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Procrastination: Larger Implications

Self-regulated Learning

Procrastination: Larger Implications

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Procrastination is a widespread problem among students—and, in reality, a fairly widespread problem across North America. But with students, it's a behavior that compromises learning in a number of different ways. Students end up not having enough time to deeply interact with the material, so they learn it less well. They end up submitting assignments that aren't their best work, which encourages satisfaction with lower goals and less accomplishment. Students also become convinced that they don't need to get started early because they do their best work under pressure, but that's not true for most learners.

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Procrastination is a widespread problem among students—and, in reality, a fairly widespread problem across North America. But with students, it's a behavior that compromises learning in a number of different ways. Students end up not having enough time to deeply interact with the material, so they learn it less well. They end up submitting assignments that aren't their best work, which encourages satisfaction with lower goals and less accomplishment. Students also become convinced that they don't need to get started early because they do their best work under pressure, but that's not true for most learners. Beyond those serious compromises, a study of students in different disciplines at four German institutions looked at “the effect of academic procrastination on seven different forms of academic misconduct” (p. 1014). In the first phase of the study, the researchers had students complete an empirically developed measure of procrastination. It used six questions which students rated from one (very seldom) to six (very often). For this sample item, “Although I intend to work on a university assignment, I don't do it,” the mean was 3.24. Six months later, the researchers asked the same cohort to report how often they: made up an excuse (e.g., for missing an assignment deadline), plagiarized, copied from someone else during an exam, used forbidden means during an exam (e.g., notes, cell phone), carried forbidden materials with them into an exam (e.g., crib sheets), copied another student's homework, or falsified data for a paper. Sadly, but consistent with other descriptive research findings, 75 percent of these students reported that they had engaged in at least one of the seven behaviors. “On average, the students in our study admitted to 1.44 of the investigated behaviors. The most frequent behavior was copying from other students' papers in exams. The least frequent behavior was plagiarism” (p. 1024). Students may have listed plagiarism last because, as we've reported previously in the newsletter, they don't have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is or define it inaccurately. According to the researchers, “We found that academic procrastination had robust effects on the frequencies of different forms of academic misconduct, as well as on the variety of academic misconduct” (p. 1024). In other words, procrastinating students were more often involved in dishonest behavior, and they reported engaging in a wider variety of those behaviors during the six months between the first and second surveys. Moreover, the authors “found the strongest association between academic procrastination and fraudulent excuse-making” (p. 1025). That result is not surprising. If, as a student, you're running out of time and need an extension, it's not easy to admit to the instructor that you've mismanaged your time. It's safer and maybe easier to get the extension by claiming illness or a family emergency. The point is not that procrastination causes these academic misbehaviors, only that there's an association between them. The research team points out that faculty should make students aware that procrastinating has some influence on the propensity to engage in other behaviors that are destructive to learning. They also recommend that teachers help students with time management and goal setting. For instance, educators might address how long students should expect to devote to a particular kind of assignment. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Faculty may make a recommendation, but a more persuasive answer can be provided by students who have already done the assignment. Many faculty do set intervening deadlines for various parts of large assignments. That's fine for beginning students who may have fewer time management skills, but by the time students are juniors and seniors, they should be partitioning complicated tasks and managing the time allotments required to complete the work on their own. Unfortunately, those of us in North America live in procrastination-tolerant cultures. Extensions for filing taxes are available; you can pay bills late, if you don't mind paying a penalty; and you can get your car inspected after the deadline. With few negative consequences for such inaction, it's easy to see how procrastination becomes an acceptable norm for students. What this research shows is that lax attitudes about procrastination are associated with more serious offenses. Many students have yet to learn that with procrastination and the rest of these misbehaviors, it's the learner who really loses out. Reference: Justine Patrzek, Sebastian Sattler, Floris van Veen, Carola Grunschel, and Stefan Fries. 2015. “Investigating the Effect of Academic Procrastination on the Frequency and Variety of Academic Misconduct: A Panel Study. Studies in Higher Education 40 (6): 1014–1029.