assignments here at the end of the semester. A host of reasons spring to mind, beginning with the most likely: stress and burnout. Like us, many students are just exhausted by trying to keep up with all of their responsibilities during the pandemic. Some may be missing class sessions or smaller assignments in one class to focus on larger projects or exams that are worth more of their grade in another. Or in some cases, they may be prioritizing other responsibilities—like health, work, or family—over their classes.

Whatever the reason, it’s important not to take it personally. You are not alone in having this issue, this semester especially, and students are not trying to be disrespectful or communicate a lack of interest or a lack of care. In fact, sometimes they care very much about a course, but they get into a potentially paralyzing cycle: They feel overwhelmed by coursework (e.g., multiple deadlines, fear of failure or criticism, uncertainty about how to do well) and procrastinate getting started, then the consequences of procrastination cause more stress, and the cycle can repeat. Social psychologist Devon Price explains:

For decades, psychological research has been able to explain procrastination as a functioning problem, not a consequence of laziness. When a person fails to begin a project that they care about, it’s typically due to either a) anxiety about their attempts not being “good enough” or b) confusion about what the first steps of the task are. Not laziness. In fact, procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well.

So though it might sometimes seem like students are “not bothering to do the work,” it’s also possible that they are actually staring at a blank screen for hours, afraid to try only to fail, or unsure how to get started. And these are problems we may be able to help with. Not at that moment, of course. Price says that the best thing for a student to do at that moment is actually to “walk away from the computer/book/word document and engage in a relaxing activity.”

What we might be able to do is ensure students understand what they are supposed to be doing, especially on projects that are worth a significant portion of their grade; give them opportunities to get started; and provide supportive feedback (which can come from the instructor, TA, LA, or peers) along the way. For example, students can brainstorm, make decisions about their projects, and even begin a rough draft in class or in a small group. They can analyze and discuss relevant examples (including peer examples), so they know what successful work might look like. They can bring a less intimidating amount of work—like one page of a very rough draft—to class or to a small group so they can get a little direction and feedback before they go on. Several more ideas are available here.

Although it’s too late in the semester to make some of these adjustments to your course design, many of us have students working on final projects now, and the ones who are confused, stuck, afraid, or overwhelmed may need a boost. Even devoting fifteen minutes of class time to 1) clarifying the instructions or expectations, 2) inviting them to talk with each other about their progress, or especially 3) allowing them to work on or make decisions about the project can make a difference. We can also help our students better understand why they sometimes get stuck, and how to get unstuck, by sharing information about procrastinationwith them. The advice might help some of us, too.


Summer Teaching Workshop

Thursday, April 29th | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. & 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Zoom | Sign up to attend

If you’re teaching in the summer, you may be wondering how to make a course you normally teach in fall or spring work well in a compressed summer semester. No need to do all of the planning alone! Join us for this hands-on summer teaching workshop, in which we’ll discuss how to distill a course to its essence, prioritizing so that you can set achievable learning goals for your students. Then, we’ll help you get started designing the course so students make progress toward those goals through fewer, but longer, class sessions. Since the extended meeting hours in summer demand that we vary our teaching strategies, sharing approaches and resources with colleagues across disciplines will make planning class sessions more fruitful and more enjoyable. We look forward to working with you!

Summer 2021 Course Design Seminar

Monday, May 3rd – Thursday, May 6th | 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. | Synchronous on Zoom & Asynchronous on Canvas | Sign up to attend

CAT’s Course Design Seminar provides faculty with the structure and support they need to craft transformative and inclusive learning experiences that reach and inspire their students. Course design and planning need not be lonely work; they are best accomplished in a community of peers who are similarly engaged. The seminar is a week-long series of hands-on workshops, during which faculty will hone their goals for student learning, plan effective use of class time, and work on sequencing and scaffolding coursework, as well as gathering valid evidence of learning. They will also work on strategies for fostering welcoming classroom climates and cultivating student motivation. Participants will gain:

  • Structured support to (re)design a course for maximum learning
  • Individual assistance and feedback on their course design, including learning goals; assignment and exam design; effective use of class time; class activities; active-learning strategies, etc.
  • Expertise in learner-centered teaching and backward design
  • Strategies for motivating students
  • Collegial community and peer feedback

You can sign up to attend through the link above. If you have questions about attending the seminar, please email us at We look forward to working with you!