Improving Well-Being in the Classroom

Four of the 26 students in my Economics of Life class proposed delaying submitting their draft term project reports by one week. I emailed the whole class and gave them one day to let me know if they disapproved of this postponement.

The question was how heavily to weight the negatives — those who disapproved — compared to those who wanted to postpone. I couldn’t just require a Pareto improvement; why should one person’s problem with the proposal be allowed to veto an improvement for the other 25?

Instead, I decided that my little social welfare function would weigh losses more heavily than gains, so that if three people objected I would not make the change. Perhaps unsurprisingly nobody objected, and I went ahead with the change, presumably now generating a Pareto improvement for my class.


David

Whether it's a Pareto improvement depends on whether you grade on a curve, right? Somone who completed the assignment on time and doesn't feel they could improve it any further with an additional week would now be worse off if a curve were implemented, because the extra week gives everyone else the chance to catch up, thereby affecting his grade.

Tg3

At the school where I did my Finance undergrad in Canada, if the prof wanted to change anything from the original syllabus, he/she could be vetoed by only one student. That is, any changes had to be approved (or not denied) by the entire class. That was university policy.

It seemed slightly ridiculous because any outlier (slacker or keener) could ruin all common sense decisions.

Groeling

I think there's a good chance you're getting a flawed impression of your students' true preferences. By having a rule that required action by three students, you have moved this into the domain of a collective action problem. Now each student who might object cannot herself change the outcome, so they might pay the social and opportunity "cost" of objecting but get no benefit at all. Objectors can only get the benefit if at least two peers also object AND are willing to pay the costs of objecting without knowing that others will step up. In such a small class, I'm guessing they'll correctly believe those odds are pretty low, so they shouldn't waste their time.

I'm betting that if you brought the subject up in class and either surveyed the whole class or had a probing discussion, you'd actually find that at least three students objected.

Vic

Here's my idea: Give some weight to the objections and devise a formula with which to adjust the length of the postponement. Assuming a certain number object, shorten the postponement by some amount (it might be a day or two less than a week.)

It's possible that others may be gutsy enough to suggest a longer postponement. You could include that in any formula, also. Although that borders on letting yourself get walked all over as a professor, so I'd hesitate to consider that option.

Diversity

Your students evidentlydo not see each other as primarily competitors.

However it seems equally possible that they are treating you as their beloved leader - any suggestion that you make always has their support ; or as a common enemy - their priority is to maintain a united front against you.; or as irrelevant - any suggestion from you can and should be ignored.

Is not your problem to obtain data to distinguish between these hypotheses?

KB

All of the students must have been feeling the time pinch. Else someone who was on schedule would have complained about the extra time for others to catch up.

logomaniac

I agree that it works in practice, but how can we be certain that it will work in theory?

TRad

Pacta sunt servanda. You've made a deal with your students. You should keep the terms of the deal. You shouldn't change anything without the entire class agreeing.

TsaiCMS

There are many things that are difficult to measure, or assign a quantitative value to them, like happiness. It seems that the classroom is never in a Pareto efficient situation, given how everybody would be better off if ALL assignments were due at the end of the semester or year? Professors don't have to bother with grades, and students don't have to bother with deadline pressures until the last moment. This would be really bad for procrastinators, but given how they would still suffer with regular deadlines, their life would be better with one single huge deadline. And we are back again with how to measure happiness. How do we know where students suffer more? A Pareto efficient situation in the classroom is highly subjective given how students cannot compare their suffering or happiness with each decision the professor makes quantitatively.

MarboChengCMS

By changing the due date of the draft term project a good thing mainly because it gives more time for students to finish up or improve their project if they already did it. This extension is only good when students are using time efficiently if students use that time to complete the project without doing a great job then that extension it not worth because student had not used time efficiently to produce a good project. By saying this I mean that by extending the project students should do a better job doing their projects. If not good results come after this extension then by extending the time the professor had made the wrong decision of extending it because of only one student. For many students extending it means that they do not have to do project for one week which is great for them. But in reality it is worst for them because they lose opportunities to do other projects which might help them learn something knew or get better grade in other project. In this situation it the extension is more negative than positive, only those who had proposed for extension benefit mostly because those who had already done it rarely even go back and try make it better.

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M.B.

