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Free Cookies and Student Success

Free Cookies and Student Success

I think we’ve all been there at some point. We get an email from the Art Department or the English Department or whoever it might be from asking for us to offer extra credit to our students who attend their events. However, if it is hard for us to see how the event ties in with the outcomes and objectives of our courses, then it probably even harder for our students to do so. But the students would be more than happy to attend the event if we gave them extra credit, and more than likely, they would get free cookies as well!

So, should we offer extra credit to students for attending the events – or not? I’m here to argue that students should receive extra credit for attending events, as students who are more engaged in on-campus events are more likely to be successful in their courses. Here are some examples:

  • At my college, many of the cultural events are at the library, which also houses the college’s tutoring center. So, perhaps if they’re already there for an event, they’ll stay for tutoring.
  • A student could grab a bite to eat at the cafe in the lobby of the library and see one of their classmates, strike up a conversation, and form a study group.

I think the social aspect helps students feel more as if they are part of the college and part of a community, something that sometimes gets lost at commuter colleges. Some of my students enjoy going to the events together. There is something to be said for students getting to know their classmates outside of class. When students feel connected to the campus, they are likely to do better in their classes as well.

I recently saw a TEDx talk by a student at Fontys University of Applied Sciences who said that one day he was walking by a computer lab and saw some of his classmates working together and decided to stop in. That group of students ended up becoming some of his best friends, and he admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to get through the course without working together with them. This shows the possibilities of what can happen if students are encouraged to stick around campus for more than just their classes.

However, if I wouldn’t suggest offering extra credit to students without having a plan in place:

  • First of all, have a limit to how many events a student can attend per semester. For example, I only allow students to participate in a maximum of two events for extra credit each semester.
  • Tell students upfront at the beginning of the semester that the only way to get extra credit in the class is by attending events. By doing this, I rarely have students begging for points at the end of the semester because they also know they can’t wait until the last minute to do the extra credit.
  • For events that I don’t think students would see an obvious tie to Mathematics, I create worksheets to help students make the tie in back to mathematics that they must complete.
  • Consider the issue of equity for your online students or students who can’t attend the events they are at times that they work or have another class. I have live-streamed and recorded events for students who could not attend in person. Then I have them write a 1-page summary of the event to receive the credit.
  • Consider allowing credit for book reads and museum visits. My college has a program where anyone can receive Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for these types of activities. Once the credit shows up on the student’s transcript, then I award the credit.

Consider some other unintended consequences:

  • Many of my students attend more than two events per semester because they find they like going. It opens their eyes to new ideas that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It has helped some students focus and decide on a major because of something they’ve learned from attending one of the workshops. 
  • Although my goal is to teach students mathematics, they need life skills, too. If these experiences help them to think critically about the world around them, in turn, they will also have better critical thinking skills in my classes as well.
  • It helps me think outside of the box as an instructor. For example, I’m working on some new things right now, such as digitizing past math poster displays at my college and thinking about how I could have students look at them and write a report. I’m also thinking about how I could have students use the Smithsonian Online Learning Lab to look for mathematical artifacts.

In short, if giving extra credit to a student to attend an on-campus event where they will also likely get a free cookie will help increase student success, I’m all for it!

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