This group has been pretty quiet for a while.  Maybe this is a good time to talk about something that has been nagging at me the last couple of weeks.

How many of you give extra credit assignments?  Lately, I've been giving them in my online military history classes at La Roche College, and I'll probably add them to my brick and mortar classes, when I can.  But here is something that I've noticed so far.

Not that many people take advantage of it.  For example, in two classes on Roman warfare and one on the Civil War, I allowed the students to write an extra credit essay on a board or computer wargame of their choice, so long as the subject touched on the course.  Only one student in each took advantage of the opportunity.  That's two out of a total of twenty-two students.

Moreover, the overall pattern that I've seen over the years is that there are a lot of students who ask for an extra credit assignment, usually because they're not doing that well, and sometimes are just struggling to pass the course.  Yet they are not usually the ones who take advantage of it.  Most often, at least in my classes, the ones who do complete these assignments are the ones who need it the least.  The most frequent participants are the ones who are on pace for an A or A- without help, not the students on the bubble of not passing at all.

What are your experiences in this regard?

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Jim, that's really very typical. The one's who need the extra credit usually won't do it (or do it so poorly it's not worth it) and the one's who DO the extra credit really never needed it!!! Why is that? Well, if you're doing poorly in most classes it's because you aren't doing what you're supposed to be doing or spending the time to do it well. Extra credit, unless it's SpongeBob's Mrs. Puff's mindless EC, is still WORK, hence it's not done! The hardworking students often are driven to do their best and jump at the opportunity. Hey, I've only got 43 years of teaching experience with Jr. High so I'm no expert. Just MHO.

Makes sense.  Then there is the student who gets to the end of the course, sees failure on the horizon, and practically demands an extra credit assignment.  A couple of times I've had them with bad attitudes and an aversion to turning in the regular course work.  Then they as the question, "What can I do to raise my grade?"

My answer to that is usually, "Well, you could have done more of the assignments when you had the chance."

At Jr.H. level, it's often Mommy who asks about the extra credit. It's usually Mommy who plans on doing it for her little baby. I either give extra credit that's just a few points for the work but no where enough points to matter, or something REALLY challenging that Mommy can't do or do well, like a science project!

I stopped giving extra credit assignments years ago. I found that only high-achievers tended to hand those in. Since most of my students are high-achievers I ended having to correct assignments from 90% of the class, but not from the 10% who are low-achievers, the ones who need it the most in the first place. In the end I incorporated the assignments in the evaluation of my subjects (20% of the final mark) and I am very happy that I did so. I end up having to correct many, many compositions, but I also find my students really improve their writing skills, each according to their level. The percentage of fails has dropped dramatically now that evaluation depends on continuous effort, which also helps them acquire the skills they need to pass the subject.

In any case, I find that having a clear Student' guide, as we call them over here, helps a lot with requests for extra assignments or any other exceptions. The evaluation of the subject is clearly outlined there and it is like a contract between the students and the lecturer: I have to act according to what the guide dictates and students know what to expect and that there is no point asking for anything not included in the guide, such as extra credit assignments.

I teach in a challenging urban environment. World History I (Ancient History to 1500 (about 5 years before I was born!). I do allow extra credit but it is on an individual basis. My students come with massive academic struggles and challenges. While I need to get them to pass basic standards tests I also feel my role is to teach them perseverance in the face of adversity and the value of hard work. IF a student comes to me and asks, IF they put in the extra work, and  IF they are good members of the classroom community, then I am more than happy to provide them with chances to improve. I want them to LEARN not just regurgitate knowledge. They should learn to take ownership of their success. It doesn't always work out but it is always an option for students who truly want to improve.

I've been in that "challenging urban environment" myself, working with high schools.  One of the saddest things I heard was from a really dedicated teacher who said that I was probably the only college professor his students would ever meet, and that they were the kids who got shot at on Friday night.  There is something really awful if someone is more likely to meet their own killer than a professor.

I have to ask too, just what kinds of extra credit assignments do you give?  At La Roche, I give students the chance to write about wargames, either board or computer, at the end of the course.  At APUS, we used to have optional discussion forums at the midterm. 

However, we eventually got rid of these, as students would rack up the points then, and calculate that they could basically skip the last week's forum, sometimes the second to last week's on too, just doing the final exam.  Then the folks who did all the work were just about assured of getting a B+ or higher, almost regardless of the quality.  So we started by deemphasizing the extra credit assignment, and then getting rid of it altogether.


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