The dog ate my computer and other contemporary student excuses

by Eszter Hargittai on June 5, 2009

At IHE, Scott Jaschik has a piece about a site that sells corrupted files to students as a way to get a few extra hours or days to finish an assignment. The idea is that the student submits a corrupted file, it takes the instructor a while to figure this out, in the meantime the student finishes the assignment.

Although I’ve never had students send me corrupted files, I’ve certainly had them supposedly send me attachments that weren’t there in reality. Of course, most people have, at one time or another, forgotten to attach a file to an email so it’s hard to assume it’s always intentional, but one wonders.

The piece made me reflect on what other excuses are emerging in the new digital environment that weren’t in vogue earlier. I’ve had students claim to have lost their Internet connection at home making it difficult to meet a deadline. While on the one hand, I tend to be skeptical of this, ISPs are sufficiently bad that it’s not completely implausible. What’s your favorite digital-era bogus excuse?

As a tribute to old excuses that presumably some still use, here’s a link to the “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” [or pdf] by Mike Adams in case there are people who haven’t seen it yet.



Jonathan M 06.05.09 at 12:14 pm

I once had a student seriously claim that all of her housemates had been on a week-long World of Warcraft binge and that as a result she didn’t have the bandwidth to access her webmail.


Eszter Hargittai 06.05.09 at 12:28 pm

That doesn’t sound like a particularly good excuse. After all, if something is going on for a week, the student has time to make other arrangements, e.g., go to the school’s library. Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that a student goes on campus at least a few times a week?


Fats Durston 06.05.09 at 12:39 pm

I had a student call me from what sounded like an airport and say he was flying to Chicago to deal with his mother’s drug overdose. It just seemed too outlandish to be false until the pre-class chatter at the next session. “Didja see Dave mackin’ on that girl on Friday?”


John 06.05.09 at 12:42 pm

During a summer session I had a student who failed to turn in an assignment via e-mail because his neighbors, from whom he was stealing a wi-fi signal, moved out, leaving him without internet access. That sounded pretty plausible to me.


Preachy Preach 06.05.09 at 12:53 pm

It was actually excrutiatingly embarrassing to have to admit once that a dog really did eat my homework…

(In other examples of my life being one long cliché, my iMac is in for repair right now, having failed a week after the warranty expired.)


Matt 06.05.09 at 1:03 pm

It’s not “ate my laptop”, but I guess since this is actual, it’s possible:


sash 06.05.09 at 1:09 pm

How about “I got my girl friend pregnant and I had to help her get an abortion.” A friend of mine used this on two seperate occasions with the same instructor.


rm 06.05.09 at 1:11 pm

The best excuses are true, but do not actually excuse the problem:
— I’ve been gone without explanation for two weeks because my horses got sick and needed constant attention.
— I forgot to set my alarm. (For classes beginning at 11:15, 12:05, 12:30 . . . .) No, I don’t work third shift.
— I was in a car accident. (This is, of course, a real problem, but . . . .) So I deserve an A for a class I was only able to attend once. (As opposed to a medical withdrawal and coming back next term).
— I have a student job setting up for the graduation ceremony, so I can’t take the final exam.


KP 06.05.09 at 2:24 pm

Whenever I get “corrupted” files from students, I tell them they’ll have to copy and paste the body of their paper into an email for me, so I can see that it is indeed done…if I don’t receive this within the next 8 hours, it’s as late as it would be UNcorrupted.

I’ve only ever received 2 or 3 such files. I wonder if it will increase after this? Now I know to look for 5 and/or 10 page files!


the teeth 06.05.09 at 2:45 pm

Wait — what’s wrong with ‘I was in a car accident’ as an excuse? That seems as legitimate as they get. I’m missing something.


ry 06.05.09 at 3:20 pm

Some methods:

Games with filenames
Students are supposed to write essay drafts. So name your files appropriately, like Week 1 Assignment v4.doc. So when the dateline hits and your essay is half-complete, send in the incomplete essay. The prof may realise quickly and reply, but most college IT policies don’t oblige students to check their mail more than once a day, so you’ve got a day at least. Then send in your complete Week 1 Assignment v5.doc.

Games with filenames redux
Send in last semester’s Week 1 Assignment.doc. Or a different course’s essay. It’s just too regrettable that the upload prompt doesn’t show you thumbnails, I guess!

