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I am currently teaching an elective course for undergraduate students in the College of Business, at a university located in Hong Kong. Students who choose to take the course can use the course as one of the elective courses to fulfill their graduation requirements, but there are many other elective courses which they can select instead.

A few weeks before the end of the semester, a student in the course, let's call them Tardy, asked if they could drop my course:

I was hoping you would allow me to late drop this class... I know it's very late into the semester but I have taken too many courses this semester and it is quite overwhelming for me alongside certain other things I am dealing with. I have been trying to get better but my mental health is still taking a toll on my ability to work. I am stressed out about my workload and my grandmother passed away so that has been hard to deal with.

(In my university, students are allowed to add and drop courses freely in the first 2 weeks. If students wish to drop the course after that point, it is possible but the process is administratively more complex: "requests for late drop of courses will only be approved under exceptional circumstances, and such late requests must be submitted via email no later than the end of the teaching period for the relevant semester/term for approval by the Head of the course-offering academic unit.")

I told Tardy that I would support their application to drop the course. At that point, they then stopped attending classes and submitting course assignments.

Unfortunately, Tardy tarried on the task of going through the process of dropping the course, and it seems that they missed the deadline to drop the course! At that point, they realized that they had missed multiple course assignments, and this would have a significant effect on their course grade. In fact, since I have to give them a score of zero for those missed assignments, they have definitely failed for the course. Realizing this, they sent me an email begging me to give them a chance to complete extra credit assignments to make up for the missed assignments.

Questions:

  • Should I give an extra credit assignment to a student who missed multiple course assignments, due to their fault in not dropping the course on time?
  • As a teacher, is it within my discretion to do this?
  • Is it a good idea for me to give them a chance to make up for them mistake? Or perhaps it is a good chance for them to learn a painful (but ultimately not that serious) lesson?

Clarification: What happens if the student fails the course The student will receive a D or F grade, which will negatively affect their GPA. If the course is offered in the future, the student could retake the course, which will overwrite the previous failing grade. Since the course is an elective and not a required course for graduation, and the student is not in their final year, failing the course should not delay the student's graduation plans.

Clarification: What is the difference between dropping a course and failing a course?

  • If a student drops a course late, it shows up as an X on their transcript, which indicates a late drop, but does not affect their GPA.
  • Whereas if a student fails a course, the student gets a D or F on the transcript, which will negatively affect their GPA as the GPA is a a weighted average of all of their course grades.
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6 Answers 6

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Should I give an extra credit assignment to a student who missed multiple course assignments, due to her fault in not dropping the course on time?

It seems like this could be seen as unfair to other students who did not miss their assignments. Any make up assignment should keep in mind the goals of the course (does the assignment show that the student has met the learning goals of the course, or encourage them to learn the assigned material?).

As a teacher, is it within my discretion to do this?

This depends on any specific policies at your university. Instructors can have a lot of leeway in how they decide to assess their students, though some places standardize things a lot more and may even limit assessment to broadly administered exams at the end of semester. I am guessing if you were in this type of institution you would already be aware of that, though. Surely you can check with a mentor you have at your institution if you are unsure, but otherwise you really need to be aware of policies like this at your own institution if you are going to be teaching there.

Is it a good idea for me to give her a chance to make up for her mistake? Or perhaps it is a good chance for her to learn a painful (but ultimately not that serious) lesson?

I don't think this is answerable objectively. It's possible the student is dealing with something that is taking up all their attention (mental/physical health; grief/loss, etc.), and there isn't need for any "lesson" but rather for care. Also, especially if this is an early course, the initial transition to the individual responsibilities of college life are often a struggle for students.


Suggested approaches:

  1. At institutions I've attended/worked at, there have been policies in place for "incomplete" grades to be assigned at the end of a semester. An example is here: https://onestop.umn.edu/academics/grading-policies Resolving an incomplete grade is a matter of creating an individualized contract with a student to complete work after the course deadline to convert the grade into a standard grade. Presumably this work would be equivalent to the work the student would have done as a normal part of the course, not "extra credit" or a side assignment. If the contract is not upheld, the grade becomes a failing grade. I would recommend you check whether there is a similar policy at your institution (again, talking to a faculty mentor of yours would be a good idea). My expectation, though, is that such a policy is highly up to your discretion as an instructor. There is no imposed requirement on you to allow a student this avenue to revise their grade.

