As the second half of the semester gets into full swing and finals approach, professors need to remember that students will learn more, and hence do better work, if they get graded assignments back before they’re asked to submit new ones.

The problem is fairly common, yet it remains unaccounted for in the Faculty Handbook. Currently, the handbook requires professors to evaluate assignments in a “timely” manner. There is no mention of returning assignments before assigning similar ones, and the vague terminology gives professors the freedom to grade at their leisure if they so choose.

Assignments are meant to evaluate students’ academic performance and show them where and how they can improve for the rest of the semester. If a professor does not return a paper in time for students to process their mistakes before writing the next one, how can students be expected to progress over the course of the semester? A student can make the same mistake assignment after assignment without ever being corrected. The snail-paced assignment turn-around unnecessarily harms important transcript grades while effectively teaching students nothing. If anything, it perpetuates mistakes, which is frustrating for students and professors alike.

That said, Georgetown does not completely ignore the problem. At the end of every semester, course evaluations ask students if professors returned assignments in a timely manner. Ironically enough, even this effort is too little too late. Rarely are course evaluations processed before the end of the semester, and though professors have time to improve for the following semester, time off in between reduces the sense of urgency and importance. The Office of the Provost needs to mandate that professors return assignments before assigning similar ones, and it needs to enforce the rule now.

An academic environment requires responsibility on the part of students and professors alike: The faculty holds high standards for students, but students are equally entitled to efficient, thoughtful evaluations. Giving students timely feedback helps them to learn from their mistakes when, for all practical purposes, it matters most. If professors want to do their best teaching, and the university wants to ensure a productive learning environment, it needs to make this simple expectation a reality.

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