There are a lot of ethics & philosophy-related events that happen in my geographical area (Atlanta). For my ethics classes especially, I let students know about select events and allow them to attend (and write up a detailed summary and reaction) for extra credit. My main reason for doing this is to encourage them to get out and be exposed to philosophical ideas, arguments, information and people that most of them are not very familiar with. Many students take advantage of these opportunities, and seem to often enjoy and benefit from them, but I am wondering about a possible problem here.
The possible problem is some semesters there are are so many of these events that a student could significantly raise his or her grade by going to a lot of these events. Thus, conceivably, a student could do rather poorly on the tests and papers -- so much so that the student would fail -- but the extra credit results in a passing average. Or the student is at a 'C' or so, but does so much extra credit to get bumped up to even an 'A'. Since I suppose one's grade should really be (mostly?) based on to what degree on has "mastered" the information and skills presented in the class, these extra-credit-enhanced grades don't reflect that competence.
Is this a problem? If so, what to do about it?
One idea is a "cap" on extra credit. But what would that cap be? And, more importantly, if there were a cap then fewer students would be getting out there to see these interesting presentations, which would be bad, from my goals for teaching.
Another idea is to revise the view that students' grades should be one's grade should (mostly) based on to what degree on has "mastered" the information and skills presented in the class. Another category could be added (e.g., "interest in the material," manifesting itself in going to see outside speakers?), but perhaps any such category would be bogus. Or maybe not: maybe cultivating students' interests in and motivation for engaging intellectual topics is a goal in itself, although one that can't easily be measured. I don't think interest in the material should be graded, but perhaps it can be justly rewarded?
Another option is that extra credit activities could be assimilated into the legitimate "skills" category, since they are supposed to be events where one applies the critical thinking skills we are learning and practicing in class, and somehow by that route such radical grade improvements are justified.
I wonder what thoughts people have to these issues. Maybe someone has already dealt with this problem and has a good response.