There has been one post on this blog on the subject of “extra credit” work, and it drew some very good comments, but I feel that it should be brought up again.
I just returned graded midterm exams to students in my introductory courses. Inevitably, a handful of them expressed disappointment with their test scores. Two students went on to badger me after class and through email correspondence about giving them “extra credit” work to boost their grade. They begged and pleaded as though their lives depended on it. I have never, nor will I ever entertain the idea of adopting this practice. I tried to explain to the students why I believe this is inherently unfair to me and to their classmates. What “extra credit” really means is extra workload for everyone. As some of the bloggers here have expressed, we cannot give a student such an opportunity without offering the same to everyone else. If we find ourselves willing to do so, we would have to find a suitable activity related to the course that is currently not part of the curriculum. We would then have to evaluate the work and somehow change our grading scheme to incorporate these “extra points”. Besides, the course as it stands already consists of considerable amounts of work–reading assignments, graded online work, in-class quizzes, and three exams. It would be unnecessarily burdensome to add an assignment just because someone failed to put in the effort for their exam.
I also don’t believe in assigning busywork, or giving points for attending seminars and talks. The former doesn’t accomplish anything, and the latter is punitive to those students whose schedules are too full or arbitrarily in conflict with the event.
If a student is willing to expend some more effort on an “extra” assignment, why couldn’t they have spent that energy on preparing for the test? Though this was the first exam, my students cannot argue that they did not know what to expect. I posted sample questions for their review and spent one lecture period going over those questions with them. Nothing on the test was a surprise.
When I get requests for extra credit assignments, I remind the student(s) of the existing opportunities to increase their grade–the online homework and upcoming quizzes and exams. If the requests come at the end of the semester, as they so often do, I simply remind them (in the kindest way possible) that the opportunities were there, and that it is unfair to expect me to create additional work for everyone as a remedy to the problem that they themselves have created. Throughout the semester, I tell students that if their study methods are not producing the results that they want, they can seek help from peer tutors and from me.