Thursday, October 18, 2012

Withdrawing from Courses

What withdrawing from a course means and how it is done:

Withdrawing from a course means choosing to leave a course after the Add/Drop deadline in the second week of class, but before the withdrawal deadline, which in Fall 2014 is Thursday, October 23. Withdrawing from a course means that no grade is issued for the course. A"W" appears on the transcript instead.

One can withdraw from a course by using the Add/drop feature on MyMadison.

Possible drawbacks of withdrawing from a course: 

1. Withdrawing from a course decreases the number of credit hours in which one is enrolled. If after withdrawing from a course one is enrolled in under 12 credit hours, one is no longer officially a full-time student. This status is important for financial aid, and often for health and auto insurance. In general, it is not a good idea to withdraw from a course if that will result in fewer than 12 credit hours for the term.

2. Regardless of full-or part-time status, the number of courses one attempted at start of term is used by financial aid in calculating the "hours attempted" number, against which credits earned are measured for determining whether or not a student is making satisfactory academic progress.  The Financial Aid Office explains how the calculation is done here:
In general, a first semester student can withdraw from one course with no adverse effects on financial aid.

3. Having a W on the transcript. This is not as serious as most students imagine. A pattern of withdrawals over several semesters looks bad, but one withdrawal in the first semester at college is unremarkable.

Possible benefits of withdrawing from a course:

1. Avoid failing a course. The number one reason students withdraw from courses is that they are too far behind and/or too otherwise occupied to have a reasonable chance of passing the class. It is much better for one's academic record to have a W followed by a passing grade in a similar course later on, than an F (or a D in a course required for one's major).

2. Avoid failing multiple courses. Withdrawing from a course frees up more time for the remaining courses. It is better to do decently in 12 credit hours the first semester and make up the balance later, than to fail 6 hours in the first semester and spend the next three years repairing one's gpa.

3. Protecting the integrity of your education. Each course at JMU ought to enrich your intellectual landscape and advance your education. A barely-passed class is not the best way to do this. Sometimes it makes more sense from an educational point of view to withdraw from a course and re-take it later, when you are in a position to make the most of it.

A bad reason to withdraw from a course: 
--In high school I had all As, and the instructor told me the best I can hope to earn in this course is a B or C.
Withdrawal is for serious situations in which the integrity of your learning is at stake. Grade-gaming undermines the system, and cheapens the value of the degree.

If you are considering withdrawing from a course, please come talk to me.

Mid-semester Grades

 Mid-Semester Grades:

Beginning this weekend, first year students will be able to see their mid-semester grades in the Academics section of the Student Center on MyMadison. These grades are entered by faculty, only for first year students, to give students a sense of they are doing in courses.

Some important caveats: not all faculty record mid-semester grades, and they do not all use the same method of determining these grades. Mid-semester grades are clearly preliminary in that most of the graded assignments for the semester are yet to happen, so grades can change in either direction going forward for the rest of term.

Your mid-semester grades ought to match your own sense of how you are doing in your courses.

What to do if all your mid-semester grades are C or higher: Pat yourself on the back. Brag to your parents. Treat yourself to an afternoon with a novel or a bike ride. Well done. Keep up the good work!

Do all this even if a C is a new experience for you. University grading, especially in math and science, is tighter than most high school grading. Grades of C or higher across the board mean you are off to a good start at JMU.

What to do if there is a D or F or unpleasant surprise in your mid-semester grades:
1. Go talk with the course instructor. The best way to do this is to follow that person's procedure on the syllabus for how to contact him or her. In general, this means turn up at the professor's posted office hours.
By the end of the conversation, you need to be sure that you understand why the grade is what it is,  what you can do to change it going forward, and what advice the professor has for how to succeed in the course.

2. Think about what you discovered in that meeting.  What else might you change that will help your studies? What does this situation tell you about your overall pattern of living in the university? What could improve that pattern? Then ask yourself the big question: Are you able and willing to do what it will take to turn the course around?

If so, make a concrete, specific plan for how to do it. For example, if your instructor says you should plan to double the amount of time you spend on a course, make an explicit time management schedule for yourself and block out an appropriate amount of time for your studies. See next week's blog on Student Support at JMU for resources outside yourself. I am also happy to consult during office hours about effective plans for turning around troubled courses.

If, after talking with your professor and reviewing your situation in a course that is going poorly, you do not feel that you will be able to conclude the course with a passing grade, you might want to consider withdrawing from the class.  The withdrawal deadline for Fall 2014 is Thursday, October 23.  On Withdrawing from Courses, also posted here, discusses the pros and cons of this plan.) Then come see me during office hours before Thursday, October 23.

 Summary:  Mid-semester grades give you a chance to see how you are doing in your courses while it is still early enough in the semester to affect the final grades, and while you still have time to withdraw if the course is  not redeemable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Reach Me

Please be proactive about coming to see me. I can give advice about academic problems, and I am interested in general discussion about your academic program. One of your responsibilities at JMU is to choose courses that give you a compelling, challenging and useful education. A part of my function is to help you figure out what those might be, if you want my input.

My first preference is to see you in person, during office hours. You do not need to make an appointment for these. Just show up. I can answer brief procedural questions through e-mail, which I reply to at least once a day Monday through Friday. The e-mail medium is not conducive to more thoughtful conversations, though, so if we are going to talk about something important please come see me. If you have classes that conflict with all of my office hours, we can arrange (by e-mail) an appointment at our mutual convenience.

My office is Roop 122, inside of Roop 119.
From September 5 forward, my regular fall 2012 office hours are current on my web site:

 My e-mail address is brownet (at) jmu (dot) edu, or e.theta.brown (at) gmail (dot) com