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Joanne Archibald: Endless open-ended deadlines are failing students and teaching bad habits

Commentary

Students are shown at Dawson College in Montreal, Monday, August 23, 2021. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.

I’m concerned. I’m concerned that in universities across this country, we are failing to teach our students important lessons about critical thinking, responsibility, and consequences for their actions. These days it seems that extensions on assignments, papers, projects, and exams are handed out like influencers hand out discount codes on Instagram. This lackadaisical deadline policy is causing more harm than good. It is bound to have lifelong consequences.

Over my last three years as a teaching assistant and fellow at Queen’s University, I’ve witnessed the growing problem of students asking for extensions across a variety of disciplines firsthand. Often it’s even at the eleventh hour before submission or even after a deadline.

And the requests are being met with the approval of instructors. It’s anyone’s guess as to why. Perhaps because the accommodation list has simply become so long that it is easier for us to just say yes to all extension requests. Or maybe it’s because it saves us time and paperwork to just say yes without actually looking into whether a request is actually warranted. I am guilty of this myself, avoiding the challenging conversations and just accepting the request.

Don’t get me wrong: there are Canadian students with legitimate requests for accommodation and consideration, and they should be supported. We strive to provide a learning environment that is equitable for all, and accommodations are absolutely part of that process. Furthermore, as someone who has had a health crisis interrupt a course, I understand that things inevitably come up that are beyond a student’s control. There are important policies in place to help these students navigate life’s unexpected challenges, and they should also be upheld.

But what we are seeing is there are far more extension requests in the “I just didn’t have time” camp, or of the “I’ve got too many things due at once” variety than there should be. This represents the failure of instructors to impose hard deadlines in addition to enforcing the consequences if those deadlines are not met. The fact that these students feel they can ask for these extensions means they are used to getting what they want, and it’s starting to feel as if it’s coming from a place of entitlement.

Part of the problem is what has become the ad hoc nature of extension policies. Some professors have three-day grace periods—so say June 7 is the deadline, a student will actually have until June 10 to hand their assignment in without penalty. Other instructors give you a full seven extra days after the project is supposed to be completed to submit without penalty. Others have “a feel free to request any extension”’ policy. Some courses have zero late penalties, or give a one percent or two percent or five percent penalty after a certain number of days. Still other professors have no late policy at all. It’s confusing! For us as teaching assistants, for students, and for instructors.

My biggest concern is that we are hampering the students who have legitimate learning differences or exceptionalities and a documented need for extra time. If everyone gets an extra seven days, does that not negate the extra time for students who have legitimate needs? No, says Ontario university guidelines.

Making accommodations for students who don’t particularly need them can get in the way of learning objectives as well. The problem extends beyond assignment deadline extensions. In some university classes, students who fear public speaking are now allowed to do group projects alone, or participate online rather than coming to class. Those who come to class don’t necessarily have to take part in discussions, with instructors permitting them to instead submit their participation in written form.

However, this fails to help the student learn how to engage in a respectful discussion of ideas and prevents the student from learning to develop their own voice and share their thoughts. In just about every job setting, the ability to verbally communicate your ideas is an absolute necessity. Sometimes this is a necessary shortcut—it would be impossible to have 60 students in a one-hour online tutorial answer questions verbally—but in smaller classes, where one of the core learning objectives is engaging and debating readings and their ideas, we are stunting the growth of our shy students by allowing them a way out of speaking out loud.

Universities are supposed to be places where young people learn to think critically, explore different ideas, and develop skills that will serve them in our competitive workforce. These include skills like research and writing, synthesizing material, public speaking and presentation skills, group work, time management, handling anxiety, stress and discomfort, and multitasking. It also includes handing things in on time.