In the real-world delays have cosequences. Delayed mortgage payments mean financial penalties and missed deadlines at work could loose you the job. So this kind of sends the wrong message to such fragile young minds don't you think?.

Teacher

Dear David:

You have a point. I had a similar problem. Gave an exam. all but a few got C's and D's. 2 got B's. So I tried a bit of an experiment. A colleague said, give them all an opportunity to improve their grade for 1/2 point up (say from a c to c+). But then I thought, what incentive is that. So I tried something real different and amazingly- not one complained at all despite the amount of work they will be doing. I said if they want to improve their grade. They all have the opportunity to do a rewrite (either for 1/2 point up (if done correctly) or to exlude the grade on the mid-term (where the final would count twice. So, in theory, they all still have a chance to get an A. But they all had to hand in rewrites the way that I want them done. In other words, if I ask for three examples, I want three (not 2 or one) In theory, they could gain nothing if they don't do it properly. This would not harm those who got a B. And those who got a C, would probably consider taking the C+ for a rewrite (if they did not think that they would be putting the time in for an A. and those who accepted the challenge to count the final 2x- have a strong interest in improving their grade. NOT ONE COMPLAINT. I was surprised and happy.

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Dan

Continued lack of discipline by people who knew what the schedule was and failed to comply. In the real world a deadline not met is not put up for vote. Enough, stick to your guns on all deadlines. Employers want product and results not excuses. Teach them to comply not whine!

aWolgs

What Groeling said. I think that's exactly right.

David

As a teacher I hate what you did, unless there were extenuating circumstances (family emergency, illness) never extend the deadline!

Odds are the kids who want the extension did not plan well or simply procrastinated and you have taught them that if they whine a bit the world will bend to them. Sorry, but the real world is not going to bend, and in most cases not care, unless someone has died.

Jack

To actually measure whether your presumption--that the extension generated a Pareto improvement for your class--you could have done the following:

1) Reject the extension request and insist that all students turn in their draft term projects on time, as agreed.

2) Grade each project as you normally would.

3) Return the projects (without disclosing grades, and, in fact, without disclosing that you had graded the projects at all).

4) Instruct students that you had decided to grant the one-week extension after all.

5) Re-grade the projects and compare each student's second result to determine whether any student's grade worsened as a result of the extension. If no student received a lower grade on the second evaluation, your presumption was correct and your intervention successfully served the social and pedagogical welfare of the class. Even if it rewarded procrastination.

jimmyc

What is to stop them from delaying all the rest of the assignments, thereby leaving you to impose your will upon them only to realize you have no time left for grading?

GiulioCMS

As a graduating senior, I know full well the relief points a student gets when given an extension to finish a draft paper. However, after almost 3 and a half years of high school, I am fully aware of the dangers that actions such as yours can have.

I think I can safely say that now, for the next draft paper or project, a student will procrastinate - or even not do the work - expecting that you will give them an extension. This will lead to heavy stress for the student (or students; notice that I am not limiting the possibility to only one) and will give you an unnecessary headache that can be avoided. Tensions will rise, class morale will fall, and the atmosphere will just become heavy, hard to breathe, and tiring.

My advice is, try to limit the extensions as much as possible. Endeavor to give extensions only if the students really need it; I myself have an understanding professor who listens to the class, and he is a good judge of an appropriate amount of work that can be given so that the student will learn without becoming overloaded.

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KocsenCMS

I think this is all related to EFFICIENCY VS. EQUITY. The teacher is a direct role model of the student. If the teacher wants to be efficient and make sure he receives good grades from his students, he may give a bonus for only some people that got low grades. However, wouldn't that be unfair to those who busted their brains off last night studying who deserve a better grade.
Now, specifically relating to the extension of the project, it was pretty fair to extend but is it efficient? Will students use the time wisely now that they know they have more time to procrastinate? Will any of the projects that were all ready prepared be improved? Will the class run behind due to a week of lost time?
In the end many factors contribute to the situation but the ideal way is to find a balance between equity and efficiency. Sometimes being too efficient might not get you want you want and being to nice and equal wont get you want you wane either. You have to be consistent and fair, but you also need a good learning progress across the year.

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Cynic

It was not pareto optimal. You just screwed the junior faculty member next door to you who stuck with the deadline on the syllabus.