Extra Credit Options to Promote Learning

go the extra mile sign
It’s time to hand back the exams, and no one has done well. You’re as disappointed as your students will be when they see their grades. How do you get the class back on track? Offering extra credit assignments is one approach, but will that just lead to more problems?

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It’s time to hand back the exams, and no one has done well. You’re as disappointed as your students will be when they see their grades. How do you get the class back on track? Offering extra credit assignments is one approach, but will that just lead to more problems?

Scenario 1

Use extra credit work to motivate and engage students vs reward assigned work. What would you say is the primary goal of your teaching approach? Are you more invested in having your students
  1. a) learn the material in any way that works for them, or
  2. b) learn to effectively demonstrate their grasp of the material in the manner you have stipulated?
Student learning vs. teacher workload How might you design assignments that don’t significantly increase the workload of grading (e.g., making one assignment optional, having students grade one another’s work, including an optional question on exams)? Busywork vs. engaging students Here’s complete description of an extra credit assignment from an example syllabus.  What do you think?  Is it a legitimate assignment or extra credit busy work? EXPLORATORY ESSAY This course explores a variety of intriguing and controversial topics. If one happens to interest you and you’d like to explore it more deeply, consider this extra credit assignment.
  1. A 5-7 page essay (following the same style guidelines for the required course essays) that starts by answering these questions: Why is this topic of interest to you?  What questions do you have about it?
  2. Track down 3-5 sources (good reliable ones, see what qualifies as reliable on the course website), read them and briefly summarize each.
  3. Identify an expert—you can probably find one on campus (I’d be happy to try to help with this), arrange a meeting or have an email exchange and discuss your questions and any others that emerged from your reading. Discuss this exchange and what you learned from it.
  4. Finish up the essay by answering these questions: Did you get any of your questions answered? Which ones? What’s the most important thing you learned?  What questions about the topic would you next like to answer?
These essays are worth up to 25 bonus points.  You may do more than one.  They must be submitted before the last week of classes.  And there’s no partial credit for a paper that follows some of these instructions but not all of them, or one that comes in shorter than the designated length.

Scenario 2

What’s fair? Giving a second chance vs. preparing for the professional world Would you offer the opportunity of extra credit to all students, or only those who claim to struggle with your assignments? If the latter, how will you articulate the value of this approach to your students? Which of these reasons would persuade you to give a student a “second chance” with an extra credit assignment:
  1. a) poor test skills;
  2. b) family emergency;
  3. c) different learning style/diverse abilities of demonstrating grasp of material;
  4. d) desire for more options to engage with course material.
Are there others? If anxiety and pressure to demonstrate knowledge impeded a student’s performance on exams, what kinds of tips and or resources could you share improve his/her test-taking skills? Can you think of times in the professional sphere when employees are given second chances to make up for a mistake? If so, can you imagine designing “second chances”/extra credit/make-up work for students that would not impede their professional preparation?

Scenario 3

Is the goal of grades to reward those who master the material or those who follow the rules? What kinds of credit options might help students grasp course content without inadvertently rewarding those who don’t follow rules (say, by failing to participate in class or to complete regular assignments)? If you are opposed to giving extra credit yet students ask for it how will you explain this to your students? Do you feel extra credit options risk rewarding a student’s focus on grades rather than knowledge? If so, how might you design extra credit assignments that engage them in higher-order thinking (i.e., evaluating/analyzing information and applying knowledge) as opposed to “busy work” (i.e., simply listing information or copying content from another source)? Which of these extra credit assignments might you consider:
  1. a) further research and source engagement;
  2. b) listing further questions for consideration;
  3. c) interviewing an expert
Conclusions: Would soliciting student feedback about extra credit help you make your own decision about whether or not to offer it? What other feedback would be useful to you (e.g., senior colleagues, research findings)? Does your department/school have a policy on offering extra credit assignments? Are there resources on campus that can help you discern when the option might be appropriate? Are you more likely to try out a new instructional approach and ask for feedback or wait until you’re clear in your own thinking about why you are offering extra credit? Are you more likely to test a new idea in one class, or roll it out to all of your classes to keep things equal? References and Activities Hill IV, G. W., Palladino, J. J. and Eison, J. A.  “Blood, Sweat, and Trivia:  Faculty Ratings of Extra-Credit Opportunities.”  Teaching of Psychology, 1993, 20 (4), 209-213. Activities The authors list 39 possible activities and assignments which students could complete for extra credit.  Survey respondents indicated if they used the activity and how valuable they considered it.  Here’s a sampling of the activities and assignments.  Share them or the article with faculty and see if faculty use them and/or consider them legitimate extra credit opportunities. Norcross, J. C., Horrocks, L. J., and Stevenson, J. F. (1989).  Of barfights and gadflies:  Attitudes and practices concerning extra credit in college courses.  Teaching of Psychology, 16 (4), 199-203. Activities Norcross, J. C., Dooley, H. S., and Stevenson, J. F. (1993).  Faculty use and justification of extra credit:  No middle ground.  Journal of Teaching Psychology, 20 (4), 240-242. Activities Put the six situations (and others that come to mind) on a handout or PowerPoint and have faculty discuss whether they would offer extra credit given those circumstances