Student success and the possibility of failure

It was a strange day at work.

I’ve written before about having a recent immigrant student who seems to be more lost than I am. I am happy to report that I presented him with loads of hoops to jump through and also tried fruitlessly to get him access to some academic help on campus. The assignment he turned in was passable and his final exam (I graded the exams blind and essay by essay in hopes of minimizing bias) was actually quite high scoring. So, he passed and he cried with a huge smile on his face when he found it. That was a couple of days ago.

Today he was back at my office telling me he needed me to put his credits in the system. I didn’t know what he was talking about since I already sent the grades to the person who enters them. I emailed her and sent him to talk to her. Forty-five minutes later he was back. He had spoken to her and the international office and everyone claimed to be unable to help him. The problem? He passed the wrong class.

The way that it works with the block scheduling they use here is that there is a sequence of 4 (I think) course modules. Most students follow the sequence but it is not mandatory to do so. There are 2 social science courses – one is intercultural studies and the other is global affairs. These courses share the same first module. Confusing, right? Well, it clearly confused my student because not only did he take my module when he should have been in the intercultural studies track, he is already more than half-way done with the next wrong module. I hope that the administration will allow him to switch his registration but at this point they are being obdurate and saying it can’t be done on account of the way that registration works and the allocation of funds, etc.

So there was that, which from my perspective feels like folks not doing all they can to help a student who needs assistance. But then there was this:

More than a month before my module started I heard from a student who was going to miss the first week. I told her that she should get in touch with me a week or so before the class started so we could make sure she stayed on top of the material and assignments. I didn’t hear from her until well into the course and she claimed that she forgot to get in touch with me earlier. I responded that the slides were available online, she should get notes from other students and that the first assignment was due at midnight that very evening. I didn’t hear from her again but she never turned in the assignment. She passed the final but just barely. It was the kind of final that gave you the impression that the student had never cracked a book or attended a lecture. In the end, she did not have a passing grade for the class.

The student contacted me about her failing grade and asked to set up a time to meet to talk about making up the missed assignment and/or taking the exam again. If I were back in the U.S. I would just tell her that I am willing to make accommodations for students that struggle to meet the demands of the class and I am always willing to work with students who come to me ahead of time to work out scheduling conflicts. In her case, however, it seems her failure stems from a lack of effort. I don’t believe a make-up is warranted. But since I am NOT back in the US I decided to talk to the course supervisor.

That is how I learned that within the next month I need to provide students with the opportunity to retake a failed exam and I need to provide the opportunity for students to make up missed work – no matter what. Fine, but that certainly provides a disincentive for me to fail students since it just means more work for me. It also seems to me that it provides a disincentive for students to put significant energy into their studies. The things that from my American perspective seems most bizarre, however, is the contrast between the basic certainty that this student does not really have to worry about getting credit for a course she seems to have put little effort into while another student is at risk of receiving no credit for a course that he worked so hard for.

It definitely felt like wacky wednesday at the office.

This entry was posted in Culture Shock, In Sweden, Musings, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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