One thing a new teacher often faces is the question of extra credit.  This semester it has been requested by several students in both classes.  I assume their rationale is as follows:

  • even if I don’t ace it I’ll get a few points
  • extra credit assignments are always easy stuff, like go to this lecture

I am really torn on the topic.

On the one hand, I can understand that if you tank a test due to nerves or something that you might want a chance to prove that you get the material.  And if each test were very heavily weighted in this class I might be more sensitive to that.  However no test is ever worth more than 10% in my class, so tanking on one is hardly the difference between an A and a D.

More importantly, I teach at a community college.  Many of our students are not as well prepared as those at other schools in terms of study skills and flunking what is considered a basic class can be very demoralizing.    Isn’t it part of the mission of a community college to help these students move forward?

On the other hand, there is a really good argument that says that if you don’t have time to properly learn the material then where are you getting time to spend on an extra credit assignment?

I also hate the idea of giving out “freebies”; credit for just showing up to a lecture or some very easy task.  If you want a different thing to do, fine, but it’s going to be work.  For my Psych101 class I assigned what amounts to a 5-7 page paper for an extra credit assignment (up to 30 points added to  your lowest test grade, so basically up to 3 points on your final grade) and for stats the one assignment I do every semester is for them to read the chapter that we don’t cover in class and do a couple of problems and questions based upon it.  These each require real work.

The thing is that I KNOW my regular assignments and tests aren’t too difficult – for every person who got a 30 to 50 on the tests so far, there is one who got in the 80 to 100 range.  So the work is manageable, some of them just aren’t applying themselves.  And to me that means that just curving the whole class isn’t the right approach.

So, do I offer more extra credit, or let the chips fall where they may?  Do I offer extra credit but only assignments that teach study skills or encourage participation on campus (which research has shown increases persistence)?

What are your thoughts on extra credit in undergraduate courses?

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