by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanks to Paul Hebert for his thoughtful response (as well as those who commented) to my post below here. It’s a fitting topic, given that it was my worst day of attendance this semester. Part of that could be attributable to Wisconsin culture (it is the start of deer season), as well as the fact that classes are cancelled tomorrow for Thanksgiving and some students may have decided to get an early jump on the holiday. Anyway, here are my comments to Paul (and others):

1. I appreciate the Arte Johnson reference as I remember watching Laugh-In in my youth.

2. I’ve been teaching statistics off and on for 15 years, and have found the following to be the “Keys to Success” in the class (which I publish in the syllabus):
  • Attend class regularly. Students who attended class regularly averaged an AB/B for their final grade, while those students who missed 5 or more classes averaged a C for their final grade.
  • Do all the homework problems assigned. On one exam last semester, students who scored a 4 or higher on their chapter homework averaged an A, while those who scored 3 or lower (or did not turn in their homework) averaged a CD.
  • Do not wait until the night before to do the homework. Start the homework early. At the end of each lecture, I will try to mention what homework problems the lecture covered.
  • Come to office hours if you are having problems on the homework. If you wait to start the homework the night before it is due, you will lose this valuable asset.
  • Utilize the material on the g drive (end note: these are materials I prepare above and beyond the text, such as past exams).
  • Study and get organized prior to taking the exams.

None of the above should be particularly shocking, but it helps to let the students know what works. I think it addresses what Paul mentions as “communicating the impact of behavior” by showing with data the impact of missing class and not working on homework. Much of what I do from semester to semester is to try to influence behavior and tweak my requirements regarding homework, exams, attendance, and office hours.

3. I instituted the 10 point penalty in the Spring of 2009, after having no penalty for missing 5 or more classes in previous semesters. What impact did it have? The percentage of students missing 5 or more classes dropped from 22.8% to 15.9%. Meanwhile, the percentage of students missing 2 or fewer classes increased from 56.1% to 65.9%. However, this is a very small sample, and the jury is still out on this semester.

4. I may, on occasion, grade on a curve for exams, depending on class performance. If the top score on an exam, for example, is a 40 (out of 40), there will not be a curve. However, if the high score is below a 40, an adjustment in scores will be made. If the high score on the exam is a 36, and a student scores a 31, I will divide 31 by 36 and multiply that amount by 40 (to adjust it to a 40 point scale). This results in a score of 34.4 and this would be the grade (rounded to the nearest tenth) that will be counted toward the final grade.

5. Exams are weighted and back loaded in terms of points. The first exam is worth 30 points; the second exam is worth 40 points, and so on, until the final exam is worth 120 points. While the latter exams are not “cumulative” per se, latter chapters build off the knowledge learned earlier. Hence, latter exams are worth more.

6. Attendance usually is not a problem in the first couple weeks of class. I rarely see a student miss a class during the first week, and no more than 2 students miss a class in the first two weeks. It is around week 3 or beyond that attendance starts to slip, and chronically absent students usually withdraw from the class.

7. Students will have the opportunity to “re-take” any of the exams that are scheduled (except the final two) under the following conditions:

  • Each student is eligible to re-take up to 3 exams over the course of the semester.
  • Each exam that is re-taken will be similar, but not identical to the original exam
  • The score one earns on the re-take will replace the previous score, regardless of whether the score improves or declines.
  • If a student misses an exam for any reason (regardless of excused or unexcused), he or she will not have the opportunity to re-take it.
  • If a student accumulates 5 or more absences (regardless of those absences being “excused” or “unexcused”) over the course of the semester, he or she will no longer be eligible to re-take any exam. Attendance will be taken every class period. Further, If the student is absent (regardless of reason) on any day homework is scheduled to be collected (regardless if it is collected or not), the student will lose one re-take opportunity.
  • If the student scores a 2 or lower on any homework that is randomly collected, the student will no longer be eligible to re-take the exam for that particular chapter. So, if I randomly collect the homework for chapter 6, and the student scores a 2 or lower on it, he or she will not be allowed to re-take the chapter 6 exam. A score of 2 or lower on any homework that is randomly collected will also lessen the number of re-take opportunities by one.

8. I will definitely try gathering grade expectations of the students at the start of the semester.

9. Students who attend SHRM meetings held regularly during the semester are given 2 extra credit points for each meeting attended.

With that as background, does it change the answers to the original questions?