Digital ephemerality
Say you’ve got a 10k essay. You’ve written about 2/3 of your essay, but perhaps you’re missing some crucial section that you don’t have time to finish. Write a conclusion and mash it together anyway, then send it. Clearly you deleted a massive section in the middle totally by accident and never realised. It helps if you know how Word behaves with deletion and styles; having a few paragraphs formatted as HEADING 1 makes the point clearly. This only works if you have the majority of an essay, though.

Software monoculture
Back when everyone used Office 2000 or XP, it was easily possible to write a *.doc of arbitrary size that crashed Word when opened, using Word. Office then was pretty temperamental; too many styles? Pages? Formatting marks? The next time you tried to open the file, boom.

This is even ‘better’ than a corrupt file: the essay is apparently all there, it just won’t open! How mysterious. And since it can’t be opened, you’ll just have to have a few days to rewrite it from scratch, no? However, it is considerably harder to do so now in a manner that crashes XP, 2003, 2007,, or other possibilities; be sure to check what your prof uses (see the versions on the *.doc files s/he writes).

IT paranoia
Some colleges enforce network-wide use of AV software. AV can be somewhat… overreactive. Attach a Word macro virus from 2002; the flaw would have been long patched and the bug harmless, but the AV will merrily delete it anyway when the prof downloads it. This works optimally with garbled documents. The hardest part is finding an appropriate macro that the AV will reliably twig on.


chris y 06.05.09 at 3:58 pm

My wife, who was a student during the brief period in the early 1908s during which people shifted from typewriters to computers, had the honour of submitting what was believed at the time to be the first “student assignment on a corrupt disk” in the history of her faculty. It was perfectly genuine, but what was striking was that nobody had foreseen the possibility, and they had no idea what would be an appropriate response. You’d think somebody would have thought of it.


Peter L 06.05.09 at 4:02 pm

The only undocumented excuse I have ever accepted was when a student missed class because he had been stabbed in the neck during a shoplifting incident at the store where he worked. Actually, that part was documented by the news. He missed class because he sneezed, tore out the stitches, and the campus health center couldn’t take care of him, so he had to tape paper towels to his neck and head to his doctor’s office (which was as close as the nearest hospital). He was also a good, steady student, so I was inclined to believe him. Plus, I had seen the bandages, since we rode the bus together.

Tech excuses get nowhere with me. I tell the students on the first day of class that printer errors, internet failure, etc are just signs of having not planned far enough ahead to deal with the unexpected, and that is more an admission of guilt than bad luck.


Shawn Crowley 06.05.09 at 4:12 pm

I missed an organic chemistry final. My excuse was being in jail and I had the newspaper account of the arrest as proof. The professor was pleased with the originality of my situation and let me take a make-up exam.


Devon 06.05.09 at 4:33 pm

I had a friend that used to do this all the time, the old fashioned way, by just typing out long, random strings of characters.

It is because of them that I will never accept anything but a physical copy of any paper I assign, should I ever teach.


George W 06.05.09 at 5:04 pm

When I was in school (late 80s) the common trick was to goose the margins and/or font size till your paper was the required length. Pretty dull by today’s standards (corrupted disk stall: brilliant), but back then it was revolutionary. Three and a half pages became four and a quarter, and that could pass for five since the numeral “5” appeared at the bottom of the last page.

More recently, I am reminded of the “mosquito” cell tone that kids could use in class because adults cannot hear it. Not an excuse per se, but a great use of technology to flout academic authority.


alex 06.05.09 at 5:22 pm

*Ahem*, since academic authority is based on actually knowing stuff, ‘flouting’ it could only be the act of a f*ckwit. I think you mean ‘flouting disciplinary authority’ – which often has a f*ckwit on both ends.


Eszter Hargittai 06.05.09 at 5:59 pm

I think it’s amusing that my call for contemporary variations on excuses has resulted in a walk down memory lane regarding old ones.:)

goose the margins and/or font size till your paper was the required length

Is there anyone out there who didn’t do this at one point or another? I think some students still do this. That’s one of the reasons why I give instructions on number of words instead of number of pages. (Today I think we can take it for granted that a program would provide that info easily.)


dan 06.05.09 at 6:14 pm

“Flash drive lost/stolen” could be one. Even if it’s honest, the student should still have backed up to email or a hard drive or somewhere. (Note: Have actually done this personally.)(Did not back up to email or a hard drive or somwhere.)


dan 06.05.09 at 6:23 pm

Alternately problems on the professor’s end can be a saving grace – A few times I’ve sent things off to teachers only to find they bounced back due to low school storage limits and a resulting full mailbox.


watson aname 06.05.09 at 6:56 pm

Today I think we can take it for granted that a program would provide that info easily.

