This fall and winter I worked with two instructors from very different disciplines to achieve a common goal – making their courses inclusive through a flexible assignment policy. Both courses gave students opportunities to recover without penalty from what would otherwise be a setback – a late, missed, or low-scoring assignment. Flexible assignment policies aren’t new, but instructors are now extending grace to students without the requirement to ask in advance, provide an excuse, or share official documentation, such as a doctor’s note. Our collective pandemic experience has revealed the inequity of having the instructor adjudicate the validity of the excuse, as well as the impracticality of producing documentation on demand. (Can you readily access a doctor when you’re too sick to work? If you could, wouldn’t that take up time and energy you’d rather use to complete the work itself?) Finally, as a third instructor commented to me, simply reading the traumatic narratives that students share voluntarily (let alone requiring these excuses) implicates her in a form of voyeurism. Discomfort aside, students’ entreaties take up time, requiring at least one exchange of emails, and that can fill up the inbox and prove hard to track over the course of the term.

As an elegant fix, the courses I’ve worked on explicitly state in their syllabi and assignments that no reason is required and that permission is granted automatically – eliminating the need for email back and forth and the inequitable requirement for justification. This policy fit the goals of both instructors – one who was interested in student retention in a difficult course, and the other who had implemented a labor-based grading approach to extend greater agency to 100-level, Gen Ed students.

But the instructors still needed a way to track the excused assignments. So what’s clever and new (to me) about these courses is how the instructors and I executed the policy in our LMS – a graded Canvas quiz (in a 0% weighted assignment group so as not to interfere with the final grade) that inquires only about the logistics:

  • What is the assignment? (Be as specific as possible.) 
  • How are you using this particular opportunity for flexibility (of the three opportunities granted)? (The assignment is late/missing/requires revision.) 
  • When will you turn it in? (This helps me grade it promptly.)

Because the quiz is set to accept just 3 attempts, the instructor doesn’t need to manually tally the number of permissions already granted. And once the student fills out the quiz, safe in the assumption that permission has been secured, they can get down to the business of completing their work, without shame or delay.

One instructor framed these opportunities as “tokens,” like the tokens you spend at Chuck E Cheese — they’re only good when you’re in the establishment, so while it’s great if you finish the term without needing to use them, there’s no particular reason to save them up! “Tokens are my acknowledgment that we all make mistakes, misread instructions, and that life things come up. We falter. Use a token!” (“What are tokens in this class?”, Dr. Jenna Goldsmith). The Canvas quiz was termed a “Token Tracker,” complete with a cartoonish golden coin icon. By week 6 of the term, just short of half the students had availed themselves of it.

I was excited to learn of these instructors’ policies and to help craft their execution in Canvas. If you’d like to try out this inclusive assignment policy, or have an idea for another policy that will be unfamiliar to students, consider how you can use the tools at hand to present the policy as easy and natural — as much a part of our standard operating procedures as the old, inequitable way of doing things. Students will be more likely to benefit that way.

With gratitude to Dr. Jackie Goldman, who first shared the idea of an automated “extension quiz,” and Dr. Jenna Goldman, who adapted the quiz for use in her course.

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One thought on “An Inclusive Time-Saver: “The Token Tracker” Brings Structure to Flexible Assignment Policies

  1. What a creative way to provide more flexibility to students while still keeping the students and the course on track. Thanks, Lydia, for sharing this innovative approach.

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