  2. Alternatively, I would check whether it is possible in your institution's administration to override the missed drop deadline and retroactively register the course as a drop. Clearly the student had an intention to drop the course prior to the drop deadline, and stopped their involvement in the course at that time. The existence of a deadline like this is administratively imposed, so it can in theory be administratively ignored. It's possible, though, through stubbornness or strict adherence to policy this request will be denied. However, based on the language you've added on the drop policy, I would, in consultation with the student, write to the administration that this is an exceptional circumstance where a student facing substantial challenges outside their coursework a) intended to drop the course early and consulted with you about dropping, b) stopped attending and participating in the course after that point, c) will certainly fail the course if they are not permitted to drop due to the missed assignments, and that d) as the instructor you would ask that they approve a late drop given the circumstances. I would also discuss personally with the "head of the course-offering academic unit" and ask them directly that they approve this request (presumably this person is effectively your 'boss' for matters of teaching and I'd expect they are someone you are at least somewhat familiar with). Do this as soon as possible to not miss any further deadlines.

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    I worry that your first comments about fairness imply competitive grading or that "same treatment" is equivalent to "fair treatment". Students are individuals. You can be fair to every student without making things the same for everyone. I think there are biblical stories about that, actually.
    – Buffy
    Apr 22 at 17:16
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    @Buffy I think my suggested solution to create a plan for making up the course material is clearly not advocating that every student get the same treatment to be fair; I do agree that one can be fair without being the same. I meant what I wrote at face value: other students could see this as unfair. If you've set expectations for them to do things a certain way to succeed in the course, they will probably see it as unfair if someone else is allowed to circumvent those expectations. That doesn't mean it isn't okay to offer another path, but that path should be thoughtfully measured.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 22 at 17:28
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    #2 sounds like the best solution. Simply contact the person who supports students dropping courses and say "person X asked to drop the course but appears to have failed to file form B27. Can you please remove them or contact them to support this. They already asked to be removed and I said they could" at which point it becomes an admin problem, not your problem.
    – Valorum
    Apr 23 at 8:25
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Essentially the same as Bryan's answer, but I would perhaps emphasize a few points differently.

Should I give an extra credit assignment to a student who missed multiple course assignments, due to her fault in not dropping the course on time?

As phrased, absolutely not. Three reasons:

  1. It is patently unfair to create "extra credit" assignments based on the needs of one student and to make these assignments available to only one student. In most cases, giving lifeboats to students who miss your deadlines is unfair to those students who reluctantly cut corners to meet your deadlines (possible exception if you are well known for giving extensions to anyone who asks for it).
  2. It is not a good use of your time to be essentially creating a second version of your class for an individual student.
  3. Expecting a student to "cram" your class in half the time or less is not reasonable. This student already claims to be overloaded and suffering with mental health issues, so allowing or forcing them to do all this "extra credit" work will make things much worse. If you do grant this opportunity as the student requests, I seriously doubt the student will complete all the work on time -- my experience is that in most cases, they will either (a) start doing the extra work, give up, and then gracefully accept a poor grade, or (b) ask you for yet more leniency.

Is it a good idea for me to give her a chance to make up for her mistake?

Yes, giving someone an F because they messed up the paperwork is a bit unfortunate. If it's within your power to find a different administrative solution (and it might not be), I would recommend trying to do so.

  • See what your options are for a late drop. The policy you quoted says that these can be granted "until the end of the teaching period" -- is it really so late already? (If so, the "extra credit" solution seems even more far-fetched). In any case, late drop requests coming from instructors may be treated differently than those coming from students.
  • Look into what happens when a student retakes a course. At some universities, the initial grade is completely gone, "like it never happened."
  • Giving an incomplete grade may also be an option. Again, I would advise against creating a second version of the course just for this one student. But if you can give an incomplete grade now and let her "finish" the missing assignments the next time the course is offered, that would work well.
  • You could also look into retroactively changing the grading option from letter grade to P/F or P/NC. Failing such a course may be "better" than failing a letter grade course; alternatively, in some institutions, you may be able to set a threshold for "P" that is lower than the threshold for a "C" (but in deciding whether this is fair, consider whether any of your other students might have switched to P/F if this option had been available to them).
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    But then is any accommodation made to any student for any reason patently unfair? Giving a student an opportunity to demonstrate competence affects the grade of no other student (unless competitive grading is used, which is itself patently unfair). And any of those other students with issues (too many courses, health, death in the family) can ask for some accommodation. Note that the student isn't asking for leniency, but for an alternate path. Compassion is a virtue recognized almost universally, but maybe not in academia.
    – Buffy
    Apr 22 at 19:31
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    I actually left that caveat in #1 with you in mind -- if you are clear with all students from the beginning that you understand that things happen and will generally be agreeable to exceptions, then there is no real unfairness. This is probably a better idea in a small, upper-level course than a large 101 course, of course. The trouble is only when you have policies and don't follow them. And this student is asking for a massive exception -- not just tweaking a few due dates, but replacing entire assignments with "extra credit assignments" after (it seems) the course has already ended.
    – cag51
    Apr 22 at 19:38
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    For me it's #3 followed by #2. Unorganized students who fall behind never catch up. They need the structure of the class (when they retake it). Apr 23 at 4:25
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    Agree (the reasons were not in any particular order), especially in this case. It sounds like the "teaching period" has already ended, so the student is essentially asking to do several weeks worth of work during a few days while taking finals for other classes.....that's not going to end well. Even if the timeline isn't as compressed as it appears, the student got into this mess because they were overloaded and wanted to drop a course; this concern is still valid, and extra-valid now that they are way behind.
    – cag51
    Apr 23 at 5:23
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A notable fact here is that the student already asked for and was given grace regarding their circumstances and desire to drop the class. After this the student made a secondary lapse in their opportunity to take advantage of the grace you extended. Now, the student requests not only grace but also special treatment including the creation of special assignments.

