Tuesday, November 18, 2014

If It's Tuesday, Hiram Must Be Baffled By Add/Drop Week.

Okay, every semester we get the bum's rush to remind our students about the drop date. It's the 9th week! Anyway, that's a different story.

So, when the time came, I looked at my undergrads and saw about 10-15% of them really with almost no chance to make it; about 10% already locked up with a high B or A, and the rest in the middle, with all of their options still open.

I did my normal classroom speech about it, about 30 seconds. I even said, "If you want to know if you're borderline or not, just let me know and I'll go through your grades."

Of course nobody took me up on that.

But then last week when I went into my classes, ALL of the failing students were still there, smiling, seemingly secure in their paths. AND, about 5-6 PASSING students were not. I raced back to my office, checked the add/drop page, and sure as shit some kids who probably would have made it bailed after my warning.

I feel like an idiot. Should I just have targeted to talked to the failing kids? Did I owe more transparency than I gave? I have an open office door and most students come to see me at least once in the two mandated appearances I make them schedule.

I can't help but feel I bounced some kids because I wasn't more clear.


  1. Your first mistake was assuming your students have any clue what their actual grade is. When I do this, I always give students their current course grade at the same time.

    Students don't bother to keep track of their grades. In some ways, I suppose that's a good thing. Doesn't stop them from grade-grubbing, though.

    1. Yeah, giving them each a card with their current grade (and for freshers, running over how to calculate how well you need to do on the rest of the module to get a passing grade) along with the speech does make sense - there's probably a fancy name for the phenomenon where competant students think they're doing badly and really weak/failed already students think they can still pull it off, it's so wide spread.

    2. Dunning-Kruger effect In short, most people evaluate their own mastery/competence closer to about 65the percentile than the real value. The effect is roughly linear.

      I prefer the title of the paper, thought: "Unskilled and Unaware".

    3. And... just had a student pass the threshold from a D-minus (not passing for a major) to an F, because s/h/it can't be bothered to turn in any damned thing.

  2. Your second mistake was. Well, there are just too many. JK!

  3. Those students who were passing and still jumped ship remind me of one chap in a course I taught about 20 years ago. He whined to his father that he was failing. His father called my department head, who, in turn, hauled me into his office to remind me that it was all my fault.

    It turned out the student in question had an 80+ % average in that course, well out of danger of failing. I guess the kid considered anything greater than, say, 90% as "passing". And, yes, that twit turned out to be a grade-grubber in other courses he was in, doing anything his can to make sure that he got high marks.

    His girlfriend, who later became his wife, attended our institution a few years later. She aced everything she took and was one of the best students we ever had. Unfortunately, she, too, turned out to be a whiny grade-grubber like him. If she didn't get at least one or two scholarships, it must have meant she was failing.

  4. Sid from Santa Fe send in this:

    Our drop week is the end of the 11th. I've had similar experiences to what Hiram faced. But I've pulled failing students into my office to tell them they weren't going to pass. They'd nod sincerely, thank me, and then not drop. Some will come half the time up to the final, skip it, skip whatever assignments remain.

    I still get emails from them after the final, "How did I do?" Mind boggling.

  5. Yes, I remember my professors always checking to see how I was doing. Oh no, that's not right.

    1. your Mom was one of your professors? I bet that was awkward.... ;p

  6. I think of myself as old school, but I'm probably just old.

    Chasing after students to make sure they know how they're doing just strikes me as middle school activity. I'm with Terry in that I never remember any college proffies doing this for me. Nor would I have expected it. I was a lousy student and took my lumps - and at least 5 classes over my first 2 years. But nobody owed me any hand holding.

    Hiram, keep your head up.

    1. In fact, their experience of always knowing their grade from preschool through high school trained them to expect us to provide it on the course LMS. The thought of keeping track of papers or calculating an average to determine their grade is foreign to many of them.