Let me ponder - I may have something for you in a day or two - enjoy your Thanksgiving!

by Paul Hebert on November 24, 2009 at 3:27 PM. #

Thanks Paul. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

by Matthew Stollak on November 24, 2009 at 3:28 PM. #

I am LOVING this conversation, by the way. Matt, you need to get every student to read this before the first day in your class. Test them on it if necessary. They need to know what it takes to do well. :-)

by Ben Eubanks on November 24, 2009 at 8:50 PM. #

Ben and Paul,

Points 2, 4, 5, and 7 are stated verbatim in the syllabus, and read and discussed in the first day of class when the syllabus. I meant to do a post on the following, so I might as well do it below, since it ties into the subject:

I hold two required office hours during the semester. One in the 3rd week of the semester and one in the 9th or 10th week. A sign-up sheet is handed out; students choose what time they show up. Failure to come at they assigned time incurs a 5 point penalty; failure to meet with me at all during that week incurs a 10 point penalty (on a 1000 point scale). Both meetings last no more than 5 minutes

In that first meeting, we talk about the class, the requirements, what's working, what's not. By this time, they have had around 6 lectures/discussion sections, and an exam. They, hopefully, get where I am coming from. Again, I will take Paul's suggestion of committing to a goal and discussing it in that first required office hours next semester.

In that second set of required office hours, I give a midterm performance evaluation. Our school only requires us to report midterm grades to those students who are performing "marginally" or "failing;" however, students who are performing at a C or better level, get no feedback unless initiated by the student. I buck the trend by meeting with every student in that 9th or 10th week and sharing with them where they stand. They are given a sheet of paper with all the points they have accumulated in a variety of categories (i.e., exams, homework, # of absences, etc.), as well as comments about performance. This gives me the opportunity to be transparent about grading, as well as making sure I did not make an error in reporting their scores. It also gives me an extra opportunity outside of the class to talk to those students who are performing poorly to try to set up a plan to improve in the latter half of the semester, as points are backloaded.

Both meetings are extremely time consuming, but worth it in trying to help a student succeed in the class.

by Matthew Stollak on November 25, 2009 at 3:57 AM. #

New post on my responses here:

I admit a mistake (mark the calendars!)

by Paul Hebert on November 25, 2009 at 9:26 AM. #

I agree with Ben. I find both your posts on this topic and Paul's thoughtful responses fascinating. Even though I'm a HR girl, my favorite (and best) courses in college were Statistics and Physics. My mind loves to work like that.
One thing I thought of though as I read through this post was that you lay out everything for the students. Now, people may take my head off for this BUT, when are they going to grow up? These are college students. It would be nice to:
-Hand out something showing how grades will be calculated (course expectations)
-Stats on how students have done in the past when they missed class
-Then, tell them "That's it. I'll be here teaching. If you're an adult, you'll be here learning. If not, that's ok too. Just don't waste the time of the students that really want to be here."

When they get into the work world, there will not be anyone standing over their shoulder telling them the "minimum performance" necessary to achieve different levels of success. Why should professors do this then? If my boss hands me a project, she doesn't say, "Well Trish, here is what A performance will look like. Now, if you miss a 3 days of work during the course of the project, your chances of a successful project drop to...."

You get the point. Not picking on you personally, I just get frustrated with higher education at times because students graduate and come into MY real-life class (workplace) and expect the same guidance. Not happening.
Keep up the good fight. Love your blog.

by Trish McFarlane on November 28, 2009 at 6:13 AM. #


Thanks for the comments. Just curious if you have ever had the opportunity to teach a class, design a syllabus, and run a class for 15 weeks?

I'll simply say that, like employees, students are on a continuum, and trying to portray them as a single, similar group is doing them a disservice:
*Some students do not need any hand-holding, and could be successful with what you laid out in your post
*Some require a little hand holding, and nudging
*Some require a great deal of hand-holding, and are in my office constantly for help
*Some have learning disabilities, and that puts them into a whole different category

However, unlike the workplace, I have zero opportunity to choose my employees (in this case students). Would I love a gaggle of straight A students who are motivated to learn, ask meaningful questions, and demonstrate initiative? Absolutely! However, I get stuck with a registration process that provides me with a diversity of students, both good and not so good, and I have to deal with the cards that I was dealt.

For more on the wonderful of academia, you should definitely check out:


by Matthew Stollak on November 28, 2009 at 12:21 PM. #

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

Law Dissertation

by Unknown on December 9, 2009 at 6:15 AM. #

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