Extra Credit Strategies & Alternatives


hands-2Turn your extra credit assignments into life long learning experiences 

by Tasha Davis, Associate Professor, Austin Community College

It’s closing in on the end of the semester. Your days are likely filled with hurried grading and frantic emails and visits from panicked students as they realize the work they have done thus far is not adequate enough for the letter grade they want or need. With this realization comes the common question, “Can I do anything for extra credit?”

The answer in my courses is, “No.” I have been told it’s a harsh response, and I will admit that saying it is more difficult at times; but is the response I am now conditioned to give. Here’s my rationale:

the-eleventh-hour-1254214Time. Extra credit means more work for students and more work for the instructor. If students are struggling to successfully complete the assignments required for the course, how can they possibly have time for additional work? Further, the instructor now has to take the time to create and evaluate these extra assignments.

Work Ethic. When the extra credit question comes earlier in the semester than expected (on the first class day, for example), I have come to realize what a student is really asking is, “How hard am I going to have to work to pass this course?” In other words, they are wondering if they slack off will they be able to recover. This is no way to reinforce effective study habits and life-long learning skills.

Fairness. Extra credit is unfair to students who have worked hard all semester to earn a passing grade. What message are you sending to students who have been diligent all semester in doing required assignments and ensuring their work is completed on time?

I have experimented with various methods over the years in an attempt to accommodate students and improve their likelihood of passing. I understand life happens, and sometimes students need a bit of assistance to push past a setback. What has resulted most often, however, is a great deal of effort on my part to create what I believe is a fair option only to be disappointed when the student neglects the offer altogether or ultimately ends up withdrawing from the course. Some students openly admit they were expecting an easy way to improve their grade; they wanted me to simply give them the extra points.

Our classrooms shouldn’t exist as silos void of any real world application. What happens in life if a deadline is missed? Explain to students there are penalties and consequences they must accept – just like in the real world.

Here are a few options I have found that resemble the win-win resolution I am aiming for while maintaining the integrity of my course content and design:

  1. Take class time to carefully review assignment requirements. With new college students, it is sometimes necessary to teach them how to read assignment instructions. This is also a good time to stress the weight or importance of each assignment and explain the consequences if an assignment is missed. By paying close attention to commonly asked questions regarding assignment requirements, necessary detail and elaboration can be added in addition to the instructions you already provide.
  2. Give students the option to have their work reviewed prior to the due date. This may seem like extra work, but usually only a small percentage of students will actually complete assignments early enough to take advantage of this opportunity. It can be a valuable lesson in responding to feedback for those who do.shutterstock_150215990_2
  3. When students grumble about the extra credit policy, use it as a learning experience. Ask them, as a class, to create an extra credit opportunity that is fair for everyone – including you as their instructor. Offer to implement the change if you agree with their proposal; but remember to stress that everyone must agree. This experience gets them to empathize with the work you do and the efforts taken to be fair; but it also teaches them critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills.
  4. Build a contingency plan into your course design. It is much easier to accept an assignment late with a penalty than create an entirely new assignment for a student or manage outside activities or events. It is also good to have a policy for extenuating circumstances to accommodate those major life events that can sometimes derail even the best students.
  5. Accept the opportunity to teach important life skills. Our classrooms shouldn’t exist as silos void of any real world application. What happens in life if a deadline is missed? Explain to students there are penalties and consequences they must accept – just like in the real world.

I received a wonderful email from a student at the end of the course in response to my denial of his request for extra credit. He admitted that although he was upset, he understood and appreciated my efforts to remain fair and consistent. By outlining these policies clearly in the Course Syllabus and ensuring students understand my rationale from the start of the semester, I have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of students asking, “Can I do anything for extra credit?”

What unique strategies have you developed to deal with extra credit requests from students? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Tasha Davis
Tasha Davis is currently an Associate Professor in the Speech department at Austin Community College teaching classroom based and distance learning courses in public speaking, interpersonal communication, and business and professional communication. Prior to becoming a professor, she worked in various roles in higher education including student services and enrollment management. She is also pursuing a doctorate in Organizational Communication and Technology from the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on flexibility and flexible work arrangements and the facilitation of such arrangements by technology. She is the author of Social Exchanges: Interpersonal Skills for College & Beyond (Kendall Hunt, 2015).

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