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Extra-credit policies and wellness

Topics/tags: Teaching, things I needed to write

For most of my time at Grinnell, I’ve offered a modicum of extra credit to students in my introductory courses [1] who attend or participate in their classmates’ activities, such as performances or competitions, or who attend or participate in designated academic and artist events on campus, such as Scholars’ Convocation or the Public Events series. It’s not a lot of extra credit: Eight events over the semester earn students two points toward their final grade [2].

I don’t recall all the reasons that I started offering extra credit. In part, it’s because it gave an excuse to discuss these kinds of events at the start of class. In part, I knew that even a little bit of credit is enough to incentivize students to do things they should do anyway. In part, it acknowledges the extra time and effort that attending events takes; given that we already expect [3] students to be spending at least 48 hours per week in class on their classwork and that many are working ten or more hours per week, their time is precious.

I’ve found the policy to be successful, although it can use some tweaks [4]. I regularly hear from students that they discover value from attending these different events. For some, it’s the pleasure of learning a bit about a sport they have not previously watched. For others, it’s the experience of live music. And for others, it’s the intellectual joy that comes from hearing a good talk. I also know that for the peer support events, students appreciate being able to announce what they are doing and to know that some of their peers find the time to support them in what they do.

As I was reflecting on materials from a recent workshop on Academic Success and Wellness, I was reminded of something that Narren Brown once told me after observing my class for a semester: Talking about these kinds of activities and encouraging students to participate in them also helps build community and gives students a greater connection to the institution. Both outcomes can have an important effect on student wellness.

The workshop made me realize that I should also explicitly add wellness to the list of activities deserving of extra credit. I do offer credit for some wellness activities, such as going to the therapy dogs study break. However, those usually fall into the Miscellaneous extra-credit category. I see some value in making the importance of wellness activities explicit, by listing it as a third core category, rather than implicit. While I’m not always fond of marketing, I do understand the value of messaging.

Let’s see … what does my current policy say?

To encourage you to support your peers and be an active member of the Grinnell community, I will award extra credit points for attending certain events. You can earn extra credit for up to eight activities (four academic and four peer support), each worth an additional 0.25% on your final grade [5,6].

It shouldn’t be too hard to update it to include wellness. And, as long as I’m updating it, I should also add some examples and write a bit more about process [7]. Let’s see what I can come with.

To encourage you to take time for wellness, to support your peers, to take advantage of campus opportunities, and to be an active member of the Grinnell community, I will award extra credit for attending or participating in certain events. For example, you may earn extra credit for attending meditation sessions at SHACS (wellness); for attending your peers’ athletic events and performances (peer support); for attending Scholars’ Convocation, the CS Departments’ weekly CS Table, and the College’s Public Events series (academic and artistic events), and for participating in College Town Halls (campus engagement).

I will reserve a few minutes at the start of each class to announce to allow students to announce their performances and competitions, to describe events I suggest you attend, and to allow you to suggest other possibilities.

You can earn extra credit for up to eight activities (no more than four in any one category: wellness, peer, academic/artistic, campus engagement), each worth an additional 0.25% on your final grade. To earn that extra credit, within three days of an event, you must send me a paragraph in which you report on your reactions to the event. You need not narrate the event; I care more about how it affects you than about the details of the event.

That sounds good. My students can expect to see this policy, or something like it, when they next take four-credit courses from me.

[1] Most typically, CSC 151, CSC 161, and CSC 207.

[2] That’s two points out of one-hundred.

[3] When I say that we expect, I really mean that our policies require that.

[4] For example, the policy is designed so that students spread out their activities across the semester. However, there are a few students who try to cram all of the extra-credit work in at the end of the semester.

[5] From

[6] That’s less text than I’d remembered. I guess I just add more in class or in response to student questions in class.

[7] I’d swear that I’d written much of this somewhere else. But I can’t find it. So it belongs on my syllabus.

Version 1.0 of 2018-08-04.