Sunday, April 29, 2012

Die extra credit, DIE!

Let me start out with some context.

I'm not permitted in my current job to go "off book" as it were. I have Big Boss. Big Boss sets the teaching pace, goals, grading rules and the rest. It's great, because I just have to show up, teach the plan, grade, and leave. It ensures that the Flakey Flakes have the same standards and training to get through Class A, B, C, D, E, F and G. It sucks because of the common exams: if your class is slow/gets behind/you don't explain things really tea-partying well the first time, your students will get whacked on the exams. Sure, there are some things that Big Boss does that drive me tea-partying crazy all the tea-partying time, but overall, Big Boss is like a beautiful pit bull who goes after the throat of the flakes. Big Boss has told the Dean where to get off. Big Boss has standards and maintains them. We are supposed to fail the students who don't get it. I love/fear Big Boss.

"Show no pity," Big Boss says. "Fail them if they don't know the material. Send them to me. I'll deal with them." Personally, I fail at least two students a quarter in a typical class.

One thing Big Boss does that I loathe is allowing extra credit. I hate extra credit. Extra credit means extra grading. Extra whining.

The students are delusional. Absolutely delusional. Worse than delusional, they are mathematically challenged. The course is a set number of points across all the classes. The students earn points as they go, and if they earn a sufficient number of points, they earn the appropriate grade. The extra credit is a MINISCULE part of this grade; I'd say about three percent of the total. The extra credit really only makes up for one bad section on one exam. It makes what would probably be a borderline grade a solid grade.

Who does extra credit? The super keener/grade grubbers or the hopelessly fucked.

What's worse? The extra credit is run by volunteers, and given the current state of affairs, the volunteer positions have been rather impossible to fill. Students complained. Students whined. I came up with a few solutions, and as usual, only the super keener and hopelessly fucked showed up.

I lost it last term. I really did. The term before, I had a cheating (not worth sending him to the Ministry of Little Consequences), dumb-as-a-rock fraternity student. This student did the extra credit with such gusto that I realized this was how the student had passed/survived high school. The work was shit. Absolute shit.

I got it in the student evaluations. The two students I failed went for the jugular, and I am absolutely certain that the venom that they seethed came from my gender. Both of the failing students did all the extra credit. But a three percent bump to a D- makes a .... D- or D, depending on how poorly they did on the final exam.

Here is how I lost it. I hate extra credit. I have to offer and grade it because of Big Boss, but frankly, the extra credit really doesn't do much. I had just gotten and read the student evaluations with the two angry "you're a bitch who can't teach and this class was too hard" bullshit before going in to the new term. I told the new crop of students that extra credit wouldn't save them, and I walked them through the math behind the extra credit. I explained what I did above: three percent is very small, it helps one bad section on one exam, but extra credit will and cannot save a failing grade. I spoke loudly in my teacher yelling voice.

It worked.

I had more students do extra credit. More of the middle. It helped a few students bump up a +/- grade and most of them were genuinely interested in the extra credit material. It became a lot more fun to grade. The students understood that extra credit was a bandage for a small mistake. I had great evaluations.

I still hate extra credit. I think it's undignified of collegiate level learning. Students should go to things or read things outside the course because it stimulates them. This is how you cultivate a life of the mind: you engage in new ideas and experiences because you want to, not because someone is going to give you a cookie called extra credit. I also have deep, ethical issues with extra credit, as many times it costs money, and I know there are some students who sincerely cannot afford to go to these "extra" activities. It widens the gap between the haves and the have nots.

My name is Maybelle, and I hate extra credit.


  1. "Ministry of Little Consequences"

    Hey, I made up a thing that traveled!

    I am with you every step of the way on this one. I loathe extra credit, and end up giving it when such a large percentage of my class is about to fail that I suspect it will cause me trouble. But when this year's crop of students are in danger of failing a class that 10 years ago almost nobody failed -- with much the same readings and assignments, as it's a basic nation/period survey course -- what does that say?

  2. @F&T: Indeed. I immediately thought "hey, Ministry of Little Consequences, that's F&T's!"

    Maybelle, I, too hate extra credit, and think it belongs in junior high or below if at all. In no context should it make it possible for students who were not going to pass to do so; that does a disservice to both the student and anyone who might rely on hir transcript for solid information about hir abilities.

    But, yes, they want it. And the one time I answered a student who asked about it on the first day (!) by saying (reasonably nicely, I think) that it smacked to me of junior high, I'm pretty sure I alienated and/or insulted about 1/3 of the class (they did eventually come around, but there was a definite "she's too hard" vibe for a while). I've learned to offer it where it serves my purposes (e.g. in a summer online class when I'm trying to quickly check out hundreds of possible sources students have posted to weed out those that aren't scholarly -- there, offering a one-point bounty to anyone who finds a non-viable source before I do, with a cap on the number of extra credit points available to any one person, works to my, and their, advantage). But for the most part, I hold the line, and point out that revising the big project they've been working on all semester would do far more for their grades.

  3. No extra credit. Ever. In every single class, I have several assignments that are silver platter material. All students have to do is complete them. I don't grade them on grammar, spelling, or punctuation. They are either simple multiple choice or short answer tests where there is no "right" answer or short drafts which don't even have to be close to finished, just evidence that they're actually working on the essays. Altogether these points add up to almost a full letter grade in my class. That's all the bonus work they need. I am always amazed at how many people blow this stuff off and then come back whining about how unfair I am and how I don't recognize that "people have lives" or "we all make mistakes sometimes." Then they want to do some piece of crap book report or extra essay or something else that, were I to lose control of my senses and allow it, would be more work for both me and them, much harder than the stuff they could've done for nearly free points.

    My personal favorite was the year my brother died and I had to take a week off classes. I never really regained my bearings that term but did the best I could and finished classes. Sometimes they got a paper back in eight days instead of seven. (I give myself a ten-day window and tell them this but also say I aim for a seven-day turnaround time.) I had a student who forgot to turn in an essay. It was, of course, marked right on the calendar. The due date was listed on the essay prompt, which he'd used to do the rough draft. It came up on the "to-do list" which the students see every time they log in. He realized this two days later and then wanted me to take it as late work or allow him to do an extra essay at the end of the term as extra credit. After I refused on both counts, my student evaluation from him said I expected them to make allowances for me because of my personal circumstances but wouldn't do the same for them. Thus I was a very mean and unfair person.

    Yeah, your forgetting to do an essay and my brother's unexpected death are completely parallel circumstances.

  4. When students raise the inevitable question about extra credit opportunities, my reply is invariable: "In my class, there is only credit. There is no 'extra.'" And then I explain that if they can't be bothered to complete the required assignments, I shouldn't have to give them additional opportunities show me how very little they know, how very little they care, and how very little they are capable of doing. If they'd take their work seriously, they wouldn't need me to throw them a life jacket. Of course, my drop rate is the highest in my department, but then so are my student evals: "tough but fair" is the usual comment, and that's one I can live with.

  5. One of my classes (a mega-section) has a small extra credit assignment with a limited window for submission. The upside of extra credit? It shuts down the term-end grade grubbers pretty quickly -- especially when they didn't take advantage of the opportunity for extra credit.

  6. I also hate extra credit. I recently gave extra credit for responding to an email I sent. The students claimed it wasn't fair as they shouldn't have to read my emails. I just wanted to see if anyone read them. A few did. More do now. I Still hate extra credit, and they still ate me alive on my evals.


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