Should instructors offer extra credit?

Adjunct Eliana Osborn sometimes offers grade-improving points for behaviors she wants to encourage, such as registering to vote, donating blood, spring-break community service, attending a cultural event and obtaining a library card. She asks Two-Year Track readers for their views on extra credit.

Some never offer extra credit. Most will give credit only for work directly related to course material. One complains that Osborn is “abusing her power and undermining the very mission of her institution by offering course credit for non-course activities.”

I think you’ve lost sight of what grades are actually about. A student enrolls in a course about X. The student’s grade tells the institution and the rest of the world to what extent they have mastered X.  What you are doing is conspiring with the students to lie about their level of mastery about X in order to further your own personal agenda, to get the students to do “certain things” that are your own pet issues that have nothing to do with the curriculum. . . . It’s not your prerogative as an instructor to offer students a chance for course credit for doing what you personally judge are socially appropriate activities.  If this is routine practice in the community college environment, I would advise most serious 4-year universities to tear up their articulation agreements with them.

A developmental math instructor offers to meet with students to go over problems they’ve missed on an exam. Students who can explain “why the previous solution for each missed problem was wrong and why the correct solution is correct (with a demonstration on blank paper)” can earn back half the points lost, up to a maximum of 10 percent for the whole test.

Extra credit means extra work for instructors.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON June 29, 2011

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[...] Should college instructors offer extra credit? If so, is it OK to offer grade-raising points for community service, donating blood or attending a cultural event? [...]

Mike Anderson

“Socially important” extra credit seems like a scam.

However, I’m all in favor of “professionally important” extra credit. I routinely award extra credit when my students attend course-related lectures both on- and off-campus, and when they do readings and solve problems that are a bit too esoteric to fit in my syllabus.

My students love it, since they know that a flub on a test question or homework problem is a loss they can recover from. And I love it, since there’s no end-of-semester whining from poor performers trying for a Hail Mary extra-credit that I have no time to design or grade.

Be careful though–teachers need a mechanism to prevent students from “pigging out” on extra credit to the detriment of their course work. It took me years to figure that one out.

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