TITLE: Thinking About Untapped Extra Credit Opportunities
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: April 30, 2016 11:02 AM
I don't usually offer extra credit assignments in my courses, but I
did this semester. Students submitted their last scheduled homework
early in the last week of classes: an interpreter for a small
arithmetic language with local variables. There wasn't enough time
left to assign another homework, but I had plenty of ideas for the
next version of our interpreter. Students had just learned how to
implement both functions and mutable data, so they could add
functions, true variables, and sequences of expressions to the
language. They could extend their REPL to support top-level
definitions and state. They could add primitive data objects to the
language, or boolean values and operators. If they added, booleans,
they could add an if expression. If they were willing to
learn some new Racket, they could load programs from a text file and
evaluate them. I had plenty of ideas for them to try!
So I asked, "If I write up an optional assignment, how many of you
would take a stab at some extra credit?" Approximately twenty of the
twenty-five students present raised their hands.
I just downloaded the submission folder. The actual number of
attempts was a complement of the number of hands raised: five. And,
with only one exception, the students who tried the extra credit
problems are the students who need it least. They are likely to get
an A or a high B in the course anyway. The students who most need
extra credit (and the extra practice) didn't attempt the extra credit.
SMH, as the kids say these days. But the more I thought about it,
the more this made sense.
These reflections have me thinking... If I want to help the students
who most need the help, I need to find ways to reach them sooner. I
did try one thing earlier this semester that worked well for many
students: the opportunity to rewrite one of their exams at home with
access to all the course materials. A couple of students wrote
surprisingly candid and insightful assessments of why they had
performed below par under test conditions and supplied better work on
their second attempt. I hope that experience helps them as they
prepare for the final exam.
I've been teaching a long time. I still have much to learn.
- College students are the most optimistic people I have ever met.
Many students probably raised their hand with every intention of
submitting extra credit solutions. Then the reality of the last
week of classes hit, and they ran out of time.
- The students who submitted new code are likely the ones doing
well enough in their other courses to be able to spare extra
time for this course. They are also probably used to doing
well in all of their courses, and a little uncertainty about
their grade in this course may have spurred them into action.
So, they may have had both more time and more internal
motivation to do extra work.
- To be fair, I don't know that the other students didn't attempt
to solve some of the problems. Maybe some tried but did not
submit their work. They may not have been satisfied with the
quality of their code and didn't have time to seek help from me
before the deadline.
- And, if we are being honest, there is at least one more possibility.
A few of the students who find themselves needing extra credit at
the end of of the semester got themselves into that position by
not being very disciplined in their work habits. Those students
may be as optimistic as any other students, but they aren't likely
to conjure up better work habits on short notice.