We can rely on quite a bit more, in the right context. I had a class of tech. savvy students who were going to hand in several largish assignments electronically including data and code on particular dates. To avoid the usual raft of excuses (email bounced because it was too big, lost my USB drive, etc) I started the class with a policy that late assignments would be accepted for a week after the date so long ans they had the same MD5 sum contained in an email (or alternative) that had been provided to me by the due date. I also gave them pointers to the software to do this.


Matt D 06.05.09 at 6:57 pm

“What? You didn’t get my email?”

Their proof was the date stamp-less message in their “drafts” folder, which of course is not the same thing as a “sent” folder.


GeoX 06.05.09 at 7:02 pm

“Not only is the file corrupt, but I typed my paper in the computer lab and emailed it to you and didn’t save it anywhere else and I’ve since deleted everything in my outbox!”

This is a thing I heard. As a naive person, I took this more or less at face value. It WAS a pretty hapless student, and as you are all no doubt aware, there are some seriously hapless students out there. Still, writing it out like that, it does look pretty laughable.


rea 06.05.09 at 7:04 pm

goose the margins and/or font size till your paper was the required length

The federal court of appeals apparently has staffers armed with rulers measuring all this–I once got an irate call from a staffer about the fontsize of the page numbers in my brief (although not the text itself)(I used 12 point, when 14 point was required), and had to explain via letter to the court that I did not know how to change the size of the page numbers in MS Word and would they please grant me a variance.

On the other hand, they granted an extension of time for my brief when my hard drive crashed.


David 06.05.09 at 7:10 pm

I had professors who would only accept digital submissions and others who would only accept hard copy, which would seem to obviate the problem of digital distress. There are web based systems (computer science classes tend to use them) that pretty much render the lost, forgotten, corrupted attachment excuse null and void.


George W 06.05.09 at 7:21 pm

Alex, you’re correct that I meant “disciplinary authority,” or more accurately, “disciplinary authority in an academic setting,” which for purposes of this blog comment I shortened to “academic authority.” You’re also correct that “academic authority” has another connotation, which in certain disciplines carries a legitimate imprimatur of unimpeachable truth. So, for the record, I’d like to thank you for demonstrating the *other* sort of academic authority, the kind that I’d vigorously flout all day long, up and down the lecture hall, regardless of what the disciplinary authorities had to say about it.


Paul Gowder 06.05.09 at 7:22 pm

Has anyone else been tempted to goose the margins, fonts, etc. to make a too-long paper fit into fewer pages? I always resisted that temptation, but I was really close on several occasions to doing it.


watson aname 06.05.09 at 7:32 pm

Paul@20 : That sort of thing is very common in grant proposals with page limits….


Neel Krishnaswami 06.05.09 at 8:33 pm

Has anyone else been tempted to goose the margins, fonts, etc. to make a too-long paper fit into fewer pages? I always resisted that temptation, but I was really close on several occasions to doing it.

Computer scientists publish primarily in conferences, usually with fairly low page limits. Everyone I know has a bag of tricks for tweaking LaTeX templates to fit more text into the page limit. These tricks are part of the oral culture of each research group, and I bet you could work out academic ancestry by applying cladistic techniques on the tricks used to compress papers.


Kingsley 06.05.09 at 8:33 pm

Back in high school, most of my professors had never heard of alternatives to Microsoft Office. To buy myself a bit of time on papers, I would just save what I has so far in Writer format (.odt). That usually bought me two or three days. By then, I would have a .doc file ready when the teacher asked for it.


Watson Aname 06.05.09 at 8:45 pm

These days, Neel, I suspect such an analysis would more likely lead you to a few common web sites/blog postings on the subject…


Old-Timer 06.05.09 at 10:03 pm

Oy weh. I once had to figure out how to get a professor to accept the “sick mother” excuse when it was real. It did happen once, you know. This was a joint paper, and the mother was my co-author’s.

Reality intervened to save us. It turned out that we had misunderstood when the due date was, and we got it in on time after all.

