My students want extra credit projects. But they also worry that if I offer them they become required. What to do? I think extra credit should be available because it takes advantage of a different kind of student energy. But these projects should truly be extra. This means you should add these points to the grades obtained by regular projects. Do you worry about grade inflation? I don’t. I would love to give all high grades because my students had worked and worked until they deserved them.
Currently I give extra credit for two things: attending a departmental seminar, or other seminar on a topic in the general area of the course, and writing a Wikipedia entry on a female scientist in the area of the course. She should not currently have an entry, or not have a comprehensive entry. I’m about to add another possibility for extra credit: participating in a citizen science project.
To get credit for attending a seminar the student has to write up a brief commentary that gives the speaker’s name, the title of the talk, and its date, place, and time. Then the student should give the main thesis of the talk. The student should say what she did and did not like about the talk content and presentation style. This is due within two days of the talk.
Wikipedia articles can be brief, but they should capture the main contributions of the person. Students can look at biographies for living people for examples. These sites are often easily entered by looking at the professor’s web page. It is also a good idea to contact them after you put a draft up, so you can change anything that is inaccurate. It is a way of making a contact with a professor.
I don’t know how many citizen science projects would work. My students could certainly put up bird feeders and start watching them for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. But the project that caught my attention was one on an invasive camel cricket that asks for photographs of the critters in your basement in a specific form. I don’t know if this is feasible, but I bet most students have access to basements. I think they want to know even if there are no crickets.
What all of these assignments have in common is that they are entirely different from things the students do in class. Furthermore, they are all activities that the students could continue after the class ends. I know nearly all of them will only do this for the extra credit. But it might appeal to someone. It might open up learning avenues that are new to them. It will stretch them. They might get in the habit of the extra activity since it is tied to things outside the class. They might even learn some more animal behavior in the process.