Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination


Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise.

A couple of alternatives occur to me:

  1. Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work.
  2. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in two months. But now that we’ve agreed that it can’t be done in one day, I don’t want to see anyone working on it at the last minute.”

  1 comment for “Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

  1. ------
    6 Apr 2015 at 6:25 pm

    A computer major satisfactorily completed the semester project for one class during the first month of classes. The professor was furious.

    One way to avoid due date surprises is to set intermediate deadlines, expect progress reports, and offer feedback. In the absence of dedicated academic software, much of this can be handled via PDF forms or even e-mail.

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