Friday, January 09, 2009

DKJ's Class Policies and Expectations

For prospective and returning students, here's a draft of my updated classroom policies/expectations. (All of my course-based handouts are available here and from the handout link under "DKJ's Blogs/Pages")


Spring, 2009

The best students attend all classes, participate regularly, thoughtfully, and respectfully; consistently produce high quality work and meet all deadlines; consult with the professor during office hours when necessary; and, most generally, openly, deliberately, and with enthusiasm embrace this and other formal opportunities for intellectual, scholarly growth. My class policies and expectations, consonant with this understanding of what it means to be a (good) student, are as follows:

I will not take or grade attendance (except on those occasions when it is required for institutional record-keeping). As I see it, attendance policies are unfortunate holdovers from compulsory school settings. Physically attending class is such an obvious and basic requirement of any adult learner in a noncompulsory post-secondary educational setting that it would be errantly paternalistic, insulting, and ineffective (I assume, as the cliché suggests, external reward often undermines internal motivation) to take note of, let alone award some kind of “credit” for, mere attendance.

Likewise, aside from the basic respect due all persons, I will not award any kind of special credit to those who, in fulfilling an equally basic and obvious duty as a member of a community of learners/scholars, regularly and effectively participate in classroom discussions and other activities. Class participation schemes, like attendance policies, often are little more than paternalistic incentives designed to trick or force (adult) students into acting like adults.

Despite the heavy financial and opportunity costs associated with attending college, no one, independently of his or her scholarly output, has a right to a good or even passing grade. Rather, good grades must be earned. In an effort to resist the triadic wave of grade inflation, social promotion, and consumerism currently plaguing our educational institutions, I strictly adhere to a traditional understanding of the grades A-F (outstanding-abysmal) as articulated by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (in the context of a course on “critical thinking”):

Furthermore, I grade students on their individual output, not on some kind of collectivist “curve.” Our role as teachers is to grade student work, not the students themselves. That is, I do not -- and do not think it fair or right for anyone to -- grade student effort, potential, intelligence, character, goals, needs, or any other feature of a student’s life aside from his or her scholarly products.

Absences/Make-ups/Extra Credit
Aside from officially sanctioned reasons for absence or lateness as outlined in the official MCLA Student Handbook, I will – on principle and in fairness to those who do their work in a timely fashion – strictly enforce all course deadlines. Therefore, there will be no “makeup exams, “partial credit” for late work, or “extra credit” for those hoping to improve existing grades.

I believe that nothing is more corrosive to our educational success than incivility. While honest disagreement and debate is a natural and welcome consequence of our enquiries, there is never a call for disrespectful, abusive, or intimidating words or actions of any sort in our dealings with each other in a classroom setting (virtual or otherwise).

Special Accommodations
I will happily honor any officially documented requirements for special accommodations as outlined in the MCLA Student Handbook.


  1. Hear, hear! A refreshingly direct and uncompromising statement of pedagogical principle.

    One quibble, however. You decline on principle to assign any proportion of a grade on the basis of the frequency/quality of classroom participation, on the grounds that such participation is a basic expectation of all students and so not suitable for evaluation. You insist that you will evaluate students solely on the basis of scholarly output (presumably written work).

    But this seems an artificial distinction. Isn't active, respectful, thoughtful, imatinative participation in a classroom dialogue also a sort of scholarly output, and one in which we specifically want to encourage students to improve their skills?

    I'm convinced that grades themselves are anti-educational (extrinsic motivation and all that), but since we operate in an institutional structure that demands them, why is it principled to grade the quality of essays but not that of discourse?

  2. To my mind, all such distinctions have an air of artificiality about them, and so I draw the line not to separate scholarship from nonscholarship (I agree that conversation can be scholarly), but where I think I can reliably and consistently assess student reflective, thoughtful output.

    I frequently (daily?) employ methods to encourage thoughtful, respectful, and regular participation, but I won't make it a requirement (until, of course, I come to believe -- perhaps as a consequence of our conversations -- that I can fairly assess such things).

    No question: Grades are an unfortunate, institutionally mandated, external motivator. But, on the assumption that I'm not thereby justified in compounding the error, I'll forego adding yet another -- required attendance and/or participation -- to the list.