All this was so far back that Bill Gates was still in Junior High.


omega Centauri 06.05.09 at 11:04 pm

It wasn’t school but a government software project. Long before there was such a thing as a removable hard disk (and email came much later than that). The deliverable for a milestone (proof of progress) was to deliver a computer tape. It never said anything had to be on the tape, so a blank tape was sent (and formally it was sufficient to buy time until the second milestone).


Dan Mitchell 06.05.09 at 11:08 pm

I came up with a policy regarding online assignments and assignments with an “electronic” component that has generally worked well. It goes something like this: If you encounter a technical issue that interferes with your ability to complete an assignment by the deadline and report it to me at least 48 hours before the deadline I will “bend over backwards” to help you and I will consider an extension if nothing else works. If you report a problem less than 48 hours before the deadline I’ll still do my best to help you work it out but I will not extend the deadline and your work will either not be accepted late or will receive a late penalty (depending upon the assignment).

Since the real problem tends to be the procrastination rather than the network, etc. problem per se… this has generally reduce the number of “computer ate my homework” issues to nearly zero.


Matthew Dentith 06.05.09 at 11:43 pm

I feel rather left out; I’ve not had any problems with students and their essays (well, the only ‘problem’ I do have is spending a little too much time reading new drafts of essays; I sometimes think I might be a little too strident in my calls for ‘draft early, draft often’).

Still, I must admit that whilst writing my thesis I did discover that I could automatically gain a few days grace in submitting draft sections by telling my supervisors I had to convert the LaTeX files to Word docs. It really wasn’t an excuse, though; for some reason I could never get the references to resolve properly in the converted document and I had to go through and replace them.


guest 06.06.09 at 12:00 am

Ah yes, and there’s always changing from a variable-width font to a fixed-width font to gain a page or so in length. Courier was so popular for this, the engineers at my school gave it a name, the “Courier Transformation” (where Courier is pronounced like the French fourier).


sara 06.06.09 at 12:37 am

At my school profs now require papers to be in single space rather than double space, presumably because it is harder to tweak single space.


Miranda 06.06.09 at 12:45 am

The best excuse I ever got was last year when an 18yo male student told me his attendance would be really spotty because he had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and was in the toilet a lot. I totally believed him, and anyway I had to respect the ability of the student to say this to my face if it was a lie. Brilliant.


Tim Wilkinson 06.06.09 at 1:08 am

. . Nature of excuse>>>|.real attempt to convince. . .|.token attempt. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
VVV Context of excuse. |. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
appeal to discretion . |The topic of most posts here. |Despair, or a formality accompanying . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|Success often best guaranteed.|implicit appeal to (say) sympathy or . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|by 'big lie' or inventiveness |affection. Attempts to gain credit, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .| - poss, as pointed out above,|without credence, for inventiveness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|to the exclusion of genuine . |also belong here. In such cases, a . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|excuses. NB: checkability or a|grin of complicity may affect the outcome
. . . . . . . . . . . .|policy of checking/requiring .|either way, but at least has the advantage
. . . . . . . . . . . .|evidence may put a case here .|of being honest. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|which would otherwise belong .|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|in the category below. . . . .|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
fait accompli . . . . .|The default setting for sick .|A good way of expressing contempt for the
. . . . . . . . . . . .|days. Sometimes possible to . |boss. Or more subtly, the opposite, if . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|observe this being prepared . |done so that the transparency of the . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|in advance, with unconvincing |supposed ploy is common knowledge. Or - .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|sniffles. . . . . . . . . . . |perhaps if accompanied by a (false) show .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |of embarrassment - a way of inducing the .
. . . . . . . . . . . .|. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |(false) appearance of poor lying skills. .


SusanC 06.06.09 at 10:14 am

I’ll confess that when I was an undergrad, I tried a few of these excuses. But a few years later, as a postgrad who had to teach undergrads, I realised that your supervisor doesn’t care – at least, in a system where assessment is based on examinations, not coursework, they don’t care. If the student doesn’t feel like doing any work, that’s the student’s problem. I am quite OK with my students telling me that they didn’t complete this week’s assignment because they were procrastinating/out partying/going to drop the course anyway. Though I might gently remind them that if they actually want to get a degree, they had had better learn enough to do the exam questions.

