“With the current circumstances, we recognize the stress that faculty and students are under and the need to do things differently sometimes to cover the material to finish the semester.”
Dr. Marty Spears, Harding University provost, said this is why changes have been made to several aspects of the end of semester grades and requirements.
Typically, professors are required to administer some sort of final exam or assessment — usually during a specified time of finals week — for their classes. Then, all grades go toward a student’s GPA. However, both of these are changing this semester due to the unusual circumstances.
The Office of the Provost recently told faculty that they may now alter their final exam plans and requirements, including the choice of making it optional for students within their classes. Students will also have a choice to make at the end of the semester. Once final grades have been reported, students may choose whether they want their grades to go toward their GPA as normal or exercise a pass/fail option, in which they will receive credit for a passing grade but see no effect on their GPA.
The phrase “optional finals” may sound familiar to some — it’s reminiscent of Harding’s December 2013 scenario in which the threat of winter weather prompted students to campaign on Twitter for President Bruce McLarty to make final exams optional for students. Spears said members of the provost’s office have joked about optional finals finally coming around, but the new guidelines for this year are not exactly what 2013 students were requesting. All final exams are not optional to students; rather, faculty may choose to make exams optional if they feel the students have demonstrated a command of the course material.
“We’re trying to find ways to be flexible to allow faculty some flexibility in how they finish this semester instead of sticking to our normal process,” Spears said. “So the idea with the final exams was to give the faculty some options to do things a little differently.”
Dr. Melanie Meeker, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), chose to make final exams optional for her undergraduate and graduate classes. She said she feels her students have shown that they have mastered the course material on other exams, but there will be a final exam available if anyone feels the need to take it.
“I expect they will be thrilled,” Meeker said. “They’ve worked hard this semester and really stayed engaged during the second half of this term. I think there will be a few who want to use the exam to raise their grade, but I don’t expect that will be the majority.”
Meeker said she is thankful for the flexibility this has provided her and her students, but she said she has mixed feelings regarding the new pass/fail option. While it may be tempting for a student to just plan on getting a passing grade for the credit, she urged students to consider potential future effects of making the choice.
“Most of our [CSD] undergraduate students will pursue admission to graduate schools where the GPA is a major factor in acceptance,” Meeker said. “I think it’s in the student’s best interest to finish with a strong letter grade and avoid the pass/fail notation on the transcript. There are some students in CSD for whom this is a good option, but I don’t suspect it’s the best choice for most students to make. I hope students who are contemplating this option will talk with their advisers.”
In the email sent to students, Spears also emphasized that there could be disadvantages to choosing the pass/fail option in certain situations. Any student unsure should discuss options with their academic adviser.
Senior Emma Howell said several of her classes now have optional final exams or a different assignment instead of a test. She said she is thankful that Harding is trying to make things more straightforward for faculty and students in a time of transition.
Howell also said she is grateful to her professors for making the most of this time, and she looks forward to returning to the normal classroom environment.
“Transitioning online has given me a greater appreciation for the community on campus,” Howell said. “Fortunately, a majority of my classes meet on Zoom, so I still get to see my professors. I have a greater appreciation for them and Harding, as I have seen such a great effort to work with individual students.”