Monday, October 31, 2016

And so Bella's Requests for Possible Grade Projections Begin

Every semester around this time, I begin to get frantic missives from students who've been failing, or nearly failing, and now want to know just how high they can raise their grade by the end of the semester.

"If I get a 100 on everything from now on, what grade will I have?" "Ok, if I get an 85 on everything how will can I do in the class?" And on and on and on.

Or else the queries come from students doing passing work, wanting to know if they can skip major things, and still pass.

"If I get a 100 on everything else from now 'till the end, can I skip the research essay and still pass?" (HAH!! You little buggers! I fixed your wagons a few years ago when I added a note on my syllabus that failure to complete it would result in failure of the course no matter what the rest of their grades were. [And for the Monicas out there who will write saying that is not fair, and if I feel that way why don't I just make that assignment worth 50% of the grade---I actually give my little snowflakes many, many opportunities to do well and to practice their skills prior to writing the monster paper, and if I don't give those assignments grades that count, the precious munchkins won't do them.]) "Ok, so how many of the weekly assignments can I skip and still pass?" "If I don't do the reading from now until the end, can I still pass?" (Yes, I have really been asked these things!!!)

I am NOT a calculator, I tell them! Look at the way your grade is calculated (It's RIGHT THERE ON THE SYLLABUS)! Look at the assignments left!!! Figure it out, people!!

They don't get it. They think I am being mean. They think I am not doing my job. They go and complain about me.

It's so damn aggravating!!!

14 comments:

  1. 100 years ago when I asked this question to a professor, he pulled out a slide rule and told me I should be able to calculate my chances using it and the syllabus. I didn't try....

    Fab

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  2. It also depends on how the class does, no? Many of us have some sort of a curve to our grading so we really can't answer the question without having an idea of the distribution. I teach in a quant area so you'd think they could calculate their grades, but these are usually the weaker students.

    Early in my career, a student did the "If I get a 100 on the final and the problem set..." I noted that on the midterms, the student's average was a 32. Yes, if she got a 100 the rest of the way, she could have squeaked out a not-disastrous grade. But if she tripled her average on the final, I'd have streaked the campus quad at noon the next day. She withdrew from the course.

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  3. When an average-ish student asked this type of question a few semesters ago, the front row Math major turned around and said, "Dude. Figure it out."
    Math major earned an A in my very non-math course.

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    1. Some of the best students in my humanities freshman classes are often math and computer science majors. I wish I could steal them for our major.

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  4. I have one of those Magic Eight Ball thingies.....

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    1. This is a GREAT idea. I'm bringing my old Magic Eight Ball in!!!! Yay! I'll post an update if anything amusing comes of it.

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    2. Torquemada in TrainingOctober 31, 2016 at 8:12 PM

      One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was telling my students one semester that I recorded their grades in a spreadsheet and that I could fill in appropriate cells with hypothetical grades and instantly discover their effect on the final average. Office hours used to be a time of quiet contemplation, but by the midterm exam the place was a parade of anxiety-ridden snowflakes begging to know what it would take to excel/pass/skate by. And they were rarely satisfied with just knowing “What do I need on this test to get a B?” They also wanted to explore various scenarios: “If I get an 65 on the first test and 100 on the final will I still pass?” or “What do I need on the final to get a B? a C? not fail?” or “If I skip the last two homeworks can I still pass?” It got to be an extended exercise in trying to game the system. Now my gradebook is still a spreadsheet, but I keep that a deep dark secret.

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  5. I find that lying to them, using estimates decidedly on the low end, works great. You realize that if you give them a straight answer to this, you open yourself up to the complaint, "BUT YOU SAID I COULD GET A D..." On the other hand, if you refuse to answer, you open yourself up to the complaint, "Prof. won't answer my questions." You can't win.

    You may have heard the old saw, "There's no thing as a dumb question, except the one you didn't ask that later fouled you up?" This, together with "I didn't come to class, did I miss anything important?" are proof that this old saw is not true.

