Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Should I just not even take the exam?" - Questions students ask, part I

I used to get some good ideas from RYS that I would try out, and see if I had the cojones to pull them off. This semester I tried accepting late homework, but with a 10% per week penalty. Of course, students wanted to have even that waived. The day before the final day of classroom instruction, I received this email.
Hi Professor,
Is there any way I could turn in my late homework on monday before the final exam without the penalty? I think that's the only way I could pass.. and I'm trying to get accepted to Better Football Team University. D's don't transfer but at this point I'm just trying not to fail. I'll do anything- I'm freaking out a little bit. Would I even pass If I did that? Or should I just not even take the exam? Thanks,
"Rules Don't Apply to Me" Johnson
My response:
I can't accept late homework without a 10% per week penalty. I don't have your current scores in front of me, but I would be happy to take a look at the details with you if you can come by my office hours tomorrow or Friday [helpfully listing the times for her]. Since we're past the withdrawal date, I don't know what would be gained by not taking the exam.
That last line was a lie, of course. She would gain "not having to face how poorly she'd do on the exam." The final email in this episode:
alright thanks prof, i'll stop by fri. around 2. I'm not going to be in class tom. though because of this girl scout leader volunteer thing.. but thanks again and i'll cya friday,
  • We only meet once a week, so when she missed this class for some volunteer activity that she'd never mentioned to me before, she missed an entire week's worth of class and didn't turn in her homework that week either.
  • She didn't (BIG SURPRISE), repeat, did not show up on Friday.
  • Cojones, check.
In my experience, students like this who are asking extra favors NEVER show up to "discuss it in person." So all I have to do to handle them is to ask them to come by so we can "discuss it in person." I even offer to meet them outside my office hours (giving them other times when I am already going to be at my desk) - it doesn't inconvenience me and it makes me look like I'm trying.

If only there were an analogous tactic for my online-only classes.

I care about all my students, but if they don't care enough to show up for a discussion of how they can pass, then I don't feel any sense of obligation to help them further. (By the way, she failed my class.)


  1. I am of 2 minds:

    Mind #1: Excellent way to appear helpful when really you're just reinforcing the course policies and not letting RDAtM blame you for killing her grade! Not that she might not lie anyway...

    Mind #2: Wouldn't it be better if we still lived in a pedagogical reality where people like this could just be told they've failed already?

  2. I tend to think it is better to do the math for them and tell them to stop wasting their time -- and mine.

  3. The student should be encouraged to take the final. A missed final can lead to protracted and sundry snowflakey requests for incompletes. These typically end in student failure, but after a few loops of "annoy the department head and/or dean yada yada" - if you can steer them into a final, they fail in a timely and decisive fashion. One thing I do is to offer a 100% weighted final, with a cap at C/D for the course - "pass the final, pass the course". I just don't let people on reprieve earn anything above a basic C. They usually fail, but they get their shot.

  4. Dude, try 10% PER DAY. The harsher penalty comes in really handy. (You can always go lenient on students who deserve it--but it's nice to have a hammer to smash down on the completely undeserving fuck-ups who are wasting their time and mine.)

  5. Snarky, it's a one-day-a-week class, so Queenie probably *HAS* to accept it on a per-week basis. Widdle snowfwakes can't be bothered to turn stuff in to an office or mailbox or e-mail (if they ask first)!

    And if you're in a snowflake-friendly department/school, you MUST allow for late work!

    MUST!!!!!!!~~~ {apply froth from pro-flake prof}

  6. In my school a student only earns an "F" - a definite "fail" - if they did all of the work and STILL failed the class. If they skip the exam, say, or fail to hand in anything else, they get an "N", which gives them another semester to complete the missing work. I mean, even if they would have failed had they written the exam and got 100%.

    Which sounds wimpy. But in fact I've been teaching here since 1992 and I have only ONCE had a student actually finish the work the following semester. So really, an "N" is an "F", it just takes a semester to kick in.

    Moral; you don't need to worry about cutting people too much slack, because the ones that don't deserve it will find a way to hang themselves with it anyway.

  7. MPE, that's what I've learned Blackboard is REALLY for: unlinking homework submission from requiring flakes and proffies to be in the physical presence of one another. It takes the pressure to accept late papers off of proffies. "Ooh, man, I'm sorry, but Blackboard just isn't going to allow you to submit it this late. What a pity!"

  8. My policy on late papers is that, if a student requests and receives an extension from me, she loses no points whatsoever. I do not hand out extensions willy nilly but, if the student has a legitimate need, we will together create a new due date and she’ll receive full credit. However, if a student simply hands in a paper late without my permission, she receives an automatic zero. To my delight and surprise, I have never had a complaint about this policy.


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