Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – A new study from Cornell University finds that first-generation students and those belonging to underrepresented ethnic and racial groups turn in assignments later, on average, than their nonmarginalized peers.

In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers analyzed students’ anonymous grades and assignment submission times for more than 2,000 courses across a large U.S. university.

“We believe this is a group-level phenomenon related to the systemic issues that students face, especially first-generation college students and students of color,” said co-author René Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science. “These groups face unique challenges navigating college – called the hidden curriculum – and they might be working jobs on the side to make ends meet. Those are just some of the factors we believe are driving the stark differences in procrastination that we see in the data.”

About 2.6 million submission records from more than 25,000 students were analyzed using data obtained from Canvas, the learning management system used by universities. The anonymized data was joined with student demographic information from the registrar to see if specific groups of students had later average submission times than others.

Researchers found individuals belonging to a racial minority and first-generation college students procrastinate more than other groups. As expected, students who turned assignments in later tended to perform worse than students who submitted them early. The impact of the procrastination on their grades was sufficient to explain about 20% of the achievement gap observed between marginalized groups and their peers.

This method provides a simple and scalable way for instructors to identify procrastinators in their classes who may benefit from additional help. It could also provide a way to measure the success of interventions for at-risk students, to see if they reduce procrastination. 

The work was presented at the Learning at Scale 2022 conference in a paper entitled, “Large-Scale Student Data Reveal Sociodemographic Gaps in Procrastination Behavior.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Meeting Link: Learning at Scale 2022