ALT, Conferences, HigherEd

Skip your sleep, it is 23:59 – an ALT 2022 presentation follow up

“Skip your sleep, it is 23:59”, this is the presentation my collaborator, Dr Jim Turner, and I presented at the recent #altc22.

This is a rather big and uncomfortable topic, as we are so used to following the status quo set eons ago, mostly by staff who are long retired and/or who do not understand the 21st-century HE landscapes anymore.

Thirty minutes was perhaps too short to discuss this topic in depth as it was equally important to discuss the dynamics of deadlines. However, there remains a few examples to elicit your curiosity and deepen your understanding of intersectionality, assessment, and deadlines.

Before proceeding with examples of intersectionality and how this can affect assessment and assessment deadlines, particularly culture, faith, religion, race, etc, let us first agree on something.

We, staff, often do assume that students are procrastinating. We believe that imposing hard deadlines will get the job (aka assignment) done, and ease our own job of not having to deal with extenuating circumstances from ‘difficult’ students.

Let us be honest about this, deadlines benefit us more than they benefit students. You are probably seeking extensive literature here to back up my point. Here is what, I will not provide literature for my first-person experience.

If you have been reading my blogs, you would notice that I usually tend to keep it simple with mostly three points – I might do a follow-up blog with more examples, but would expect readers to be active learners around understanding intersectionality.

1 An example I shared during the #altc22 presentation stemmed from an activity where a participant wrote down that their institutions had a 4pm deadline for assessments.

I will make it simple for staff to understand. Across the sector, we all know 4pm meetings are unsuitable for working parents with young children in daycare centres or even for picking kids from schools, many institutions even report about how supportive they are to working parents, something you often see in Athena Swan initiatives and reports. Then why do we think that 4pm assignment deadlines are appropriate for our students with childcare responsibilities?

2 Deadlines that fall on non-Christian religions and cultural festivals are still taboo in the UK due to a lack of understanding and a fear of being misunderstood.

How often have we heard of assignment deadlines scheduled on the Spring festival or Bakr Eid and other non-Christian festivals? Or how about the Friday afternoon deadlines that coincide with Salat al Jumah (the Friday afternoon prayer for Muslims – very much still unknown within UK HE, given that many Muslim students are still having to fight for prayer rooms in universities).

I do not expect every single academic/professional services staff to be culturally aware of ALL cultures and faiths of ALL their students or even to bother to ask students if any date is unsuitable – that would be a too far-stretch expectation in the UK (yes, I am specifying the UK here). I have been very lucky to be born and to grow up in Mauritius (am I right if some of you reading this here are thinking – well stay in Mauritius then – I get this a lot even among highly educated staff from academia). While growing up, if a school trimester was to start on a festival day, the first school day would simply be postponed. There was no need to have a task force set up for this, to discuss at length the impact of students, education because it is well understood that students have families and that cultural/religious festivals are important and precious family times. This is something that UK HE seems to take no notice of, despite that 21.7% of undergraduates are non-Christians (with 13% identifying as Muslims) and 605,130 students are international students, out of which 452,225 are from outside the EU (according to 2020/2021 statistics). It is also worth noting that the top 10 non-EU countries of origin of the non-EU international students are China, India, Nigeria, the US, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudia Arabia, Canada, and Singapore, all countries which are culturally rich, with a range of religious and ethnic diversities.

3 The additional challenges of int’l and TNE students

I have been lucky to have pursued my higher education in five different countries, which exposed me to different ways of teaching and learning, and obviously different experiences around assessment – varying from exams only, coursework only, open book exams, oral exams, presentations only, program codes only, well such a range, given that my studies were interdisciplinary.

Needless to say, as an Erasmus+ mobility student, I had the misfortune of being tied up to a VLE with a GMT deadline, while being physically in a different time zone with a few hours difference from the UK. At the time, not a single staff ever realised that this caused undue stress and anxiety to students enrolled in mobility programmes. Being raised in an educational system where academic success was a stepping stone to coming out of poverty, I never felt comfortable asking for an extension, not even when I had to fly from Spain, hardly slept the whole night, and had an exam the next day during which my hand was paining so much that I hardly performed well in that paper. I was not familiar with missing exams, having retakes, or even asking for extensions, that was a sign of failure for me. Several years later, I wonder why I actually sat through those exams when I was physically in pain or even spent sleepless nights trying to submit coursework with hard deadlines while I was having to sort out accommodation, visas, etc. in another country.

However, my story is not new and is not different from the many international students present in the UK right now, nor different from those enrolled in TNE programmes. Several years on, there has still been very little progress in understanding the cultural perspectives of deadlines and assessment in particular for international and TNE students.

I could be writing so much about this and equally Point 2 above, however, none would make sense to staff who have not had first-hand experience of these challenges. Therefore, my word of advice to academics and professional services staff, is to please, or rather pretty please, listen to your students and set deadlines and provide extensions with as little fuss as possible. They will definitely remember your kindness and pass this forward in their own practice and industry.

Reflections & Take Away

Beyond the three points that I wrote above, there are undoubtedly more intersectional considerations, for instance disability. Please let us all collectively reflect on our practices. What is important to reflect on is that:

“In a nutshell, understanding intersectionality is understanding what you are and what you are not” ~ Dr Teeroumanee Nadan

What new thing have you learned today – please Tweet about it and let us continue the conversation with the wider community. Here is a Padlet to guide your practice

My co-presenter Dr Turner covered the cultural understandings of deadlines, so it is definitely the slides and references are definitely worth a read.


Further reading

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