7 February 2013
Posted by Callan Bentley
A quick poll: What do you think of extra credit as an option in teaching?
I’m in the beginning stages of designing an online course, and because of inter-campus politics at NOVA, I’ll be co-designing it with a team of four other people, three of whom I know pretty well and totally respect. Still: one big philosophical distinction that we’re going to have to discuss is the question of whether the course will have any extra credit options. I’ve found that many of my colleagues at NOVA offer extra credit to their students as an incentive to go to seminars, or stuff like that. Students seem to expect that if their grade isn’t where they want it to be, they can just do some extra credit to top the cumulative point value off to whatever level they desire. This expectation is pervasive enough that at the end of ever semester, I can expect a flurry of requests for extra credit assignments, particularly after the final exam scores had come back.
I’m philosophically opposed to extra credit. I feel that it undermines the strength of the course of learning that I’ve designed for them. Why bother learning the material, if you can just throw in a weekend of paper-writing effort at semester’s end? I state my objection boldly on my syllabus, and emphasize it on Day 1:
No: there is none. Ever. Don’t ask. Especially don’t ask at the end of the semester, after the final exam when you don’t get the score you were hoping for. The plan of action here is to follow the course of study I have organized for you. Follow it well, and to the best of your ability. The score you earn will determine your grade, and that’s that. No exceptions, no matter how deserving the individual’s situation, no matter how important it is to your future plans. To do otherwise would be academically dishonest: every student can expect to be treated by the same set of rules. If you want to get a good grade in Physical Geology, you will have to demonstrate that you have learned a lot of Physical Geology: there is no other route to success in this course!
But not everyone feels this way. Plenty of talented educators do allow it, even encourage it. You may, and for very good reasons. Or you may be a student who values it for some reason other than gross point accrual. I’ve yet to discuss the issue with my collaborator colleagues.
What do you think?
I like your statement in bold: If you want to get a good grade in Physical Geology, you will have to demonstrate that you have learned a lot of Physical Geology. I would start and end there.
Then the relevant question becomes: how does a student demonstrate that they have learned a lot of Physical Geology? All inquiries about grading, extra credit, etc. can then be framed in terms of learning, and demonstrating learning.
Here’s the thing: I feel like many students see extra credit as a valid reason not to learn. Like: Knowing that it’s out there as a “hail Mary” encourages laziness, while knowing it’s NOT an option encourages diligence.
The most XC I ever give might be a question on an exam, never a separate assignment and never when requested by a student. There are abundant opportunities to get full credit during the semester, so coming to me at the end asking for XC makes me think you didn’t take the opportunities given.
I agree, I really like your bold statement about showing you’ve learned Physical Geology. It is a good framework for discussions with students.
I provide optional assignments throughout the semester. They are usually about taking a concept one step farther, or involve a concept we don’t cover in the course. Students are also allowed to come to me with ideas. They are worth very little (usually 1 or 2% each). They have a one week time limit but they can work as “extra credit” because they bolster a student’s mark. I find that the strong students do them (and don’t really need to), the weak students don’t always (but should), and the students who have a genuine interest in the subject explore things more deeply and/or more personally and are rewarded for it.
I don’t mind putting a few extra credit points within a given assignment or exam to counteract the effects of potential “brain freeze”. But I’ve come to discover that actual separate extra credit assignments are typically only done by the people already getting As; the ones who could have benefited are not motivated enough to master to course itself, and not motivated to go further to make up for that lack of mastery.
Any extra credit given is on my terms and my timing and is very rare. With my online classes extra credit is only offered in my discussion comments just to give students yet another reason why reading my posts might be a good idea.
I’m with you Callan. I tend to (perhaps smugly) reply to student request for extra-credit with:
“Extra? I give you hundreds, perhaps of thousands of points of REGULAR credit! Why do you feel the need for EXTRA?”
with the assertion that one or two points, compared to, say a thousand, really isn’t that meaningful. What is more meaningful, however, is taking the time to really learn the content, or learn how to study, or complete an assignment thoroughly…
Did I ever offer extra credit? ‘nough said.
