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21 August 2012

Extra Credit Office Visit

For several years, I've been doing something fun to encourage students to come to my office for an informal chat at the beginning of the semester. In each of my syllabi, I bury a little tidbit about extra credit. It goes like this:
Extra Credit: You will have the opportunity to add one point to your final grade by meeting with me the first week of classes during my regular office hours. (While this may not seem like much, one point can sometimes mean the difference between letter grades.) This gives us a chance to chat and get to know each other. Otherwise, there will be no extra credit offered during this course. 
It makes for a busy first week of office hours with students, but I've found it rewarding.

The practice serves a few purposes. First, I get a quick indicator of who is reading the syllabus. As much as we warn them about it, many students simply don't look at the syllabus until it's too late--if at all. Unfortunately, the students who are rewarded with the extra credit point are typically among the most responsible students who won't need any extra credit in the end. Second, it affords an opportunity to foster a more egalitarian professional-client relationship as opposed to the more traditional and hierarchical bureaucratic relationship between professor and student. While the meetings usually only last a couple minutes, it's still enough time for me to humanize myself by asking about how things are going and what I might be able to do to help. Finally, it gives the students a chance to voice any concerns that they might be reluctant to bring up during class.

Overall, I've been very happy with the extra credit visit and plan to offer it in all my courses for the rest of my career.

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