Understanding Academic Procrastination

Procrastination is not an unfamiliar concept to students. Be it studying for a tough statistics mid-term, doing a boring and monotonous 2-hour transcription, or planning a daunting group project, students can often find solace in putting off doing tasks like these and find ways to disengage and browse cat videos on TikTok for hours. This type of procrastination is referred to as academic procrastination, as it’s related to putting off doing important things related to one’s coursework and schooling. I’ve invited my colleague and friend, Reza Feyzi Behnagh of the School of Education at SUNY, Albany, to write this post with me.

In the past two years and with the funding support from the National Science Foundation, Behnagh (a learning scientist) and Shaghayegh Sahebi, a computer scientist, together with their research team of graduate students, studied academic procrastination . (I have been a recent consultant.) They are looking at how students make plans, set goals , and break large projects into smaller chunks, how they go about studying and checking their progress, and whether and under what conditions they procrastinate.

To gain this understanding, they developed a mobile app (Proccoli) to help students plan and study for their coursework. Why Proccoli? Just like broccoli that kids avoid eating (or procrastinate eating until the end of their meal) while it is good for them, getting things done toward one’s goal might be unpleasant and daunting at first, but learning a cool concept, a nice grade, praise, or a degree or course to complete, make all the effort worth it. Their app is designed to help students set goals, break their goals into smaller chunks, keep track of their studies in a Pomodoro-style timer, and check out their progress in continuously updating charts.

The goal of the SUNY Albany team has been to model and understand academic procrastination in college-age students, how it happens and individual differences that affect it, and to be able to identify the ‘behavioral signature’ of academic procrastination, predict it, and ultimately to help students manage their emotions (e.g., anxiety , boredom ) and get things done!

How do we understand academic procrastination? Unless students tell us what they are doing, how long, how often, and when they are studying (are they pulling an all-nighter the night of their exam? Are they preparing well in advance?), there is no way for us to know for sure. The app and data we are gathering through the app give us a unique perspective to understand under what circumstances and how students procrastinate.

In the past two years, a large group of graduate and undergraduate students have used the app (80-120 a semester), creating hundreds of goals and subgoals (1100 goals and 400 in the […]

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