Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Ad Hoc Extra Credit
Oh God, no.
No, no, no.
Nein. Nyet. Non. Huh-uh. Negative.
I'll qualify that. Extra credit that's built into the syllabus from day one, available to all students equally and in advance, can be defensible. I'd worry if it counted for very much -- a course grade should ultimately reflect performance on the core of the course, rather than the periphery -- but I can see an argument for moving a B to a B-plus in an art history class if the student does (and documents) some museum trips, say.
But this is the time of year when the kid who has been slacking or failing shows up, filled with sudden enthusiasm, begging for extra credit to make up for the work he either didn't do or did badly earlier.
From an administrator's perspective, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Don't do it!
Imagine: Johnny and Suzy are both on the cusp of failing. Johnny shows up and asks for extra credit assignments, and the prof. gives them. Suzy doesn't, believing that the grading system outlined on the syllabus is to be taken literally. Johnny passes with the extra points, and Suzy fails. Suzy finds out next semester that Johnny had an option she didn't have. She files suit, claiming disparate treatment. Your defense is...what, exactly?
Assume that Suzy has a couple of the magical 'protected class' memberships, too. Now we're talking civil rights lawsuits, with adverse publicity, multiplied damages, political overtones, etc.
Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Or: Johnny writes an extra credit paper, which turns out to be plagiarized. Can you fail him for cheating on an assignment that wasn't supposed to be part of the course grade in the first place? (If not, then doesn't Johnny have every incentive in the world to take a shot, gambling that he won't get caught?) Or maybe it isn't plagiarized, but it's a real steamer. Do you ignore it on the grounds that it's awful, or do you give something in recognition that it was extra work (even if the extra work stunk)?
I worry, too, about the cumulative effect of students encountering multiple extra-credit bailouts over the years. If students start to expect end-of-semester freebies to bail out three months of slacking, what, exactly, are we teaching them? Sometimes I think "suck it up" is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. It's certainly an important life skill, and one that comes in handy at entry-level jobs. A kid who hasn't learned to suck it up is in for a rude shock when he gets to his first real job.
(I have a similar worry about makeup exams. A wise erstwhile colleague once shared her secret for getting around makeup exams: she'd give, say, four tests in her class, and count the best three. The students either stepped up or dropped the class. It struck me as brilliant, and I used it in my own classes to wonderful effect. Not having to distinguish 'excused' from 'unexcused' absences meant that I had to stop playing 'lie detector' when students told me stories about their lives. Grades reflected actual performance, rather than creative whining. Students either got their drama under control, or dropped the class and tried again when they were ready.)
Even-handedness can sometimes seem cold, and it can require saying 'no' when it would be easier not to. But the costs of ad hoc special favors are just too high to sustain. Fight the temptation!
I also do not give makeup exams except under extraordinary circumstances. If a student misses an exam, he's got a zero. But at the end of the quarter, everyone can choose to take one of their three exams over again, without penalty (although I will accept the grade on the retake, higher or lower). That way if they've had a sudden epiphany since one of the exams, or was having a really bad day on the day of the exam, they get another shot at it. It seems fair to me.
I love the suggestions you gave. I hate having to play the lie detector. I am going to implement them this semester.
I hadn't thought of the legal ramifications of extra credit. Now I have even more reason to keep the hard line. Sweet!
The ones who chose to do it (about 2/3 of the class) did an excellent job of it; I didn't have to decline credit for anyone. Everyone in the class had equal opportunity to participate in it, and although it wasn't on the syllabus, I felt it addressed a screwup on my part that really could have affected some of their grades. So I feel comfortable with it.
It's simply not worth the headache in any way shape or form. That said, I'm less opposed to make-up exams because our university will go ahead and schedule these, anyway, at a cost of $40 to the student (none of that going to the prof) and then order the instructor to prepare a special exam for such-and-such time. I'd rather avoid the students having to make the application, my having to write a special exam at the registrar's whim and often quite a ways after the term's up, so I tell the students to either see me for a make-up or contact special needs if appropriate.