Now I’m a postdoc, I get to try out the same lame excuses on conference program commitees :-) This week I had to tell the proceedings editor that the final version of the conference summary was late because … umm… Vista ate my computer. (Actually true, in this case. I will spare you the sorry tale that starts innocently enough with a hot summer day, and the consequent failiure of a cooling fan, and rapidly decends into a horror story of file system corruption and why none of the multiple backups on different media were readable…)

Luckily, some of the author of papers in the proceedings were even later than I was….


Matthias Wasser 06.06.09 at 10:30 am

I’ve always used footnotes intead of interstitial citations, even when the latter was technically required by the format – partially because I think it’s prettier that way, partially because it’s an easy way to jack up the pagecount. No professor ever seemed to have a problem with it.

On one occassion I actually was locked out of the room in which my computer, holding the final draft of my paper, was held – and could not simply go to the desk for a key because it was not my own room – fortunately I got back in in time, though. But I wonder how the professor would have otherwise interpreted my apolgetically sending him my works cited list, since that, after all, had been automatically saved on Easybib.


Chris Bertram 06.06.09 at 10:47 am

Actual student appeal for change of class time:

“It is unfair and unreasonable to expect me to attend a class on a Thursday morning because I am in the rugby team, which plays on Wednesdays, and I am _morally obliged_ to get drunk with the rest of the team after the match.”


Barry 06.06.09 at 11:37 am

Chris, if it was in a commonwealth country, that’s actually a legal excuse :)


CK Dexter 06.06.09 at 2:13 pm

My policy for emailed assignments is that it counts as received when I have the text in hand. I tell them to copy the text into the email as well as attach it, so if the file doesn’t work or isn’t attached, I still have the text.


bianca steele 06.06.09 at 3:06 pm

Some of the commenters at the other blog have pointed out this happens in the corporate world too.

EH: Of course, most people have, at one time or another, forgotten to attach a file to an email so it’s hard to assume it’s always intentional, but one wonders.

Yes, enough to make one very anxious the fourth or fifth time one’s own “can you review this?” message goes out without the content to review. If you’re switching between Windows and Mac, it’s very easy to “Send” your long, complicated message when you meant to “Save” before making some drastic edits. But when someone sends an e-mail to a mailing list saying “You must read the above! THIS IS IMPORTANT! The new corporate owners are mandating that we must follow the rules! Please do it as soon as possible if you have not done so already!” and leaves off the attachment, one suspects at the least some amount of passive-aggression.

When I went to print the final copy of my master’s thesis, the high cloth-content paper I had to use had been sitting around long enough (since I’d submitted the sample) that it had absorbed humidity from the air, and it stuck together going through the printer and had to be thrown out.


Anthony 06.06.09 at 3:11 pm

@14 – a physics professor of mine may have dealt with similar problems. At the class introduction he said he would come and bail us out of jail if we would otherwise miss an exam.


rand careaga 06.06.09 at 3:23 pm

As an undergraduate in the early 1970s I once began a midterm paper (on Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta) the evening before it was due, as was my practice then, when the power went out in that end of the county and stayed out until morning. I was not, of course, using a computer, so no work was lost. I was using an electric typewriter, so progress was impeded. Fortunately I had candles on hand and a backup unit in the form of a dusty, rather ill-maintained forty year-old portable Underwood, so I had a completed work product in time for class. I recall that the instructor returned it with a dry note to the effect that he might have guessed as to the timeline of its composition even without the obvious discontinuity beginning on page three.


delagar 06.06.09 at 4:22 pm

It was during my first year of teaching here in Arkansas that I got my favorite late paper excuse of all time: one of my freshmen comp students told me his paper would be late because, the night before, his stepfather had shot his computer with his shotgun while he was messing around, and it would take him awhile to get a new one.

I didn’t believe it for a minute, but it was damn good.


oudemia 06.06.09 at 4:48 pm

I’ve gotten attachments that were random other documents — in each case from students who were big excuse makers so I am fairly certain it was intentional.
This term I had a student who would claim to have emailed a paper to me 3x: “You mean you never got it?” When asked to produce a hard copy, he claimed a crashed computer. When told a paper would only be accepted on X date, he sent an email claiming violent mugging and assault and hospitalization, which I would “know is true” when I saw the stitches in his face. He showed up to the next class with nary a mark on his face, but his arm in a sling!


djw 06.06.09 at 5:21 pm

Paul@27, I’ve done it. The shift from page to world limits in journals has made the practice largely irrelevent for publishing, though.

