Welcome to Grade School...er...College

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As you all know, I recently turned in a paper for my current course over at DU. It was an argument analysis on a topic of our choice.

Well, yesterday the class received an e:mail from the professor, saying that "Overall, the outcome of the first major assignment, the written analysis paper, was sadly off target. About 1/3 of you did a decent or fair job of writing the paper, about 1/3 of you had at least part of the assignment completed, and about 1/3 of you completely missed the mark."

She then went on to rewrite the syllabus to allow a rewrite of this paper and a redistribution of the points available so that students would have a better understanding the key learning points in argument analysis. The last assignment of the semester, the presentation, has been eliminated completely.

I'm of two minds about this. Part of me is glad the professor isn't so arrogant that she assumes the class' failure has nothing to do with her or her instructions. She's assumed some of the blame for the quality of the papers, and has changed course, so to speak, to attempt to correct the deficiency. The assignments in this classes are cumulative, so a failure in the first deliverable will negatively affect the work product for the rest of the semester.

However, this is college. If students were unsure about the expectations and requirements for an assignment, I believe they have a responsibility to approach the professor and get clarification. A certain quality of work should be expected, and I wasn't aware that adult college students at a prestigious university like DU got "do-overs."

In honesty, I have to say that my own paper in this class already received an "A." However, last semester I received a "C" on one of my assignments in my "Law, Politics and Policy" course. It was the grade I deserved - my analysis was sloppy, and the professor gave me specific, helpful feedback on where I could improve. He offered me a chance to rewrite it for a higher grade, but I didn't. I earned the "C," and learned a great deal as a result of his feedback. My next paper in that class was of much higher quality, and I didn't think doing work over in an undergraduate environment was an appropriate choice.

I've attended lots of colleges over the years, and this is the first time I've seen a situation where professors allow students to rewrite and resubmit work. Is this a recent development, or have I just missed it up until now?

21 comments:

Nathan said...

I don't know if this is possible or not, but is there a way to investigate whether or not the teacher's performance review is tied to overall grades? Is this teacher trying to bump up his/her own performance by elevating you guys?

Shawn Powers said...

I've never heard of such things in college. My own experiences, both personally and vicariously have been, "Tough Noogie" if you perform poorly.

Your story seems weird to me. I see it at the K12 level too, but it seems less inappropriate there. Perhaps the educational strive for mediocrity is bleeding into higher education as well. (Wow, look at me the cynic!)

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I honestly don't know, although I have to admit that thought crossed my mind, too. But if so, then it's really not a consistant standard - my prof for my last class was an extremely tough grader (although fair and consistent).

When I was doing curriculum development and writing test questions, the rule of thumb was that if 1/3 of students who would reasonably be expected to know an answer missed a question, then usually it was a sucky question.

Perhaps the same rule applies here...

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Wow, I really screwed up my comment. Let's try this again:

I had an English course one semester and the professor was finish a book he'd been writing for a couple of years. At least once a week we got to class and found a note on the door that said "No Class Today," or something to that effect. He consistently missed quiz days and kept pushing off the due dates on papers. On the last day he showed up and told everyone not to worry. We all got A's for the semester.

The way I saw it, I busted my ass through college, got some great grades and some lame grades. I didn't mind this little "gimme" one bit.

MWT said...

It was fairly common in the public universities I attended (and in one of the classes I taught). It was routinely mentioned on the syllabus at the beginning of class. There are also the various "do 10 quizzes and drop your lowest" type schemes.

You'd be amazed how few students take advantage of instructor office hours to ask questions - and then it's usually to dicker over grades.

MWT said...

Chris: that sounds like one of the courses I had during grad school. The prof was too disorganized to do much of anything. Lectures basically consisted of him blathering for an hour. There was supposed to be a cruise during the latter half of the course which never happened at all. I didn't learn anything useful, I don't even remember any exams, and I think we basically all got A's if we just showed up.

Janiece Murphy said...

Chris, when I was a youngster, I wouldn't have minded a "gimme" now and again.