And there you have it! Case closed.
Mine was more terse: Extra Credit: None. Don’t ask. Likewise, don’t ask to makeup missed assignments due to unexcused absences.
But after a few years of very large classes (100-300), I changed policy to give a few points of extra credit (about enough to bump one test grade up by one letter grade) for students to come to office hours, introduce themselves and ask a question, and thereby become more than a ripple in the sea of faces. But they had to come before the first exam to get the credit.
I have a singe statement on my syllabus that states “I do not offer any extra credit in this class”. However, I do regularly offer extra credit on exams and quizzes. For the true/false questions on the exams, the student can earn an extra point for every false statement that they can correct (with a substantive change) to make it a true statement. Maximum extra credit points available on an exam can range between 5-7 points. Most people receive 1-4 extra credit points. I never offer any stand alone extra credit. I remind them that if they take the time they would have spent on an extra credit assignment and devote it to studying the course material, they will not need the extra credit.
That’s a great way of putting it.
I usually give extra credit. I announce it at the start of the semester, which usually is a project of some sort (generally comprehensive of all materials covered) with a report attached to it. I find those that complete the extra credit usually are those who have work schedule or health problems. I give my students that option and lay it out for them that this is all up to you, and so far they have met the challenge.
I don’t provide options in terms of assignments. The only option for extra credit is for attending presentations outside of class time that I organize as part of my outreach activities for my college. I rarely get any students showing up and don’t offer much in the way of a marks inducement (0.5% of overall course grade for each event they attended, with a total of 3 events available at max). I approach it more as trying to get the students exposed to new ideas and to see that people outside of the college are interested in earth and environmental science as well. My students are often woefully ignorant about the landscape and environmental issues around us when they get to my classes.
I do have extra credit options for my intro class, but only to replace quiz grades. I don’t allow students to make up quizzes, for any reason, even illness/family emergency/travel for athletics/performing at Carnegie Hall (yes, this has happened!). (When I gave quizzes in class, I wanted to return them during the next class period; now that they’re online, I can’t figure out a way to give extensions with our course management software.) So my extra credit is a way of acknowledging that there are legitimate reasons to miss a quiz, but I don’t want to constantly deal with make-up assignments. (I also do not want to have to judge what is a legitimate excuse – that’s important here, because for cultural reasons, some students are not comfortable explaining the reasons for their absences.)
So my extra credit is very limited, and has a particular purpose rooted in my desire to give all of my students an equal chance to succeed.
My philosophy is if this is what is important,
“If you want to get a good grade in Physical Geology, you will have to demonstrate that you have learned a lot of Physical Geology”
Then I think “Extra-Credit” opportunities are important.
While I do not think that just going to a lecture or some random busy work is appropriate, if they go to the lecture and prove to you they learned some Physical Geology why shouldn’t it count?
Maybe the points they “lost” were at the beginning of the term and now they understand it, or maybe they had a bad final. If learning, not points, is what is important then that is what their grade should reflect.
The whole problem with “loosing points” is why I am experimenting/moving towards a Standards Based Grading Policy.
Beyond being a teaching assistant my last semester of my senior year at college and then again for 2 years of grad-school, I have not taught. But I was a TA for one professor who taught PhysGeo for Engineers. He gave extra-credit assignments via the labs I conducted. I thought that was ridiculous; though the extra load it put on me may have been that which colored my opinion of such a form of extra credit.
But one learns which students are serious about learning and those I have found that came in for office hours seeking something else to do were usually not interested in learning, just a grade. The ones who care shine in the general course work. Extra credit outside the bounds of the normal course work does not help.
I have, however, offered a test problem requiring the form of written answer as extra credit on lab quizzes. It would not be an easy question to answer and required thinking geologically to solve the problem. I would score the answer to offer from 0% to as much as 20-25% off any lessening of a person’s score (thus someone scoring say a 70% may raise that score to 77.5%). Such a question could advance anyone’s score but it would aid those scoring lowest on the test to a greater advantage – but only if they fully answered the question. And so I concluded that the extra-credit question to be rather equal in opportunity for all.
