Tuesday, December 18, 2007


This week I did some professor alchemy and turned numbers into letters; i.e., number grades into letter grades. A previous school I was at let us keep everything as numbers that went directly into a GPA. Of course, some alchemy was also involved in that system as well; i.e., the mythical curving function that some professors apply to their grades.

This is the first semester in a long time in which none of my students got a grade of F, and I am very pleased about that. Some students withdrew from my classes at various times in the semester, and one of these students was possibly heading towards an F, so the lack of F's is perhaps an artifact of this withdrawal.

I also gave one grade of Incomplete rather than giving an F. The decision about whether to give an Incomplete or an F can be difficult. It is easy if a student who was otherwise doing well in the class has an emergency at some point in the class and misses an exam or key assignment(s). Those students get an I, make up the work, and then get a grade.

The decision is more difficult if the student has missed a series of assignments or more than one exam, and doesn't contact you to discuss the situation. I just had an F vs. I debate with myself about one student, and decided to go with the I.

I sent the Incomplete student an urgent email, as I have a number of other times in recent weeks as the possibility of an F started looming. When I talked to this student in class before the term ended, she said she does not read her email. I said that this was the primary means by which I would communicate with her and other students in the class outside of class, but she has yet to respond to any email I have sent.

I can't even remember what we used to do before we could email students. They can always call or come see us in our offices, but what if we need to talk to them? I am quite sure I never called a student unless they called me and left a message with their phone number and a request for me to call them back. I can see this I student's campus and home phone numbers in the directory, but somehow I can't imagine calling her at home to discuss her grade. I talked to a dean-like person about the situation, and he said that I could pursue certain channels to find out who her official advisor is, and the advisor could then activate certain special advisorial mechanisms to reel in a student to discuss academic problems.

Ultimately, completing the required course assignments is her responsibility. The I converts automatically to an F if the work is not made up in a certain amount of time. I am hoping that the work will be made up and the student will end up with a good grade. I may pursue the advisor mechanism of tracking her down, but if she wants to get help or discuss the I with me, she knows where to find me, and I hope she does just that.


Ms.PhD said...

Um, send a letter by snail-mail?

Otherwise, don't sweat it. If she doesn't read email, she's going to have much bigger problems than a) you or b) her grade in your class.

Black Knight said...

"I can't even remember what we used to do before we could email students."

If the student didn't turn up to the weekly tutorial then a sarky note would be left in their pigeonhole. Seemed to be pretty effective, at least at a collegiate Uni.

Anonymous said...

I don't even bother.. they don't want to learn, they get their F.

You shouldn't care either, college students should be responsible for their actions.

Anonymous said...

Out of any class I teach with 100 or more students, there's usually one or two who refuse to check their email or use the class online conference. It's very frustrating when those non-emailing students coincide with the students earning low grades, as often is the case. On the other hand we're lucky at our school that any Incomplete grade has to be approved by the dean's office, so any student who doesn't have the approval and who hasn't done the work just gets an F.

Still, I don't know why students think they can get away with not checking their official school email address.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's an absolutely heroic amount of effort on behalf of a student.

I'd also be absolutely shocked if "I don't check my email" is true rather than a convenient (and essentially uncheckable) excuse.

Anonymous said...

You're going to way too much trouble for this student. Maybe those kinds of students are rare at your uni, but here I've got at least ten of them per semester, and I would go crazy if I tried to get them to do the assigned work. They need to learn that there are consequences to their actions, and that if they don't show up, don't communicate, and don't turn in assignments, they will fail. Period.

usagibrian said...

My favorite story from AACRAO Tech this year: One of the lunch speakers was talking about being to the lunchroom of a Highly Wired Private Liberal Arts school. Access on campus was ubiquitous. Every person at every table (except the administrators' where he sat) had a laptop open in front of them. Some were chatting online to people across the room (or table), some were chatting to people across the globe. One of the administrators turned to him and said, without irony, "I just don't know how to reach our students."

All that said, you've gone above and beyond, and if you were one of our faculty, I'd just add make sure the requirement to regularly check email for class related messages is on your syllabus (only so there's zero ambiguity when the student or her or his helicopter parents bum rush the Dean's office when the F appears on the grade report).

I am so over the excuses students give for not checking their messages. My suggested solution is the same for those who don't like email and those with overflowing inboxes (and it actually does seem to work). Get a dedicated address for your school work and use it.

Anonymous said...

tw andrews -- at our school, the email system lets you see when someone read your email. And surprisingly often, the a student really does't read their email. Otherwise I would have agreed with you about it just being an excuse.

Then again, it may just be that they're choosing not tob read their emails that I send, as everybody knows about this history-checking feature. (It's not a faculty-only feature, the students know when you read their emails, too.)

Zeno said...

I continue to be surprised (though I should know better by now) by the failing students who come up to me near the end of the semester and beg for an Incomplete. They're befuddled when they learn that an Incomplete is given only to students who were doing passing work up to the point where some emergency intervened. They think an Incomplete is just a way to bail out of an F until they can get their act together. I explain otherwise and they go away disappointed. I haven't given an Incomplete in many years.