Since my spring quarter is winding down, I thought we might revisit an issue Nathan raised a few years ago: extra credit.
With a few weeks left in the term, I'm getting lots of requests from students for extra credit assignments. Typically, this is motivated either by their having done poorly on previous tests and assignments, or in some cases, not having done them at all. Students are hoping I'll provide an assignment or task to help them augment their grades in my courses.
I have a simple policy concerning such requests: No (for reasons outlined below the break).
First, extra credit reinforces the misguided idea, evidently popular among students just out of high school, that not only does effort matter, quantity supersedes quality. But it doesn't, either in academic life or outside it. For many tasks — the bar exam, brain surgery, landing that big project for your company — you'll get one, and only one, chance to succeed. Students need to be able to do certain things well, not to do them a lot. Suppose I give a student an extra credit essay assignment. The student completes the essay, which is not fundamentally better than any of his previous efforts, and receives a D, say. In that case, the student hasn't learned much, if anything, from the assignment. The student has merely practiced again the same inadequate habits that informed the required coursework.
Second, considerations of equity and consistency intervene. If I make extra credit available to student X, then I think I must (in good conscience) give all my other students the same extra credit opportunity. Now I don't grade on a curve, but if one did, all sorts of problems then emerge: Student X is given an opportunity, via extra credit, to bend the curve in her favor. But then other students could only keep the curve unbent by doing the 'extra credit,' thus transforming it into, de facto, required work. But even without a curve, other students have a basis for complaint. First, students can legitimately complain that it's harder to get an A, say, with fewer opportunities to earn that grade than it is with more such opportunities. Why should X get more opportunities than they did? Couldn't the student who earned an A without extra credit legitimately argue that she is more deserving of her grade than the student whose A is extra credit-enabled? Second, extra credit breaks the compact I made with them in my syllabus, namely, that a certain body of tasks, evaluated on the basis of a certain set of criteria, due at a certain time, etc., will determine their grade.
Third, reasonable self-interest speaks against extra credit. I'd have to devise the extra credit assignments and grade them. And while I take my pedagogical responsibilities seriously, I don't see that I have any obligation to put in additional effort to help ensure that students who could have (with more effort, performance, etc.) earned the grades they seek do receive the grades they seek.
That's the policy, and those are the reasons. What are yours?