My favorite: I didn’t get your (assignment, reminder, message) because my email inbox is full. (Unfortunately where I teach it’s a real problem).


Eszter Hargittai 06.06.09 at 5:58 pm

Chris @42 LOL

bianca steele @45 so humidity ate your master’s thesis, sad.

oudemia @49 if that was all the same student then it becomes rather obvious that these are indeed just excuses.

I myself require both an e-copy and hard copy of most assignments partly due to this issue, but partly also because I have no desire to sit around opening up and printing x number of attachments and I prefer to read student work on paper rather than on the screen.


ScentOfViolets 06.06.09 at 7:33 pm

Two stories and a comment: yes, sometimes you have to fiddle with margins etc. to decrease the length for some professors; I’ve never been given a good reason for this. It’s either ‘policy’ or to get students to express themselves concisely. I don’t buy the first excuse, and as to the second, messing about with the style and fonts will only get you so much extra room. A 10-page paper going on for 20 pages I could plausibly deduct points for, especially if it was done to ‘make up’ for the fact that it was typed out after midnight and due in less than eight hours. But a five pages running to a sixth page?

As to submissions: our IT department as gone through three different changes in the email system in less than a year, with an extra one for our department alone. I’ve had people I didn’t believe swear up and down that they sent me email, only to find out later it got bounced to a supposedly dead address. IT people, keep your platforms stable and consistent.

Finally, way back in the day when computers were first being introduced to the university, I had a guy who came in that wanted to convert his WordStar file into WordPerfect. I could see a file on his (5 1/4″) disk using (DOS) utilities, and I tried to convert it. What I got was hash with no backup, and he made my supervisor write him a note to his instructor excusing him. What I also got was a dressing-down and a note in my employee file. Come to find out a week or so later (I kept the ‘bad’ disk), there was no original WordStar document. What I had gotten was just hash with various prefs tweaked so that it was copied to a hidden file. The followup was an apology from my boss, and tracking down the student’s professor, who verified he had a history of turning in things late because tech issues.

So that’s another trick: finagling an innocent third party into corrupting your ‘project’ and getting an accepted authority to write your excuse for you.


Jeff 06.06.09 at 11:14 pm

Even if the document is ‘corrupted’ and unopenable within the relevant application (e.g. MS Word), I think there would normally be a large number of visible and relevant words (ascii characters) within the file, viewable and retrievable with a data recovery program. Hence this scam shouldn’t work. Or am I wrong?


ScentOfViolets 06.07.09 at 2:07 am

Well, in the end, it didn’t work. But that’s only because I kept working on the original file. He initially came into the IT offices fifteen minutes before class with a story about how the instructor required a regular printout, and all he had at home was a daisy wheel printer, and that the computer labs didn’t have WordStar, etc. If I hadn’t kept the original disk, he would have gotten away with it.

I don’t know how it is now, but back in the day, we at AITS prided ourselves on going the extra mile to provide good, professional service. If somebody ran in out of breath with a story about a file that needed to be converted in the next five minutes so that they get to class on time, we would be on it, with no thought about motivations(after all, we were mostly students too.) The key is in rushing the workers, of course.


Icy Tee 06.07.09 at 10:43 am

I don’t work in HE but in the school sector, (in the UK), I’ve not had an instance of this. But apparently unreadable files have created problems consistently for some of my colleagues over the past few years – the issue is file formats.

Learners sometimes use applications that are not available in school (e.g. MS Works) and save them in proprietary file formats that can’t be read in school. Or they have a later version of MS Word than the school and don’t save in a backward compatible format. Most teachers don’t know about readers and translators (nor should they need to) and many of these files end up in my inbox to sort out.

Perhaps the various XML file formats might sort this out in the future but with the lag in software acquisition by both institutions and individuals I’m not holding my breath. As I sit here editing this piece in the ‘Blogger’ editor my thoughts turn to Learning Platforms to provide a solution. An LP worthy of that title will provide an editor with more formatting capability than most teachers would wish to see in a piece of written work and the option to ‘lock’ a final delivery edit at a defined time. Learners can use the editor to create their work or paste in the text from their word processor of choice.