  7. To be honest, the most amazing thing about Hiram's post, for me, in not the cluelessness of the students; it's the fact that they can withdraw from the class in the ninth week of the semester. Even at my Middling State U, we only give them four weeks to withdraw without consequences. After Week 4, any withdrawal has to be for serious and compelling reasons, and be accompanied by a slew of documentation, otherwise they take the hit on their GPA.

    As for the students themselves, I'm constantly amazed at how many write to ask about their grades. I'm not sure, in most cases, what I can tell them that they don't already know. I got another email about this yesterday: "I was wondering if you could tell me what my current grade in the class is please?"


    You have completed one essay (another is due next week); you have completed two short response papers (with two more due by the end of the semester); and you have completed a mid-term exam (with a final to come). Each of the completed pieces of work has received a grade out of 100, and the percentage of the course grade assigned to each piece of work is clearly listed on the class website. I'm not sure how much more simple I could make it.

    I sometimes get the feeling, when I get these inquiries near the end of the semester, that they constitute a sort of willful denial, or perhaps wishful thinking. They nearly always come from crappy students, and it sometimes seems that their thought process goes something like: "Well, I got a C- for that one, and a C for that one, and a D+ for that one, and an F for that one. All of that works out to a grade of about D+, but surely that can't be right, can it? There must be some points that I'm missing. Maybe if I email the professor, those points will magically appear on my grade, or I'll learn about some super-secret extra credit that I can use to bump myself up."

    1. I also can't stand my uni's drop date deadline at the end of the 1st week of Nov, when last day of class is only a month later ... and yet, all the other surrounding universities, with varying quality, have the same drop date, give or take a couple of days... is there some sort of dynamic akin to retail sales? Are various senior admins at every uni worried that if they make the drop date earlier then someone won't buy their product, and get the equivalent somewhere else?

    2. My college is the LAST DAY of the semester! shesh. The nice thing about the LMS gradebook is that they don't bother me!

  8. I have a point system. I can - they can - at any point discover that they have 45 points out of 50 earned so far. 50 remain. These numbers convert to the unheard of 90=A, 80=B system.'

    Yet I had a student a couple of days ago come up and asked if he could get an A.

    Okay, you have 35 points. We've earned 70 so far. That means 30 are left. If you got ALL of those points you'd have 65 for the term. That's a D.

    What's an A?


    So I don't have enough points for an A?


    What about a B.

    A B requires 80. The most you can get is 65, that is everything goes well. That's a D.

    So I have a D?

    No, you have 35 right now. That's an F. You have the POSSIBILITY of getting a D.

    That doesn't seem fair if you don't even have a chance to get a B.

    And so it goes. I hate how cranky I am today.

  9. Hiram, I'm guessing those were the students who needed... NEEDED (!) an A, and didn't want to risk not getting that A. They now seem to think C's are an F.

    My school REQUIRES us to maintain updated grades on our LMS. Students know their grades at every moment of the day. They have notifications that pop up on their smart phones to let them know as soon as I have posted a grade. They often email me immediately upon receipt of a grade to ask whywhatdidIdowrongontheassignmenttonotgetanA? If we don't use the LMS, we get a notification from our dean saying we need to use it. We have even been provided language to use in our syllabi that states we maintain updated grades on our LMS and that students should be checking for updated grades there.

    Our Add/Drop Date is Week 8 (we're on the quarter system, which means that's 2 weeks before the end of the quarter).

    Since I use the LMS system (as required), it's not hard for me to shoot a quick message to a student who is not likely to pass (if I've already put all the assignments into the system, students can plunk in possible grades to see what they'd have to earn in order to get a certain grade). However, I don't notify them. I don't email them or tell them or message them about the fact that they need to drop the class if they're failing. Every time I've done that, the ones who get my message then attempt to cajole me into helping them to pass the class even though there's no chance. They see my warning email as a chance to now negotiate a grade rather than advice. So I no longer send them a warning email or announce it in class.

    That said, I DO remind my advisees of the date and ask them to check to see if they need to withdraw from a class. This is to ensure they do not rope me into their grade-appeal over break when they earn a grade they don't like.


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