Technology Policies on Course Syllabi

It’s final exam time for most of us in higher education. We are scrambling to give final exams, grade student work, submit grades, and leave for the winter break with just a little bit of sanity and a few working brain cells. Then it hits: the excuses for missing or late work.

In June of 2009, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed noted that the old excuse “the dog ate my homework” has been replaced by a new student excuse for late or missing class work. Today, tech savvy (or not so tech savvy) students blame technology for their lack of, um, achievement in the classroom.

Here are a few examples:

  • the student’s flash drive is corrupted or lost
  • the student’s computer crashed
  • the student says he/she absolutely emailed it to you so you must have it
  • the student’s home computer has Windows Vista (or XP or is a MAC) and is not compatible with the systems on campus (and she can’t print, access, email ….)
  • the student can’t access the university email account and that’s where the document happens to be and he can’t remember password or log in information
  • the student can’t print (no paper, no ink, no money….)
  • the student can’t convert .doc to .docx files (or has used a file type that you can’t open)
  • the student says the printers in the library (or computer lab) didn’t have any paper (or the printers were broken…all of them), and the student couldn’t print out the work to turn in

For some faculty, as Jaschik’s article notes, the “technology excuse” is a clear example of academic dishonesty (when the student lies about such technological disasters and thereby receives extra time to complete an assignment). For other faculty, however, technology problems are almost a certainty in any semester, and they have planned accordingly by outlining clear and concise “technology excuse” statements on their syllabi. These statements explain what professors will or will not accept from students in terms of technological problems.

In August of 2009, before the fall semester began in most locations, Natalie Houston wrote a ProfHacker post about making over your syllabus for a new term or a new class, and she provides a wealth of helpful information. At the end of the term, however, when problems and successes in your current courses are still fresh in your mind, thinking about next term’s syllabus becomes important. And as much as we might not want to think about next semester in the midst of final exams, this is a good time to do so.

In this new recurring series, ProfHacker will examine syllabus statements, we will share the statements that we have, and we will ask for samples from you. The statements will cover a broad range of policy issues: attendance, technology in/out of the classroom, late work, etc. Today’s post is about the technology excuse. As with other ProfHacker articles, we are not proposing to provide the definitive answer about how to handle issues in your classroom. And this post isn’t an invitation to rant about students’ lack of ability, their dishonesty, or how it was, you know, back in the day when we only had to deal with household pets destroying our homework. We hope to open a conversation that will allow us all to discuss the effectiveness of policy statements on our syllabi. We hope to learn from you.


Some examples of these statements are short and to the point; others are a little more detailed. This is an example of one such policy statement about technology excuses from Teach the Web.

Let’s face it: technology breaks. servers go down, transfers time out, files become corrupt. The list goes on and on. These are not considered emergencies. They are part of the normal production process. An issue you may have with technology is no excuse for late work. You need to protect yourself by managing your time and backing up your work.    


Here is one short and simple statement (similar to many others found on the Internet):

No papers will be accepted via e-mail and computer problems are not an excuse for late work. No late work will be accepted.


Lastly, a detailed (if dated) statement from Laredo Community College, among dozens of other institutions using the same wording:

Computer viruses are, unfortunately, a fact of life. Using the diskettes on more than one computer creates the possibility of infecting computers and diskettes with a computer virus Using email and surfing and downloading from the Internet also creates exposure to viruses. Therefore, the computers of the college, your personal computer, and any other computer you may be using can be exposed to potentially damaging viruses. The college has aggressive anti‐virus procedures in place to protect its computers, but cannot guarantee that a virus might not temporarily infect one of its machines. It is your responsibility to protect all computers under your control and use and ensure that each computer hard drive and any diskettes you use, whenever or wherever you use them, have been scanned with anti‐virus software. Since new viruses arise continually, your anti‐virus software must be kept current. And, since no anti‐virus software will find every virus, keeping copies of data (backups) is extremely important. BACK UP AND SAVE ALL YOUR COURSE ASSIGNMENTS, CORRESPONDENCE, AND WORK.


How about you? What kind of technology policy do you have on your syllabus? Have you found such a policy to be effective in slowing the rate of technology-related excuses for late work? Please leave suggestions or sample policy statements in comments below.

[Image by Flickr user puppinurss. Licensed under creative commons.]

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