By allowing what seem to be unlimited extensions with few consequences for late submissions, we are not helping young people figure out how to stickhandle through a stressful period, assess and prioritize tasks, and manage their competing workload. How will this play out for our students in the workforce? Imagine being in your very first job after university and asking your boss for a seven-day extension with no consideration for how your late work will hold up other members of your team. It could result in an angry client, frustrated management, or the loss of a project.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama once said: “Life is practice…And I tell my girls this every day. You are practicing who you are going to be. If you’re a whiner, you’re practicing being a whiner. If you’re spoiled, you’re practicing that. That doesn’t just go away. You have to start practicing who you want to be.”

We need to help students practice getting things done on time by holding them accountable. They will thank us for it five years down the road when they have developed a sense of time management. By then they will have certainly forgotten the five percent late penalty levied against them for a tardy paper. If we want students to succeed in life, we must treat them like the adults they are becoming, not the children they used to be.

Going forward, I will work to ensure a fair but firm policy for my students because my biggest goal is to help them succeed not only in class but in developing life skills. University is a time of major life change, and it is important that we help our students grow into adulthood with the best possible skillset and an understanding that being dependable and accountable are assets for life.

Sal Guatieri: How Canada’s immigration policy is affecting housing affordability

Commentary

A house that sold for more more than the listing price in West-end Toronto, Sunday, April 24, 2022. Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press.

On April 1, Canada’s population topped 41 million for the first time ever. The increase of almost a quarter million people was similar to the prior quarter. The yearly rise of 1.27 million was the most on record, while the percentage gain of 3.2 percent is the largest since 1958 and more than double the historical mean. Net international migration of 1.24 million drove almost all the rise, with two-thirds (828,000) propelled by temporary immigration.

If, as planned, the federal government slashes the number of temporary immigrants from 6.8 percent of the population to 5 percent within three years, then overall growth will slow to around 1 percent. A growing population propelled by permanent immigration targets of half a million per year will still support the housing market, but in a much more sustainable manner. Builders will have a decent chance of keeping up with household formation, reducing the risk of markets overheating and prices overshooting income growth.

Poor affordability, namely in B.C. and Ontario, is not (yet) having a serious effect on international migration. Ontario’s population grew 3.5 percent in the past year and B.C.’s rose 3.3 percent, both much faster than usual and still leading all provinces except for Alberta, whose population exploded 4.4 percent, the most since 1981. Ontario and Alberta’s population growth is about double the long-run norm. All provinces are attracting more international migrants than usual, even pricey Ontario (net 93,000) and B.C. (40,000), with Alberta (33,000) punching above its weight.

But regional affordability differences are influencing where migrants, including longtime residents, eventually end up. The biggest increases in population relative to historical norms are in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and three Atlantic provinces. What do all six regions have in common? Still-decent affordability. The sole exception is Newfoundland and Labrador with still-subdued population growth of 1 percent, though that’s twice the norm.

A total of 356,000 people moved between provinces in the past year, also more than usual. This is where differences in housing costs come to the fore. Ontario had a net outflow of 32,000 people, trending at the worst levels on record, while B.C. lost 10,000 folks to other provinces.

The hands-down winner of the interprovincial migration sweepstakes is Alberta with a net gain of 53,000, tracking the most on record. And it’s no coincidence that the biggest contributor to this gain is people leaving B.C. and Ontario. More Canadians are also moving to Atlantic Canada. While Newfoundland and Labrador did see a small net outflow, this followed a rare inflow in the prior two years. Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba also lost residents to other provinces, but Quebec’s net outflow was much smaller than usual.

Migration into affordable regions might continue for a while. As we discussed in last week’s Pathways to Affordability for Canada’s Housing Market, barring a steep decline in home prices or interest rates, restoring affordability in B.C. and Ontario could take several more years. Not surprisingly, regions where people are drawn to inexpensive housing are still seeing price gains, despite high interest rates. New Brunswick leads the way with benchmark prices up 11 percent year over year to May, followed by Alberta’s 9 percent advance.

By comparison, prices are up just 1 percent in B.C. and down 3 percent in Ontario. People are driving far or even flying to qualify these days, and their decisions to relocate could help narrow the wide gaps in regional affordability.

This post was originally published at BMO Economics.