My Evil Red Pen & Why I don’t Like the Concept of Extra Credit

From time to time, I like posting pictures like the one below in my FB and Twitter:

evil red pen 1

When I post things like this, I usually say things like “Grading, mwahahahahahaaaaa!”, and I tell tales of fire and brimstone, lightning, and maniac laughter, etc…

But, all of it is a joke. I do not enjoy taking points away from my students nor I like giving them a less-than-great-grade. However, I tend to be very, and I mean very, strict, when grading, proofreading, etc. You see, I take my job seriously. I am a scientist, but I am also an educator, and as I tell my students, I try to make sure that the education that they get from me, whether is quite a lot, as in the case of my graduate students (also, see The Paganization Procedure), or just 3 credits out of 100-odd credits (in other words, less that 3 percent) is done right.

This means that my students will get the grade that I judge they deserve. Sometimes I just have to say and i am therefore perceived as inflexible (and even worse), but you know what? I DO NOT CARE. Wanna know why?

You see, in many cases, these students will complete their degree and will leave the proverbial nest to pursue their careers. One such student might become a nurse who will  take care of one of my children and yet another one will become the physician that will treat me in an ER. In either  case, they better know the difference between a microgram and a milligram, for example. This is not a nerdy, abstract, scientific matter; it may be the difference between treating a patient of killing the aforementioned patient with a 1000-fold overdose (or underdose) of some drug. I can give you multiple examples, but you get the idea… In fact, one of my former students is one of the professionals who helps my young man with autism. And, very recently, another former student helped treat me when I needed physical therapy when I got hurt doing **none of your business** (:-)…

One of the things that many of us do not realize in college is that in real life good intentions are appreciated, but what counts are actual results. I see this frame of mind every day in my line of work. For some examples of these see this post.

And I realize that not all my students go to health-science careers, but again, one of my main duties is to try to teach them any particular biological area the best way I can.

Anyway, this is one of the reasons why I dislike extra credit: In my mind, when one professor gives too much of it, the final grade of one (or more) student (s) can be unrealistic; for example, the grade may really be a “B” and it ends up as an “A”. This can generate a butterfly effect where a student who has not prepared optimally gets into graduate or professional school. Granted, medical and nursing schools serve as additional “gates” for students, but then again, I want to “guard my post” properly.

And don’t even get me started with “grade bumping” requests!

Please don’t get the impression that I do not enjoy my work; quite the contrary! I Love what I do and it is an immense source of pride when young minds like these get what they came for and I get to celebrate with them at graduation:

commencement2014

I also am quite proud of those who get to achieve their eventual academic goals. the picture below is from 2006; oh, to have a really nice dark brown beard and moustache again!
1st resesarch group 2006

 

 

 

Moving on, I also “mourn” those who, despite having pretty good minds, were unable to complete their degree because of **real** problems. I have even lost at least three students by that cruel enemy: death. There are also those students who lacked the discipline and commitment to finish their degree. I truly think about all of these students quite frequently…

Going back to grades and grading, I have to evaluate the knowledge that my guys have acquired during the semester, and I truly do everything I can to help them learn. That said, I admit that it is true that in many cases, the true knowledge and intelligence of a student is not determined by grades alone, but….

…. Are you willing to take that risk with your surgeon?

evil red pen 2

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1 Comment

  1. I think, as a way to prepare for real life, extra credit assignments have some merit – they teach that going the extra mile beyond what’s assigned is rewarded, too.
    Of course, that better not happen when a nurse or a pharmacist measures the medicine and decides to up the dosage for that extra credit. 🙂

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