If you’ve taken a large college class, you’ve likely experienced the situation where your class looks empty for most of the term, but then, all of a sudden, at the final exam, the lecture hall is full again.
Back in December, I kvetched back about how many of my students in Queens College classes fail, and I aimed to take measures to improve the success (failure?) rate. One such measure was to require students to actually attend class. Here is what I was thinking about at the time:
For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.
One step is to implement two new attendance policies:
- Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
- Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.
And that is in fact what I did. This past spring semester, in each of my syllabi at Queens College, I wrote:
For in-person classes, regular attendance is required. Attend twelve or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than four classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.
For hybrid courses, regular attendance is required. Attend seven or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than three classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.
This policy does not apply to online courses.
It might have worked, at least a little bit. In my Media Technologies class this semester, there was only one absentee student who showed up to take the exam. That student also walked in thirty minutes late to the final, something that the student did for the midterm exam. I directed that student to the written policy from the syllabus, and I did not permit that student to take the exam. Failing that student seemed like the right thing to do as that student’s absenteeism really did warrant retaking the class.
However, the 20% rule that I bemoaned in December emerged in another way. In my Media Criticism class, I added a policy that each student must meet with me—either in person or through an online call—over a two-week period to discuss his/her draft for the two written essays due in that class. Many flaunted the policy, and when it came time for them to submit their final drafts, I alerted them that I would not accept them, as stated in the policy on the syllabus.
Alas, just after the midterm exam, about 20% of the students enrolled in the class dropped because of this policy, suggesting that we as teachers are powerless against the larger social forces that CUNY students face.