Because I give extra credit. What students might consider "good" extra credit. Not in all courses, but in some. Consistently. Does this make me a bad teacher? A grade inflator? Not rigorous? I don't know.
The consensus on the forum thread seems to be that "extra credit" is an atrocity. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But basically most (though not all) posters seem to agree that to give extra credit is just plain unethical or at the very least bad policy. Some sample comments:
"For me extra credit is a bad idea at any level--it makes some students aggressive or whiney (demanding more extra credit) and sometimes it devalues/makes students lose their focus on the original material."
"Personally, though, I wouldn't give them extra credit just for the sake of raising their grades. Not only does it invite whining, etc, as arugula pointed out, but it also lets students know that they don't have to try too hard, since there will be a back up of some kind."
"I don't give extra credit. I give credit. They can have all they earn."
"I never give extra credit and am very against it. My current course is a pre-req. for another. If a student does not understand my material well, hu will not be ready for the next course."
(Incidentally, "hu" is the gender-neutral pronoun of choice on the forums. It sucks.)
But so at any rate, it got me thinking about when I started giving extra credit and why. It all started in my Survey course. In my first semester at my university, I taught the course for the first time - ever. I basically modeled it on what I remembered from my undergrad experience. A midterm (in class), a final (in the regular final period), and two 3-5 page analysis essays (equally weighted) - oh, and "participation" which included quizzes, discussion, etc. My evaluations were... well, not the best I've ever received. Many students thought the course was "too hard." Some of the more constructive comments asked that the grade be broken down into more parts or that the first paper be weighted less than the second. More than a few students said that I expected them to be grad students.
Now, part of this was the learning curve of me going from the high-falutin' institution where I did the bulk of my teaching as a grad student to a regional comprehensive. Part of it had to do with the fact that students challenged my authority in the classroom because I'm female, young-ish, etc. Part of it had to do with the particular dynamic of that class. And, I believe, part of it did have to do with the fact that this class does require more of students than some other courses of a similar level, and yet it is still a general studies course and so many are taking it just because it fits into their schedule and fills a graduation requirement, even if they don't have any passion for literature (or even enjoy reading).
Basically, I had a lot of kinks to work out.
So I did make some changes to the regular syllabus.
1) I developed two paper options, one recommended for majors/minors, one for non-majors/minors, which ultimately require the same amount of writing and for students to develop the same analytical skills, but with the non-major/minor option requiring slightly less abstract thinking related to the assignment. The papers are also weighted less toward the beginning of the semester now.
2) The midterm is now a take-home.
3) The quizzes are now their own separate grade.
But still, something was missing. And then it dawned on me: maybe I need to give them extra credit opportunities?
I'm not sure what I thought about extra credit in grad school. I only taught comp, and since I have a "revise everything but the last paper for a totally new grade" policy, it never was necessary. I suspect I might have thought that it meant I was "caving" to "grade-grubbing students." But I don't really remember.
But I decided it was worth a try for a number of reasons at my current institution. And at least for me, it has worked. My reasons for continuing to make extra credit a part of certain classes (my "service courses" in literature and the course in which I teach Notoriously Difficult Novel) are the following:
1) I actually find that having specific extra credit assignments that I open up to the entire class actually decreases whining. My students don't haggle over points on exams or papers any more. I'm a tough grader. And I assign a lot of work, and difficult work, compared to some of my colleagues. Having extra credit as an option softens the blow of that for some of my students.
2) Extra credit options allow me to assign students some "enrichment" assignments that I think are cool but that I don't feel necessarily should be a part of the syllabus. (Incidentally, these "enrichment" activities always require a good deal of work - things like reading an extra novel or watching an unfamiliar film (or films), writing careful analysis, connecting the extra credit work to the work of the course. They are time-intensive and they are graded, so while the potential exists for students to raise their grades significantly, that raising of the grade is not guaranteed.)
3) I have never had a situation where a student who didn't "deserve" a particular grade got one through extra credit.
Now, the way that I handle extra credit is that it doesn't become available until after the midterm. (I may mention that there may be some extra credit coming, I don't necessarily do so. This is not mentioned on any course document.) Students need to see where they are after the first paper assignment and after the first exam, and they need to have a sense of the level of work that I expect from them - on all assignments - including what I will offer as extra credit. The extra credit is not easy. If you are doing very poorly, the extra credit will not save you. If, however, you screwed up on something early in the semester because you underestimated the level of attention you needed to give to an assignment or test, it can give you a boost to where you would have been had you known that I'm not an easy teacher. (I do make my expectations clear, but it's difficult for students to really internalize those expectations because they have so many other experiences that tell them that teachers don't really mean it when they state similar expectations.) Most often, extra credit helps the "plus" students - the students used to getting B's who earn a C+ or students used to getting A's who earn a B+. Extra credit assignments have a specific deadline, and just because you submit something for extra credit does not mean that you will necessarily earn extra credit. Because yes, you've got to earn it.
Now, I'll be honest: part of the reason that I've gone the way of extra credit in some classes is because I do care about my evaluations, and the extra credit addition allows me to give "real grades" while still to make students feel like they have the chance to excel in my courses. It gives them the impression that I'm tough but "nice." But am I giving real grades if there are unstated grades that are available? I think so, but I suspect that those on the forums would disagree.
Do you give extra credit? Why/why not? Am I wrong to think that it's just not that big of a deal? Have you had bad experiences with offering extra credit?