I realize that, administratively, that's probably horrible of me -- undermining policy and all that -- but I really got tired of being jerked around and having to write and mark, as I did one term, three different special exams for students who went through the normal "make up exam" channels.
I do give makeup exams; I have way too many students whose employers send them out of town (documented) at inopportune times. But there's a procedure, which starts with the assumption that they can notify me in advance that they'll miss the test and requires that they do the makeup within a week of the origninal test date. Otherwise it's a zero. Also the makeup test is harder (and they're told that it will be) than the original.
I get very few requests for makeups. And generally about 1/3 to 40% do the extra credit work.
I also appreciate the legal argument--it might help stop their whining in its tracks.
My favorite (and only) extra credit is that if they weren't happy with their grade on the exam, they can earn up to half the points back by explaining in writing each and every mistake and why the right answer is the right answer. The serious ones do it. The marking has never been a burden.
He failed to turn in two of five reading exercises. No late papers accepted. After the grades are in he emails me to find out the details of his grade and claims he did the 4th assignment and got an 88. Okay, then I say, do you have the graded assignment? No, he answers I already threw them all away but I do have it on my computer. (I'm inwardly groaning, figuring that he is probably writing it right this moment and wondering how to handle it). Then he reports that he deleted all his computer files too. And then he asks for extra credit "because his grades are really important to him." Umm . . . the semester is over I tell him. I can't offer you extra credit without creating a disadvantage for his classmates. Sigh. He gets angry. I inform him of the grade appeal process and cc the Dean. I decide to stop emailing him but his real problem is not the missing assignment it is the fact that he wrote the worst research paper in the class!
So happy I am not teaching in the spring.
1. When he published our mid-term grade, he dropped everyone's grade by a full letter "so they were motivated to work harder". He admitted as much to me when I went to ask how I was getting a B when I'd gotten an A on every project.
2. He offered plentiful extra credit for helping him with research for a book he was writing.
The prof gave me two choices: write a 5-page paper on a topic of my choosing, or spend an impending 3-day weekend on the annual geology department field trip.
Obviously, I went for the trip, which was an entirely fascinating experience and maybe some of the best learning I did all semester. Just a handful of students, all geology majors, mostly seniors, driving around southeastern Oregon, camping, looking at interesting geological features.
I almost became a geology minor, but I couldn't hack chemistry.
The great/awful thing about majoring in music when it comes to grading: You either perform well at the appointed time, or you don't. And if you don't show up, you're out. And since I was one of about 50 flute majors, I was EASILY replaced.
Music school is all about performing well under stress. And extra-credit is NEVER on the table. You can't erase a bad performance from someone's memory (or...even your own).
So, while I'm now in a completely different field, no, extra credit is not on the table--ever. If students complain I remind them that they're fortunate that they don't receive the "Do you enjoy being stupid?" lectures that some music majors get...(It's a cold, cold world in the arts).
Everybody seems happy with this system as it rewards people who are doing the work and grappling with difficult course materials.
Students know that these are the only extra credit assignments I offer and I have literally NEVER had an a request for additional extra credit. I hope this means I'm doing something right!
Seriously, one faculty started a trend by asking her students the first day of class "Who needs to pass this class?"...a typical whine at the end of the term from students who didn't maximize their potential for 16 weeks. It seems to work!
Secondly, I wonder about some of the faculty posting above who give two or three exams during a term and how that relates to students with identified learning disabilities. Many in that category do not do well on MC/TF exams. Research shows only about 18% of the student population does excel on those assessments. Are two/three exams the only assessment in the course? How is student learning documented beyond a few exams?
1. Extra credit can be used effectively to reward those who go above and beyond the normal course of learning. In a swine production course I took, any student could receive extra credit for volunteering in the meat lab to slaughter and process hogs. Learning how to do this was part of swine production, but could not be fit into the class.