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  6. I have a line in my syllabus that I will calculate standing grades exactly twice in the semester--at midterm and at the end. And I only do it at midterm because the university makes me. Otherwise, all the information they need is in the syllabus and I tell them that flat out. They don't like it, but I don't particularly care if they do. And I'm lucky enough to have a department chair who will back me up, for the most part. I'm known as 'That Physics Bitch' on my campus, as I'm the only woman who teaches the calc based introductory classes, and I'm totally fine with that.

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  7. One would think that Blackhole and other class management websites would have a hypothetical grade calculator a professor could set up at the beginning of the semester to head off these kinds of problems.

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    1. Blackhole sort of does, especially if you use a points earned out of total points possible system rather than a weighted average. Students can, at least theoretically, see their "current grade" at any time. I've never used that system, but I'd guess that they tend to ignore a key piece of information: how the total points possible by that point in the semester compare to the total points possible over the whole semester. If all they've done are a few short assignments that are graded mostly on the basis of completion or effort, things will look pretty good. If the professor gives hard homework problems and grades them "for real," but then goes over them/provides answer keys, and bases tests in part on exactly those problems, or very similar ones, then things might look pretty hopeless toward the beginning of the semester, and considerably more hopeful, at least for those who are actually studying, after the first test.

      The other tricky thing in blackholeboard is that you need to remember to check or uncheck a box for "running total" to get the system to count assignments that haven't been handed in as zeros. The default choice, at least at my institution, just takes both them and the points they represent out of the equation, which can make for some overly-hopeful scenarios when students simply haven't completed the work, even though it's past due (while in my mind, uncompleted work, whether not yet due or past due, has earned zero points, not because I'm a horrible mean stickler for deadlines, but because, at least in my mind, work that doesn't exist can't earn a grade. The assumption built into the LMS seems to be that students will the work and do it satisfactorily to excellently until proven otherwise. I'm a bit more doubtful/cynical/realistic.)

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    2. Well see, now, THIS is the problem. I do have it all set up on Blackhole, so they can see their grade in real time. This is why they want me to plug in the numbers for them, over and over and over, just like what is described by Torquemada in Training (above). I don't want to take this down, as I think it is a positive thing for them to see how they are currently doing, and once it is set up, it is pretty painless. But these endless 'what if' scenarios! I won't do it, I tell ya!

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    3. I know that Bleakboard can calculate running totals and weighted averages. I know that I am capable of setting it up correctly. But I just don't do it. Anything I do just allows weaker students to practice magical thinking about their prospects. Doing nothing seems no less harmful.

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  8. This sounds very familiar, except that in my class the big final project is worth 50% of the grade, and some smaller bits also due toward the end of the semester are due another 10-20%, and the rest (i.e. the parts we've mostly completed) are lightly-graded/low stakes preparatory stuff, so the answer is that there's no meaningful way to talk about a "current grade," and I refuse to do it (because my course, although it belongs to the core, is above the 200 level, I don't have to issue official midterm grades; I do provide some totals on the lightly-graded stuff and point out what totals indicate satisfactory progress vs. get-your-shit-together-or-withdraw-before-it's-too-late status in time for them to act on the information before said withdrawal deadline).

    The students who are more mathematically inclined (which should be most of them, since they're mostly engineers, with a few people in other STEM majors thrown in) take a look at the grade weights on the syllabus and get it (and are also satisfied with the explanation that they'll get a preliminary grade on the final project if they write a complete draft, and will have a chance to revise after they get that grade, which has no effect on the final grade as long as they do revise). The less mathematically-inclined students (and/or those who are too anxious to think through the situation) just keep asking for a "current grade."

    I'm afraid another factor may be their advisors, who are, reasonably enough, trying to help them figure out whether they'll have the GPA to stay in their current majors, or in school at all. In that context, the grade in their writing class becomes crucial, not for itself, but for its potential ability to balance out a really low grade in another class. The advisors are probably also in the sciences themselves, and used to classes structured around c. 1-4 tests plus a final. The whole business of preliminary, lightly-graded scaffolding assignments leading to later, more strictly-graded ones, opportunities for revision, etc., etc. is pretty foreign to their conception of how a course works.

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