Flexibility in the class: yay or nay?

Dear faculty, 

One question that I often receive from instructors, and certainly more so since the pandemic, goes approximately like this: how can we allow for flexibility in our classes without losing track of meeting objectives and teaching the importance of meeting deadlines? 

This is a very legitimate question: we want to be flexible and acknowledge how hard the last 2-3 years have been, but we also want to teach students that in the professional world they will have to respect due dates and meet their responsibilities. 

To look at flexibility from different perspectives, I want to share a couple of readings that invite to consider flexibility as both a blessing and a curse, so to speak. In Flexibility is key if we want students to connect with their studies (Nave, 2021), the author makes a great point about how “the forced shift to online education was in fact a great windfall for many students, who found the flexibility it brought to be life-changing. Education, suddenly, became much more accessible.”  

On the other hand, in The Perils of Flexibility (2022), Breana Bayraktar reminds us that flexibility might actually be an inequitable practice: “I’m always concerned that being flexible when asked for grace from a student means that some students will ask but others equally in need of extra help will not” and therefore she “prefer[s] to build in from the start of the semester whatever flexibility or choice I plan to offer.” 

Specifically, Bayraktar advocates for negotiable deadlines, which 

  • Teach evaluation & planning skills 
  • Helps students articulate their process 
  • Improves self-awareness 

I hope these readings will encourage some conversations among faculty about both the benefits and the perils of flexibility, as I remind everyone that faculty always have the ability to establish thresholds of flexibility, as long as they are applied equitably to all your students! 

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