If you are feeling generous, the individual course extension (eg. Incomplete) is better than creating extra credit assignments. This way the student will simply have extra time to complete and be graded on the same material other students were given.

That being said, sometimes students fail courses. Often it is the result of such negligent behavior on the part of a student, but with improvement thereafter can be explained away if the student continues in academia. Students often over inflate the significance of their GPA, but that doesn't mean their professors have to do the same. You don't "owe" this student a passing grade.

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  • +1 for incomplete. This is the option I would have given long ago when I was a TA with some of my own courses I had the power to do that in - with the recommendation to attend/audit the next semester to actually learn the material and take exams at the same time the next round of students did. Apr 23 at 14:50
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There are two reasons here that operate against the proposal for extra-credit work. The first problem is that it cuts against the basic problem the student has that she is overwhelmed and unable to handle her existing workload. The second problem is that it raises issues of fairness for other students. To justify the extra-credit assignments Tardy would need to get some formal "special consideration" in your course, which would require you to follow the usual rules for assessing special consideration. (To answer your other question: yes, as a university lecturer you have the authority to depart from the formal assessment structure; however, you need to follow the special-consideration policy at your university when you do this.)

I agree with your decision to support Tardy's application for late withdrawal from your course. The fact that she is overwhelmed by work is not an exceptional circumstance, but the loss of her grandmother is; bereavement is a valid "exceptional circumstance" in these cases in my view. Unfortunately this is one of those instances where there is a bit of a Catch-22 --- the administrative process for the withdrawal can actually be a barrier to the type of student who is suffering the exceptional circumstances that warrant the application. I would recommend that you contact the university administration to see if you can push through a late-late withdrawal after the administrative deadline, with minimal/no further input from Tardy. Let then know that Tardy was in the process of completing the application and see if they will withdraw her based on your authority. They might not let you do this, but it is worth a try. (There might be an option for "withdrawal with failure" if it is after the deadline.) If you're unable to have her withdrawn then she is probably going to fail and this is largely beyond your control; there might be some options for giving an "incomplete failure" in this case, without specifying a numerical grade. In this case you can look at the administrative lesson as a silver-lining in an unfortunate situation.

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I suggest that you go along and give her the extra work. The "painful lesson", unfortunately, could have lasting consequences on her future that she might be unable to compensate for if not now.

The important thing is that she learn enough to pass the course and be able to demonstrate it to you adequately. Taking a different path than the one you set out is within your power to permit. I suggest you do that.

My teaching philosophy, not universal I realize, is that my job is to teach students and enable success, not to "grade" them.

You can, of course, make the assignment difficult enough that it will be a challenge, though not an impossible one.

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  • My teaching philosophy, not universal I realize, is that my job is to teach students and enable success, not to "grade" them. I really like that statement. It's a teachers responsibility to set their students up for success and not to roughen them up and hope that that leads to more desireable outcomes.
    – Squary94
    Apr 25 at 7:44
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As psithurism mentioned as a small part of their answer, if your institution allows it, assigning a grade of Incomplete is a really good option here. Don't give the student who didn't actually take the course an opportunity to pass it without meeting the same standards other students did, but instead give them time to actually take it. This is the option I would have given long ago when I was a TA with some of my own courses I had the power to do that in.

If the course if offered every semester, I would recommend they attend/audit it the next semester and participate, hand in homework, take exams, etc. at the same time the new round of students does. Otherwise it would be on them to do the whole thing as self-study and just hand in assignments. If there are closed-book/proctored exams and no opportunity to take them as the same time new students are doing so, they'll probably have to miss out on the opportunity to take those unless you're feeling really generous, but if you have time you'll be in your office anyway you could let them sit and take those in your presence while you do something else productive.

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