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Reducing Course-Related Complaints

Outlined below are some areas where student-instructor conflict is common, along with suggestions on how to avoid these problems. Most of this information can be included in the syllabus; students need to know what is expected of them, what is required and what grading methods are being used.


1. SYLLABUS

Provide students with an up-to-date syllabus during the first course meeting. Allowing students to review it with you and ask questions is an opportunity to ensure that everyone understands how you are shaping the course. Per University Senate Policy, “each offering of a course is required to have a syllabi.” (Policy link here.)


Be sure that the course syllabus clearly communicates course objectives and your expectations.


Try to avoid major changes during the term; if this is unavoidable, provide oral and written notice of any changes. Instructors should try to avoid major change after the second week of the semester (e.g., adding a research paper or major examination).


2. GRADING CRITERIA

List the measures (papers, exams, etc.) to be used and weighting for each. If you want to maintain flexibility, indicate what is remaining flexible.


Class Participation/Attendance: If you expect class participation/attendance, define what this means (attending class, answering questions, discussing reading, etc.) especially if it is part of the grade.


Single Component: If a specified performance on a single component of the course is required to pass the course, such as passing the final, this should be stated.


Midterm Notices. Provide mid-term grade alerts for students who appear to be in danger of receiving a grade of D, F, or N based on their performance through the sixth week of the semester. This is a new (Fall 2002) requirement for 1000 level courses, and the full policy can be found here.


3. MAKE-UP EXAMS, LATE ASSIGNMENTS, AND INCOMPLETES

According to UM Senate Policy... "It is the responsibility of the faculty member to provide reasonable accommodations or opportunities to make up exams or other course assignments that have an impact on the course grade" to students with legitimate excuses.


State at the outset of the course what reasons (such as verified illness, family emergencies, University sponsored events, etc.) will be accepted; indicate the type of documentation required to excuse the absence, and inform the student of his/her options to make up the work....(complete policy here).


Penalties for late assignments (if accepted) should be clearly defined.


Specify the conditions, if any, under which an "I" will be assigned. You may wish to use a formal written contract, such as CLA's "Agreement for Completion of Incomplete Work" form.


4. GRADING SYSTEMS

Inform students at the beginning of the term, and include in the syllabus, whether or not (and if not, the rationale) the UM Senate mandated "+" and "-" grading symbols will be used with the A-F grading system.


Students are entitled to an explanation of the criteria used to evaluate their work. Conflicts tend to arise over the method used to determine grades, or students' perceptions of unfair or arbitrary grading. Encourage students to discuss concerns early in the semester.


Return at least one major assignment before the end of the eighth week of the semester to give students the chance to withdraw before the deadline. You may wish to refer students to the Student Conflict Resolution Center (SCRC) for assistance.


Inconsistency Among Graders: Multiple graders on a single assignment can result in differing grade scales. For example, one TA might give mostly "Cs," "Ds," and "Fs" while another gives mostly "As" "Bs," and "Cs." Providing clear, specific grading criteria for papers and projects to both graders and students would minimize the occurrence of these problems. Comparison of mean scores issued by various graders could also point up large inconsistencies.


Graduate and Undergraduate Students in 5000-level Course:


Most instructors make a distinction between these two groups registered for the same course. Be sure to note if grading procedures or course requirements are different for those receiving graduate credit.


5. OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES

Trips, classes, or other activities that take place at other than regularly scheduled class-time, or at an off-campus location, should be announced during the first class and in writing, particularly if the activity is mandatory or will in any way affect the student's grade. Try to be flexible to allow as many students as possible to attend. (If such an activity is included every time the course is offered, it should be mentioned in the course description in the college bulletin).


6. COURSE RECORDS

Retain all of your graded materials (including exams and assignments that are not returned or picked up). One semester is suggested as a minimum. Students have the right to a timely review and an opportunity to discuss their grades with instructors.


Remember confidentiality guidelines when returning work or discussing it with the student. Leaving exams/papers in a pile (and in a public place) for students to pick up after the quarter is over is a violation of student confidentiality, as is posting grades by student ID#.


7. RESCHEDULING FINAL EXAMS

Final exams may not be moved to the last day or earlier sessions of the class, nor are exams permitted on Study Day. If a rescheduled final results in an exam conflict for any student, they are entitled to take the exam at another time during finals week of that semester. In most cases, SCRC would suggest trying to find a substitute proctor and/or grader rather than rescheduling the exam.


8. ACCESS TO INSTRUCTORS AND TAs

Include information on how to most effectively reach you and your TA (whether phone, email, or in person) on all course syllabi.


Please schedule and maintain office hours; include this information on course syllabi and provide the department office with a copy of your schedule by the second week of classes each semester.


If you know in advance that you must miss an office hour, announce this to your class(es) and try to reschedule, if possible. Indicate other resources available to students. If you need to miss an office hour without giving prior notice, inform the department secretary who can take forwarded phone calls. Put a note on your door indicating you will not be in, or if late, the time you expect to arrive.


If you are frequently called away during posted office hours, you may want to indicate to students that they should call before coming, or change your office hours.


9. FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information and policies regarding rescheduling of exams and other items discussed above, one excellent resource is the CLA Classroom, Grading, and Examination Procedures handbook produced by the Student Scholastic Standing Committee (chair), 106 Johnston Hall, 625-3846. Class schedules and college bulletins also contain some pertinent information. SCRC, advising offices, and college scholastic committees may also be able to help clarify policies and provide information on grievance procedures, specific problems.


For further information, the University Senate offers “Classroom Expectations Guidelines.” This guide can be found here


Address: 254 Appleby Hall, 128 Pleasant St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 | Phone: 612-624-7272

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