Not sure if that was the best of ways to handle “extra-credit;” but the one professor in sedimentology for whom I was a TA thought it was a fairly good idea.
I offer extra credit only as goofy little things that students can do that might help everyone and reinforce their learning. These are usually spur-of-the-moment activities. Examples are: Writing haikus about Bowen’s Reaction Series or mnemonics to help them learn the Paleozoic periods. I make them post these things on Twitter (which I use in my courses). I make note of who participates in the grade book, but assign so few points that for the most part, they make no difference in the final grades. I just consider them a ‘bump’ if they’re a borderline student. If they’ve done the extra credits, I might nudge them into the higher grade category. If they haven’t done any of the extra credits, then they obviously don’t care.
How do you use Twitter in your classes?
To use Twitter, I first come up with a hashtag. This semester, I’m teaching Principles of Paleontology with the hashtag #UREES207. Students and I tweet whatever we want and use the hashtag to find each others tweets.
You can go here to see the current chatter for that class: http://tweetchat.com/room/UREES207
Last semester, I taught introductory geology with the hashtag #UREES101. Here, I’ve storified some of the tweets between me and the students while they studied for their final:
I got excellent feedback from students in their course reviews about how they liked the use of Twitter. It made my life easier, too. Here’s a blog post I wrote about using Twitter in the science classroom:
A colleague of mine, a biology teacher, used to tell his students that he lived in fear that one day he would require emergency surgery and, as the anesthetic was kicking in, he would hear the surgeon bragging about making it all the way through Medical School on extra credit.
I let students retake missed quiz questions for half-credit. I tell them that this “point-recovery” is an option, thus is extra-credit, but that _all_ of the assignments in the class are “optional” if they choose to treat them that way…
Maggie (upthread) covered most of my philosophy, evolved after 6 years teaching high school. E.C. is offered – and comes due – at points throughout the term, rather than 1 big rush at the end. Never more than a boost of 1-2% of the cumm grade. I absolutely agree that it’s no substitute for real learning, but I found an “absolutely NONE” policy too draconian for my personality, and even the best of us have that one bad day/quiz/homework/class session…I gelt some built-in E.C. opps were fair, and didn’t penalize students for that bad day/quiz.
It’s college. Absolutely not.
I agree with your philosophy Callan. My only reason for giving extra credit is when I give into the temptation to want them to do too many awesome things – like go to selected department seminars and write summaries (relevant to my Tectonics course for upper level undergraduates) but I feel I’ve already given them a reasonable workload so I don’t want to require it of everybody. Gives the top students (or most efficient or interested students) an extra chance to distinguish themselves. Last year I found most of the extra credits came from people who were doing quite well anyway. I publicized the allowable seminar dates in the syllabus at the beginning of term so there was no way for them to attempt making up extra credit at the end.
2 words from my first Geology book come to mind: “Mantle Plumes”
I challenged the concept and with the aid of a relatively new thing called the Web earned a few extra points.
It is laughable to equate extra credit solely with elevation of the unworthy.
I also use a little bit of extra credit (5% on exam 2 of 3) for two reasons: 1) To keep students from “giving up” because they’re disappointed with an exam grade. Gives them a positive path forward, and a little pick-me-up after returning exams. And more importantly, 2) To entice them into pursuing an extension of our learning that I think will stick with them, but would be unfair as a requirement. So I give them the option of visiting the local geology museum for those extra points.
What about limiting extra credit only to those who are doing very well in the course? Does this allow for rewarding going above and beyond (e.g. mining engineer, christie) without allowing students who haven’t mastered the course material to improve their grade? Or does this just make the already huge chasm between higher performing students and lower performing students even greater (and thus work against the goals of those like Scott Johnson and Kim, above)?
At my former employer, I set up a Web page to address this kind of issue, Callan. And since they have not seen fit to reclaim that server space as of yet, I can link to it: