Monthly Archives: November 2015

Angel's extra credit report

This is another post providing a generic response to emails I get from students.

Any Extra credit earned is added to the final overall grade, up to a total of 10%. Extra credit is a component of the final grade. For every component of the course, Angel returns a score out of 100%. Thus, to add three points of extra credit (for example), I need to tell Angel a score of 30% and that then ensures that 3 points (30/100) gets added to the final score for extra credit. This shows up on Angel as Extra credit Category Total = 30% .

Thus, 3 points of extra credit = 30%, 5 points = 50% and 10 points = 100% of extra credit.


GPAI lost about 15 students from the course in the hours before the late drop deadline. They did not want to jeopardize their Grade Point Average.

This is of course one reason why none of us pay any attention to GPAs when we are looking at grad school applicants. You can’t tell the difference between students who perform well and those who select easy courses — or drop challenging courses rather than try harder.

None of my education ever involved a GPA. Why do Americans need them? Why does anyone pay them any attention?

Of sickness and sick notes – and other absences

It’s that time of year where sports injuries and infectious diseases set in with a vengeance. Job interviews and family weddings (and troubles) also become more common. All this generates student emails offering doctors notes, excused absence paperwork etc. This is my generic response to emails about absences.

As discussed in the syllabus (p. 6, Attendance, Missed Classes and Missed Assessment), I don’t need any paperwork. The course is set up so that life events won’t cause problems for engaged students (i.e. regular attenders, those who take the tests, and frequent bloggers). Thus, I take the best two of four class tests, the best of three blog periods, and for attendance, presence at nine of 12 pop quizzes. The final exam is even live for six whole days and can be taken anywhere in the world. So bad luck can strike (indeed several times) and all is still fine. Of course, for disengaged students, it can be a train smash if things go wrong at the end. When that happens, I feel for the students and wish they had been engaged earlier.

The only paperwork I might need is for situations like chronic illness which keeps students from working for several weeks or more. Those cases get really tricky, but are fortunately super rare.

Grade book calculations Nov 20

Angel, the course management system, calculates an overall grade in real time. This is good, but it means that as new components of the final grade come in, some grades adjust downwards. This generates a lot of email traffic. This is my generic explanation of what just happened.

I just released two new sets of grades. First, the attendance grade. Students have to be at nine pop quizzes to get this (worth 10% of final grade). We have now done nine, so regular attenders just got their 10%; those who have yet to be at nine just got a zero. They will get their 10% when they hit nine quizzes (and there will at least three more before end of semester). But for now, that means those who have missed any pop quizzes had their score go down by 10%.

Second, I added the extra credit for those students who went to the antibiotic class last week. That’s 3% added to final grade, but since we have done just 80% of the course to date, that’s right now appearing as a bit more than 3% (3/80 instead of 3/100).

Of course the overall grades being returned right now are far from settled. There is still another class test to go, and since I take the best two of the four tests, the class test score can still rise (but not fall).  There is still another blog period to go, and since I take the best period from the three, the blog score can rise (but not fall). And the final exam is worth 20% (and so when those scores are released the overall grade can rise or fall). Students: if in doubt, the grading algorithm is on p.3 of the syllabus.

Flirting with failure

risk_failureWe now have a lot of grades in. Currently there are 60 students failing the class, and a further 12 just 5% away from that cliff.

It’s all due to the blogging. Almost all of the imperiled 72 have done no blogging at all, or feeble amounts. They’ve left it to the last blog period. Incredible. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong. Otherwise, it will be a brutal lesson in time management.

Roast stuffed chicken with vegetables

The distraction

What can I do to help? We’ll write to all 60 saying they will fail if they don’t blog (one year, a student claimed he thought it was optional). And I will lecture them in class on the need to start blogging now. If they leave it to one minute to midnight and then get sick, personal problems, computer glitches…

And I will talk about Thanksgiving. Most students figure they will catch up Thanksgiving week. They hardly ever do. Instead, they go home and collapse, enjoy the home cooking, TV and sleep. And then..well, then there are five days left in the busiest part of the year.

Of science — and the question

In Class Test 3, I asked Why are scientists reluctant to say they have proved something?
Q&A(a) data can fit any hypothesis
(b) correlation does not equal causation
(c) human intuition is lousy
(d) scientists make mistakes
(e) data can be consistent with more than one hypothesis
(f) it is hard to reject the null hypothesis
(g) science is anti-authoritarian
(h) all of the above.

Two thirds of the class answered ‘all of the above’. Less than 20% of the class picked the correct answer (e). This is the sort of thing that makes professors despair. I don’t think it’s a tough question. It simply can’t be ‘all of the above’ — if (a) was correct, we couldn’t do science. What I think is going on here is that students’ recognize slogans I use in class and go for them. Options b, c, d, f and g are all things we have discussed in class. They are all perfectly good answers – to different questions.

Am I really the only professor on campus expecting precise answers to precise questions? Or am I missing something?

Class Test 3 results: outstanding

The third class test happened yesterday. The overall average among those who took the test was 86% (B), up an astounding 9% from Class Test 2. But best is the distribution. The numbers of A’s and A-‘s doubled for the second time in a row, and now we’ve lost the miserable right-ward skew we had for Class Test 1, and the worrying W-shape of Class Test 2, and instead grown a very lovely left-ward skew. If we can further shrink the size of the right hand tail, it will start to look like last year’s final grade distribution.

Class Test 3

I am hugely pleased. Like a physician taking credit for his patient getting better, I give my full credit to my teaching. Outstanding job Andrew. More realistically, I hope this is because many students did seize control of their own learning. One can but hope.

For the record, the actual numbers: A, 56; A- 86, B+, 52; B, 36; B-, 20; C+, 26; C, 15; D, 20: Fails, 8, and no-shows 21. Of the A’s, 24 got 100% on my ask-28-grade-out-of-25 algorithm. No one got everything right (except one student who saw the answers before I caught the computer glitch – at 4am). Four students got only two of the 28 questions wrong.

The no-shows are something of a mystery. Only three of them are people who have obviously given up the class. Many of them desperately need to improve their scores. I wonder what is going on?