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05/14/2020

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Hrmmph

Reader,
I have taught in three countries, and I can only guess that you are in the USA. Many American students do not take responsibility for their education - their university education. It is quite pathetic. In fact, I had a colleague say to a student "I care more about your education than you do", as the student came begging for a chance to pass when they had fucked around the whole term. This is NOT normal. Students should fail the course - whether it is you teaching them a life lesson or not.

Illusion of Terra

Interesting question, and I have a feeling the answers will depend on the experience.

Personally, as an early career researcher, I do not think there is a duty, moral or otherwise, to teach moral or life lessons to a specific student - unless they ask for it. I do think, however, that it is permissible to explain what your own personal views are.
In the example above, I would explain my view, such as, that it seems to me many think it is rational to put in as little effort as necessary to pass, and why I disagree. I do not see it either as obligatory, nor even permissible, to offer a kind of 'contract' where the student gets an extra chance if they put in more work. While something like that might discourage lazy students, I don't think it is an advisable way to teach something, at least not in the way I understand teaching to be.

Whether the student gets an extra chance would depend for me on other factors such as why they didn't hand in at the deadline etc.

torn professor

OP here

Hrmmph: I do teach in the US and I agree with your characterization of its being both pathetic and abnormal (at least in the normative sense). If it were less common, I would simply fail the students. Every semester I do fail students, in fact. First, I fail students who aren't set to graduate and are not even close to passing (when I round up, it's not out of mercy, but out of a recognition that I could have graded too harshly). Second, I fail those due to graduate if they're not even close to passing and have made no attempt to contact me about passing. But I hesitate to fail those who are due to graduate and have contacted me, for two reasons. If I fail them, then if they take another class there's a good chance that they'll do the same thing they did in mine. Or they might not graduate and simply have wasted four years and a lot of money. Now you might say "that's on them." And I agree--it is on them. But If I give them the option to do extra work, I have a chance to not only get them to learn something about the material, I can also make their summer unpleasant enough to make them see that it's not in their interest to approach things the way they were.

Illusion of Terra: I have in mind much more egregious cases than simply missing a deadline. I'm curious: why do you think it's not even permissible to offer such a contract? After all, I am not making the student agree to it. And I am not giving them an opportunity to do better than any other student who passed the class (the most I'll give is a D). And if they get the same grade as another student, they have to do twice as much work for it. Now it's true that there will be students who failed who didn't receive the chance. But they would have had they asked and they're still getting a grade they deserve (F).

anon

"I'm curious: why do you think it's not even permissible to offer such a contract?"

I'm not Illusion of Terra, but at my institution these sorts of contracts aren't permitted. If students want to adjust their grades after the semester has ended, they need to get permission from an office that deals with this sort of thing. If they convince the relevant office that they had a good reason to miss an assignment, then they'll get an extension, and that office will tell me to grade the paper once it comes in. But there isn't a method to set up the sort of extra work arrangement you describe here.

Illusion of Terra

@torn professor
I might have a different opinion towards different cases. I mostly imagined missing a deadline and not doing the assignments properly, since this is what I have encountered in my arguably still limited teaching experience.

As for the contract, there is like anon mentioned the study regulation side, but even disregarding that, prima facie it seems to me that no decent or fair contract could be established.
If the student puts in the extra work and hands in a phenomenal paper (arguably not likely), evaluating it with a low grade seems off. I usually grade the quality of the paper or assignment itself, not the person or what lead to paper.
If the student puts in the extra work and hands in a subpar paper, a low grade seems warranted because of the quality of the paper, but not because of how the paper came to be about.
So in the end, if the highest grade they can achieve will not be better than that of other students, it seems like there is something off with grading the actual paper. If the highest grade they can achieve can be better than other students, I question if everyone would then have gotten the same chance.
I have to concede, though, that I could see it making sense to grade the whole work, not just the end result.

I do think, however, there might be some ways around those aspects mentioned, like as you mentioned, at least in principle, offering everyone such a contract. What would still kind of irritate me is what exactly is being taught by all this. Maybe it is simply a difference in teaching styles, and lack of experience on my side, but I like to think that students should learn through contemplation and not simply in terms of what they have to do to pass. I am not sure offering something like extra work is the way to go in encouraging such contemplation. Again, these are just some initial thoughts on it, and I would give the matter more thought when confronted with such a situation.

torn professor

Illusion,

Thanks for your thoughts. Regarding your first paragraph, some of the details might be relevant. For example, if they turn in crap, I make them re-do it. If they turn in crap again, it gets no credit. So, there's no situation where subpar work earns them a passing grade. But what if they write a wonderful paper? I still give them a D because otherwise they get a grade that someone who did the work the first time didn't. I don't think this is an injustice though. We give A papers lower grades due to lateness, and that's basically what this after-term term is: a chance to get late work in (at the cost of extra work).

As for lessons learned, I think of it as follows. First, they tend to be extremely grateful since I'm giving them something (I'm giving them the chance to pass). That gratitude makes it feel to them as something other than bare punishment. They might then realize the thought process that got them there, e.g., that they were being thoughtless, or lazy, or selfish, whatever. They might also realize that at least some of the time that those things don't pay. But even if none of this happens, there's a second lesson: they're actually going to learn something about the material because they're going to have to learn something about it to pass the class. Maybe they learn it reluctantly--but they still learn it. And as they learn it, I treat them with respect, e.g, by doing philosophy with them, praising good ideas, offering suggestions, etc. Now if all this is sufficiently unlikely, I don't want to both with the extra work it involves.

Anon,

The dean's office has given me approval when I've asked.

Amanda

I do something similar to torn professor. If a student is in danger of failing, I might offer them an incomplete (if they qualify, given the university's policies.)This way the student still has to do a lot of work to pass, but they also have a chance. Many students don't do the work and still end up failing. So I think the system still weeds out students that aren't ready to learn. But it also gives students who screwed up a chance to make things right.

The thing is, I don't think of this in terms of "teaching a life lesson." I think of it in terms of fulfilling my job as an educator. My job as an educator, and what the students paid for, is to help them to learn. If I have a student who made some bad personal choices and at the end of the semester is willing to learn, then I feel epistemically and professionally obligated to help them do this. Not doing otherwise is putting one's sense of moral offense or moral deservingness ahead of giving someone the opportunity to learn.

I also don't buy the, "it isn't fair to other students." Nothing in life is fair. Student's come from such vastly different circumstances, and so many students have such tremendous advantages over other students, that it is really arbitrary to draw the line at my deadline imposed in my course. I also think the , "it's NOT normal" attitude expressed in an earlier comment is not compelling. What does that even mean, "not normal?" Does it mean that in other countries, it is not the norm? Well, okay. But what relevance does that have here? I am not sure why something being normal or not has any normative (haha) force.

I get why the poster wanted to put aside COVID, mental health, etc. And putting it aside theoretically makes sense. But practically, I don't think we can put it aside. Because a few things are true. First, there are circumstances in which a student's poor performance is due to understandable life challenges rather than bad choices, lack of skill, etc. Second, it is nearly impossible to accurately gauge which students have legitimate reasons and which don't. First, I'd be using my own judgement of legitimacy, which might be off base. Second, this often just means students who are the best liars get all the winnings. If not the best liars, professors would have to demand things like a death certificate from someone who lost their grandmother. I think the insensitivity of doing that in cases in which there is a dead grandmother are so wrong as to outweigh whatever benefit arises in "catching" a liar. Hence, I think the only reasonable choice is to give everyone second chances, regardless of circumstance,

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