2. Makeup exams are very important, especially for students who are very active in their field. I have had classes that coincided with presenting papers at national conferences. Fortunately, my professors have been understanding and allowed for makeup tests to be given. I have also missed tests to interview for jobs and to go on field trips for others classes. There are plenty of good reasons for a student to miss a class and very few good reasons for a professor to be cold hearted and potentially make a student graduate in 5 years instead of 4 years.
There is far too much of that in my 30 years of experience.
If you can't arrange things ahead of time, it better be because you got hit by a car. Which, by the way, is another extraordinary circumstance.
re: everything else. I tell my students that extra credit means that you have to do something above and beyond the normal work, so I do not give it as a way to boost a grade for missed assignments. I do offer it, however, when the students as a group have been doing particularly well and the extra credit will help them keep up the good work. Usually I offer it only to those who have done all the exams/quizzes/writing assignments (depends on the course) to reinforce the idea that it is something "extra" and not a replacement for something missed.
Another thing that works really well for me is giving options instead of extra credit. For example, they could take two exams, or do one exam and one essay. Or, I offer eight short answer questions on an exam and they answer six. This has worked well because they feel like they have some sort of say in their final grade, and they can't complain to me because they're the ones who chose the work.
On a similar note, I had a math prof in college that let us choose how much we wanted everything to be worth (homework average, quiz average, three exams). Each one had to be within a certain range - that is, we couldn't have one exam worth 99% of the final grade - and each item had a default percentage if we didn't tell him what we wanted it to be worth. That worked really well because if you did poorly on something, you could lower its value in your final average.
Sorry for hijacking the comments!
I gave my students two assignments fairly closely spaced together, right at the end of the semester. The second one, which they were already likely to be late on due to not starting until after the first was complete, had to be marked and returned to them within a week if they were to be able to use the feedback on the final exam.
As you can imagine, more than half the class were more than a week late on this assignment. I too, was stressed with marking, and didn't notice how many students were affected. I returned the assignments, we discussed the answers in class, and then I went to implement the usual policy that I don't accept work that is handed in after it has been discussed in class.
At this point, around 25% of the class would have FAILED THE COURSE due to not having handed in that piece of work.
So the mistakes were really all mine: badly planned series of assignments, not paying enough attention to who had handed in and who hadn't, etc. (It was my first semester teaching).
The only real option, other than a fail rate that was around 10 times the dept average, was to offer extra credit.
Whenever I have offered it, it's always the grade-grubbers who ask then don't do the extra-credit assignment. The high scorers often just cement their grades or give themselves a little perk by doing it.
Seriously, I am wondering. Ask your students if their roommate commits suicide if the surviving student gets all A's for that semester. It's officially listed as an urban legend, yet I'll bet all your students have at least heard that.
In my writing classes I always offer extra credit for attending a lecture on campus and writing a rhetorical analysis. My goal is to get students to participate more fully in intellectual conversations and to continue to use the analysis skills we are going over in class. They can also analyze certain essays I direct them to. I want them to have a chance to pursue topics of interest to them beyond what we are reading and discussing in class.
The amount of points depends on quality and quantity of the 3-4 page analysis. Surprisingly few students take advantage of this, however. Luckily we don't have exams in our writing classes, so we don't have to deal with makeups, but we do have a required attendance policy in our first year comp class: after missing 10% (one week) of classes with no questions asked (3 in MWF or 2 in TR), then the grade drops an entire letter grade for the term. No excused or unexcused absences. No need to consider whether someone is truly sick or not. In other writing classes, I just use a participation factor - every absence drops the grade slightly. Again, doesn't matter the reason for the absence. And 3 tardies = 1 absence, so that's easy to calculate.
I added that EC will only be counted for students who have completed all the exams and quizzes and who have a better than 60% attendance rate. Problem solved.
regardsentire education saad from