Let’s Talk About Extra Credit

Extra credit seems to me to be one of those “teacher taboos,” one of those things rarely talked about openly for fear of being shunned forever or banned from the faculty lounge.

I believe you can meet the course competencies and requirements in the allotted class time AND ALSO engage and reward students through extra credit opportunities – but it takes creativity, control and discipline.

And ok, a tiny little bit more grading.

What’s an extra credit opportunity look like? Here are a few I use:

  • In composition courses, prewriting and invention are competencies, part of the writing process taught. But an extra credit opportunity BEFORE the prewriting assignment, where students share initial ideas about what they are going to write about with other students in a Canvas or other (safe and controlled) discussion forum, is an added (but useful) perk.
  • Peer review is another composition competency. I use a “standard” Word form with ten questions about drafts that students must complete. If students complete the peer review forms correctly, sufficiently, and on time, they can also submit an MS Word “Track Changes” red-line review (i.e. direct electronic markup) on the same papers for extra credit (and learn/practice a new technical skill they’ll potentially use in their careers).
  • F2F Creative Writing courses are often known for their “workshop” format, where writers openly analyze and discuss fellow student papers in a real-time circle.   In my online CRW courses, I have what I call “virtual workshops” at the end of each module: Students must complete the required writing process steps to participate — but the “virtual workshop” is a discussion forum at the end where they can (1) share their story with others in the class, and (2) get comments from/give comments to any other student in the class. Not every student MUST post their story, not every student MUST (or can) comment – but if they can and/or do, they get some extra credit points.
    • In my combined introductory and intermediate CRW courses, posting and commenting in the “Virtual Workshop” is optional for beginning students, but mandatory for advanced students. Look at all the cross-training and exposure that happens!

Where’s the “discipline” element in extra credit come in? You have to set up rules and regulations to make sure extra credit is actually a reward for good work and not an open path to grade inflation. Therefore, make your extra credit opportunities:

  • Meaningful.
  • Fairly difficult and/or challenging, above-and-beyond the expected norm.
  • An added opportunity, not a replacement for required assignments.
  • Not worth more than 5% of the total grade, so that extra credit alone can’t change a student’s letter grade.

For me, the most compelling reasons to use extra credit are:

  • Extra credit is a great motivator – human beings fall all over themselves to do something if they think they are getting something free or “extra.”
  • Extra credit soothes student fears and obsessions with grades – it helps them learn more “right stuff” more easily.
  • Extra credit gives students hope. Students (and other humans?) need hope to continue. When their hope dies, so does their confidence, their self-esteem, their motivation, and usually any chance at a passing grade and a better life.
  • Extra credit is a great way to judge initiative. In the last two weeks of a course, when students typically flood you with questions about what they can do to get a better grade, all you have to do is look back at the extra opportunities already given to see if they had the initiative and took advantage of what was already offered.  Makes it clear they, not you, are accountable.
  • Extra credit balances out all that extra work we instructors do to help struggling students that are performing below expectations — by rewarding those Type A students capable of and wanting to excel above and beyond.  “Catch people doing something right — and tell them.”

Extra credit? Let’s bring it out in the open and talk it over, exchange ideas. I’ll be in the faculty lounge, munching down cookies.


EXTRA (HAH! Gotcha): How do you do extra credit in Canvas? Set the extra credit assignment up like you would any other assignment (title, details, due date). But assign a point value of “zero.” That way, the points earned in the extra credit (specify the value in assignment details so students know and you don’t forget) is mathematically “extra” as well and computes correctly into the total course point percentage as “extra.”



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