Saturday, February 15, 2014

Do you give extra credit?

College students are very interesting creatures. I know this for a fact, having been one myself several years ago. Students have a very sharp intellect and do very well on standard intelligence tests, but they seem to lack the genetic code for reading and understanding a syllabus, and at times it appears that their hearing has been severely damaged. By saying this, I don't mean to offend those college students out there who may have stumbled upon this blog. I really, really do like you, but I can't ignore the facts.

As an example of what I am trying to say, let me share with you the short version of a recent course I taught. Here we are on the first day of class:
Professor (me) after discussing class procedures and policies: Now, if at any time during the semester you have questions about the course, about your grade, or about how you can do better in class, please look back over your course syllabus or stop by my office. I would love to have the chance to visit with you and help you to do better in the course. Are there any questions?"

Student #1: Do you give any extra credit assignments?

Professor: No, there will be no extra credit and I have included a statement about that in your syllabus. However, I will allow you to make up missed assignments if you contact me on or before the day the assignment is due. Other questions?

Student #2: Professor, will you allow us to make up assignments? And will there be any extra credit?

...and so the semester begins. Several weeks pass and no students show up to see me. I notice that some have not been turning in their assignments. After the first exam I plead again with the students read the grading policy in the syllabus and to come and see me, particularly if they have not been doing well. I also remind them of the make-up policy for missed assignments. The second exam comes and goes. This time one student stops by my office. She received a 99% on the exam and is just wondering if there is some extra credit she can do to bring it up to an even 100%.

The semester is almost gone. As we reach the last week of class, I am thrilled to receive an email from a student wanting to talk about the final exam and how he is doing in the class. At the appointed time, the student knocks on my office door.

Student: Hello. I'm looking for Professor Kowallis, can you tell me where I can find him?

Professor: I'm Professor Kowallis. It's been me the whole semester.

Student: Oh, sorry. I wasn't able to get to class as often as I wanted.

Professor: Apparently not. How can I help you?

Student: Well, I haven't done so well on my tests and assignments and I really, really need to pass this class. You see, I'm supposed to graduate this semester and I have a job lined up and I just got married and my dog died last week...oh, and did I mention that I just really need to pass this class.

Professor: Yes, I believe you did mention that. So, let's look at your grade so far. Hmm..I see that you turned in just one of the twenty assignments that were due...and you failed the first exam. Oh, and this is interesting, you appear not to have taken exams 2 and 3. I can see why you're concerned.

Student: Yeah, it was a tough semester. I missed a couple of weeks of class because of a family vacation, and, you know, families are forever. I'm sure you understand that. And then with intramurals and planning for a wedding, I just didn't have much extra time.

Professor: I see. So, what exactly can I do for you today?

Student: Well, I was thinking...and I asked my wife and Bishop about this as well...that we could all get out of this whole mess with a little extra credit. Here...I wrote this report up for you.

Professor: Are you aware that we have a class policy that no extra credit will be given?

Student: No! You're kidding, aren't you?

Professor: No, I rarely get into a kidding mood when it comes to extra credit. But you see it's right here on page 2 of your course syllabus.

Student: Oh...I lost the syllabus the first week of class. So, I guess this means you won't be giving me any extra credit for my report?

Professor: I'm afraid not. But I do have one question. I am a little bit curious about why you thought that a report on the Lord of the Rings trilogy would get extra credit in a class on physical science.

Student: Well, that's pretty obvious, isn't it? There's all that geology stuff. You know, information about mountains and rivers and the Mines of Moria. And when Mt. Doom explodes...why that's got to be one of the best descriptions of volcanic activity anywhere. And there's chemistry too. In fact, there are some things that I couldn't find any mention of in our text mithril, for example. How could they have forgotten to include that in the periodic table? And physics...why physics is everywhere...floating Boromir's body down the river, chasing orcs across Rohan, sailing ships up the's all motion and gravity and buoyancy and forces.

If my resolve against extra credit had not been so firm, I might have given in. Not many students could pull so much physical science out of Middle Earth.