But now I'm going to school for my own fulfillment, and I expect some value for the tuition money being spent.

And DU is not an inexpensive school.

Random Michelle K said...

I think we basically all got A's if we just showed up

Y'know, I don't like classes like that. (Unless they're really boring required courses.)

I took classes because I wanted to learn more about the subject material (which is why I was on the 6 year plan as an undergraduate, even taking 18-21 hours a semester). What's the point of a class where the instructor doesn't *teach*?

And I don't mind a professor admitting perhaps they have made a mistake in an assignment, and not been clear what they wanted. But it'd better only happen once in a semester.

The Mechanicky Gal said...

As a not-so-bright student here, I would have loved a do-over.
I have been on many trajectories wherein I thought I knew where I was going only to find out that I was out in the weeds. And if you don't know what you don't know, how can you ask for directions?
Now, the students that are just coasting? Slackers. But if I found out that I was off-course, and had no way to know (and quite frankly, this course description sounds like a course where I would be not only out in teh weeds, but off the panet entirely) that until doomsday, well, I appreciate a mulligan like that. It causes me to learn. But as I said, I'm not the brightest, so I'm just sayin'.

Janiece Murphy said...

Yeah, Amy, you're definitely an intellectual slacker.

Whatever...

John the Scientist said...

If you are out in the weeds in the first assignment than either one of two things is happening:

1. The professor has jumped too far ahead in an introductory course.

2. The students either failed to take or failed to learn form a pre-requisite course. Sometimes, for lower level classes, the pre-requisite is High School.

With all due respect to the Mechanicky Gal, in my experience it's much more often the second case than the first. And if you are that far out in the weeds in the first assignment, a few lower level classes might be in order to figure out just what's expected in the college experience.

I got a teaching award my first year as a TA based largely on the fact that I spent more time than I had to going over basic material with not-so-bright students in the TA help-room. As long as those kids came in and asked me for a few clues, they passed. The ones who did not, deserved to fail. Even in college, there is always someone to ask questions of, to proofread, etc., before an assignment is due.

Janiece didn't say, but I assume this is a junior or senior level class. But as far as I'm concerend, do-overs should have been dispensed with in 11th grade - 12th is college prep, and ought to be treated as such.

But I did see this all over the place as a TA (my undergrad was both private and rigorous, and we bounced 15% of our freshman out in baout 2 quarters, and expelled very, very few after that - some of this in public universities is grade inflation letting inferior students progress beyond their capabilities). Unprepared students, lazy profs who do not see teaching as job one, or even job two (reseach and graduate advising would take those places), lazy and unmotivated students - the things to blame are legion, but it ultimately comes down to professor and student treating the class seriously.

Departments also often come down hard on profs who fail too many students, but I'm of the opinion that if the prof can show a sheaf of sub-standard papers, a few horrible examples might striaghten out the student body a bit. God knows, I'd hate to meet any of my former pre-med students inthe clinic.

Tania said...

In my experience, it depends on the discipline, and the person teaching.

I have been, academically, totally off-base when it comes to providing what was expected. I thought they wanted J, gave them J, and it turns out they were expecting Q. So I wouldn't have gone to office hours, because I thought I was on track. sigh... But you know, that has almost never happened at work. Interesting thing to ponder on...

Anyhoo - I'm not much of a believer in do-overs. If you are supposed to submit a draft, get feedback, and revise/expand, yeah. But for the most part, you have the expectations and should meet them.

Janiece Murphy said...

John, the class in question is a sophomore level class - one of the lower level requirements for my degree program that I'm picking at between courses that actually interest me.

I thought the instructions were quite clear (thus, the "A"), but apparently the other students were confused. Probably because they were located in two different places on the eCollege website, and you really needed to look in both in order to complete the assignment as required.

From where I sit, that makes it a "RTFI" issue rather than a failure to teach. Mostly because in a previous course, the instructions weren't clear, and I bitched, whined and complained until they were clear.

