Visualizing Essay Submission Times

04 Feb 2014

I’ve long held the following hypotheses about my academic behavior: (1) that my ability to responsibly submit homework before deadlines decays exponentially as the quarter progresses and (2) that I end up completing homework at ungodly hours as a result.

In Spring 2011, I took a course on the History and Philosophy of Modern Science (HIPS) taught by Professor James Evans that allowed for an interesting test for both myself and others. Every week, each student in the course was required to write a 700 word memo due by Thursday 9AM. These were posted on the course’s Blackboard forum and available to all those enrolled.

In the below, I experiment with a way to visualize submission times that captures the sequential nature (yes, I’m aware that the use of histograms would be sensible here). I plot submissions on a polar coordinate system in a way that mimicks a clock. Moreover, the points snake outwards based on the amount of time until the deadline. That is, essays submitted closer to the deadline are further from the center. Note that assignments 1 and 10 are omitted because they had unusual deadlines.

A few things jump out:

  • Students really do write essays at ungodly hours (I’m assuming they don’t just happen to submit them at 4AM for fun).
  • There is always a clump of students submitting their essays at the last minute, or after. Are these always the same students? Probably…
  • A fair number of people submitted Assignments 2 and 5 well before the deadline. Assignment 5 was due the same week as the midterm, so some students likely chose to get it out of the way ahead of time.
  • Given the above, it does seem like the ability to be responsible and finish homework ahead of time dissipates rather quickly.

I must admit that I like how the graphs look (even if I don’t think they’re particularly useful). If anyone is interested in doing a more rigorous analysis, the code and data can be found here. Let me know if you learn anything interesting!

P.S. For reference, my submission times were all over the place: 2 - 4:08AM, 3 - 8:42AM, 4 - 8:41AM, 5 - 8:24PM, 6 - 12:22AM, 7 - 4:22AM, 8 - 12:57AM, 9 - 4:10AM. Needless to say that Spring 2011 wasn’t the most restful quarter for me.