If work is to be delivered digitally surely standardising around the server platform must offer the best chance of consistency and elimination of ‘corrupt file syndrome’?


mathman_mr_t 06.07.09 at 2:34 pm

i teach 6th grade math. the best excuse i ever heard was

“aliens landed in our back yard and took my homework as an artifact of our civilization.”

i gave him an extra day to turn it in for the creativity of the excuse.


One time student 06.07.09 at 3:57 pm

Here’s an excuse:

“Actually, I’m 19. Never really lived on my own before and I’m just learning about life as an adult – and by that, I mean life besides working a treadmill like we will all be doing for the rest of our lives gradually succumbing to depression, joylessness, mid-life crisis and weeping over our many regrets in a care home like my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. I appreciate learning and education and don’t wish to disrespect this institution or you, but I postponed writing that particular assignment in favour of spontaneity, joy, the company of people I care for and new experiences in years that I will never get back again in the hope that I will retain enough happiness to get me through the soul-crushing, alienating working life in the poorly-thought out civilisation humanity has created for itself to endure. Thanks.”


herr doktor bimler 06.07.09 at 11:37 pm

Genetic-engineering projects gone wrong: “My homework ate the dog.”


cwalken 06.08.09 at 7:04 am

I used to get all sorts of creative excuses, from the true and verifiable like “I was mugged during a hold up while shopping at Footlocker” to the fishy procrastination of “My boyfriend broke his arm and I have to drive him to the doctor’s to get his cast off.”

But after instituting a policy of one 24 hour extension per semester when a student wants it, no penalty no questions asked, I’ve never got a late excuse again.


ajay 06.08.09 at 10:27 am

The essay crisis from “The Secret History” —

“What did you do to this? The lines are about an inch apart.”
“Triple-spaced it,” said Bunny proudly. “Looks kinda like free verse, doesn’t it?”
Henry made a funny snorting sound. “Looks kinda like a menu.”


Praisegod Barebones 06.08.09 at 10:37 am

Actual student appeal for change of class time:

“It is unfair and unreasonable to expect me to attend a class on a Thursday morning because I am in the rugby team, which plays on Wednesdays, and I am morally obliged to get drunk with the rest of the team after the match.”

Chris, the wording of this one makes me strongly suspect that one of your colleagues put them up to it. Since this is a public forum I won’t name any likely names…


rm 06.08.09 at 8:42 pm

Way above, I mentioned the car accident excuse, and commenter “the teeth” asked about it. Sorry — I thought I could use bullet list formatting here, and I can’t, so my comment was unreadable.

I have no problem excusing an absence for a car accident, and will bend over backwards to help that student catch up if practicable.

The problem is this: “I had the accident, so I only attended your class one time, and did no work, but now that it’s the end of the semester can’t you give me an A?”

No, but I can refer you to helpful administrators who will clear your transcript and refund your money and allow you to re-enroll with no penalties.


rm 06.08.09 at 8:45 pm

That’s a good excuse at #57. I’d take it. Once.


Ted 06.09.09 at 2:09 am

My position is that anything serious enough for you to miss a deadline is going to leave a paper trail. You can therefore provide a doctor’s note, a copy of the towing company’s bill for your car, a note from the funeral home, a police report, or something similar. Works pretty well.


Thom Blake 06.09.09 at 9:22 pm


I would prefer not to make a student go through the trouble of getting a note from the funeral home when her father dies.

My position is that if you think you had a good enough reason to miss a deadline, then it’s not my place to question it. One student’s broken leg is as good as another’s emergency walk in the park. The penalty for a late paper is not getting it back in a timely fashion (which might easily hurt your grade in other ways).

Worrying about students who might be breaking the rules is just unfair to those who are following them. The professor’s time is for those that are there to learn. Those that aren’t are already hurting themselves.


Craig U 06.11.09 at 8:14 pm

Two excuses I received this past semester:

“I turned in my paper last week, but sent it to the wrong email address.”

Could have been true, but when I pointed out the “bounce-back” feature for misdeliveries she got all humble and admitted that she had lied. That became a more serious offense than the late paper.

“The guy working next to me in the computer lab accidentally kicked the power cord for my computer out of its socket, and after I rebooted it the paper I had been working on had disappeared.”

When asked, she told me with a straight face that she hadn’t saved the file once during her supposed four-hour editing session. As with many of the above excuses, given what I knew of this student it sounded entirely plausible.

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