For me, the bottom line is that I'll have about 33% less work to do in this course than I had anticipated. Since I don't care much about the class (as it relates to my major, I mean), I'm okay with that, I just thought the mulligan was strange.

John the Scientist said...

" But you know, that has almost never happened at work."

Yeah, that's why I didn;lt lay all the blame at the feet of the students. Remember, many if not most profs have not held a real job where they are responsible to a matrix team and to a REAL boss.

But I mostly would have the problem, of eliminating the presentation if I were an undergrad working on my first degree. Real life includes a lot of explaining yourself to someone else either formally or informally. Much less writing in the real world than in college. Once something gets written down (even as a draft), it often has legal force, so companies do a lot of talking before they commit to paper.

Every chance missed to speak in front of a critical audience is a huge teaching opportunity missed.

vince said...

I can't remember ever having a "do-over" in any of my college classes. But I admit that I had great profs for the most part, and when I was confused, I had no problem seeking help from the prof or TA.

That doesn't mean I didn't have a few sucky classes. But the only class I ever got a "C" in I showed up the first day and found out that, instead of it being an honors level class, it was just a regular class. I was pissed, so I never showed up for class again except to take the midterm and final, the only two tests. I read the textbook, briefly reviewed it for the tests, and was fine with the C.

kisintin said...

It would all depend on the teacher I would guess.

In my most recent course we've had an in-class writing assignment (30 mins to read and write an analysis of an article). The feedback was quite brutal, with most of the students missing the mark.

We did not get a do-over, but were promised this one not counting towards the main grade.

Janiece Murphy said...

welcome, kisintin.

I think you may be right - it would depend on the professor.

I'll be speaking to her on Friday, and I may bring this up. I haven't decided yet.

Eric said...

I don't think I'd bring it up with the professor.

My experience--from years ago when I was a student and from having friends who are college professors--is similar to Tania's and kisintin's: a professor's willingness to give a Mulligan depends on the discipline and the professor.

There are a lot of rationales that come to mind. The professor might feel she got too far ahead of the class on the assignment. It might be a new course for the professor, or a new assignment in the course plan that didn't turn out the way the professor intended. The professor might simply be a softy. The professor might be trying to make sure students pass a low-level prerequisite or softballing a class that many of the students are taking as an elective.

I seriously doubt the professor is doing it for reasons related to a performance review, as Nathan suggested. It's not totally impossible, but most profs I know privately treat performance reviews as an irritant more than anything else. The most likely case where that might occur is if the instructor is a grad student and is on the boards with a faculty advisor who is attributing the low grades to her failure to adequately teach the subject. If your instructor is actually a professor and not a master's/doctoral candidate, I'd arbitrarily put the chances of the prof caring about reviews at less than 5%, and if your prof has tenure, I think it's not an issue at all.

But in any case, I'm not sure what asking the prof about it on Friday gets you. Sure, if she's cool she may explain her decision-making process or even admit it if she thinks she screwed something up. If she's not cool--or worse yet, insecure--it merely antagonizes her or puts her on the defensive. The only thing it may change is your working relationship with the teacher, and not necessarily for the better. And, I suspect, if you end up taking more courses with the professor, you're likely to sort out the answer yourself, anyway--you'll see that Mulligans are a usual thing or they're not, and how the prof deals with students at different levels.

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, I'm all for not "borrowing trouble," especially prior to the end of the course.

I'll probably let sleeping dogs lie in the calm pot on this one.

Why, yes, I do like to mix my metaphors...why do you ask?

Anne C. said...

I rarely saw do-overs in my college experiences, it's possible I wasn't paying attention, since I generally didn't need it myself. However, there was one writing/thinking class with a weekly reading and writing assignment. If you got less than an A, you had the option to rewrite and resubmit, but you had to do it in addition to the current assignment. You could do that as many times as you liked, but obviously it increased the typical student's already heavy work load. It was my impression that the professor (who was a generally hard grader) wanted to give people an opportunity to follow through or follow up on corrections.