Teaching Tips

The Credibility Bank

As a professor there is nothing quite so difficult to handle as the question “Can I have an extension?” On its face, it seems like a simple request, but it introduces a lot of subjectivity into what we prefer to think of as an objective process. Absolute deadlines seem fair, since they apply to everyone equally. Extensions, however, seem haphazard and can lead students to question why one person is able to receive extra time while others don’t.

In an attempt to help clarify my policy and be transparent with my students, I devised a concept a few years ago that I like to refer to as “The Credibility Bank.” It’s a straightforward idea: every time a student comes to class or hands in an assignment on time, every time they make a great contribution in class, every assignment that they do exceptional work on, I treat those actions as a deposit into the Credibility Bank. Then, when the day comes where they need an extension, where they have a bad exam, or whatever the case may be, I mentally check their account balance. If they have enough to “cover” what they need, I am happy to be accommodating. If, however, they are consistently overdrawn at the Credibility Bank, well… we all know what happens when we try to withdraw more than is currently in our bank account.

Over the years I have found the Credibility Bank analogy to be useful in helping students to understand that all of their actions in a class are connected. Good work, in addition to being its own reward, provides you the credibility needed to overcome the occasional error. The Credibility Bank also makes the process less personal and arbitrary. Extensions, grace periods, etc. are no longer just something haphazardly granted to some students but not others, but rather are a direct result of past actions. It restores objectivity to the process by making the entire apparatus transparent, relatable, and impersonal.

So, next time you are fretting because a student needs a couple of extra days on a paper they really should have started work on weeks ago, just check their balance at the Credibility Bank. By doing so you can remove yourself from the equation and return responsibility to the student, which is where it belongs.

Peter van Lidth de Jeude is both a professor and lifelong student of history. In his spare time he enjoys reading, baseball, searching far and wide for the best baked goods, movies, absurdly long conversations, and trivia, although not always in that order. When not in his office engaging in marathon discussions with anyone brave enough to stop by, Peter tries to have as many adventures as possible, which he frequently accomplishes by treating adventure as a mindset rather than an activity.

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